This was supposed to be the best summer ever for pets that fly.
Pet Airways (http://petairways.com), the upstart air carrier for animal companions, is just starting to hit its stride. It recently added flight to Orlando and St. Louis, and its revenues more than doubled from a year ago. Not too shabby!
Even the airlines that weren't exactly pet-friendly appear to have gotten in touch with their animal side. Sure, there are still sporadic pet deaths -- here's a site that tracks them closely -- but it's nothing like it was a few summers ago, when animals were routinely dying the cargo hold, and often under tragic and inhumane circumstances.
So why has this summer gone to the dogs?
Maybe we've gone a little overboard, when it comes to animals flying. A recent question from a reader made me jump to that conclusion. He was on a JetBlue Airways flight from Tampa to Boston, seated close to a dog that barked nearly continuously for three hours.
"It was such loud barking that it made me feel bad for the poor dog as well as for all of us passengers who had to endure the misery of listening to its ear-piercing barking from the moment the dog boarded until we got off the flight," he remembers.
Shouldn't JetBlue have done something about the yelping canine? I reviewed the JetPaws program and the airline's site, and could find no requirement for pet behavior. Clearly, the cabin crew should have spoken with the dog's owners, but once the aircraft door is sealed shut, your options are limited.
To get an idea of what going too far in the other direction might look like, consider what happened to one passenger on a recent Continental Airlines flight. The airline, which just merged with United Airlines, claims to be pet-friendly, but if the aircraft is more than 75% booked, it won't allow your dog or cat to fly.
The problem? Many times during the year all flights are better than 75% booked, "especially the summer months," said one disgruntled passenger. "They will not allow you to book your pet until 72 hours prior to the flight. This makes it near impossible to ever get a pet onboard a plane during the summer months."
Although United's traveling with pets page makes no mention of the 75% rule, it has some more bad news for passengers with dogs. There's a "summer embargo" on certain breeds, including the Boston Terrier, Pug, and Shih Tzu as either checked baggage or cargo, "for the safety of your animal."
As a longtime observer of the airline industry, these developments suggest to me that despite the recent rhetoric, there is no good time to travel with a pet. In fact, if your dog could talk, I'm sure he'd tell you he wants to stay at home -- with you.
Sure, you'll always find people who have little choice but to fly with an animal. If you're relocating to another part of the world, bringing Fido or Fluffy in the cargo hold might be the only practical way of taking your pet. I understand that.
But there's no "good" time to travel with a pet, and if there were, it certainly wouldn't be the summer.
And that makes me wonder if United isn't on to something. Should pets, and particularly pets in the cargo hold, be limited to times when temperatures aren't extreme and cabins are less crowded, like the fall and spring?
Should pets be allowed to fly at all, or should airlines have a "humans-only" rule?
Christopher Elliott is the author of the upcoming book "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org. E-mail him at email@example.com.