Southwest’s pet policy makes my cat’s ticket cost more than mine!

Sam Miloro recently booked Southwest Airlines tickets from New York to Florida for his wife and their cat, Maximus. Then he found out that according to Southwest’s pet policy, his cat’s ticket would cost more than his own. And now he wants to know if our advocacy team can do anything about this “outrageous” fee.

Southwest's pet policy charges $95 each way for a cat.Miloro’s query about the costs associated with air travel with pets is timely. After all, what do the airlines provide for that fee you pay for an in-cabin pet? Safety? Comfort?

Anything?

The costs of air travel with pets

“We are senior ‘snowbirds’ and often travel from Florida to New York on Southwest,” Miloro told me. “Every time we fly, Southwest charges us $95 for our cat, Maximus. Why? He only weighs 10 pounds!”

Why? That’s easy. In the airline industry, nothing is free.

The airlines are continually searching for new sources of revenue. Ask Mary Bradley about the confusing array of costly amenities that United thrust her way like a street peddler during her recent ticket purchase.

Remember the days when your favorite airline would provide a complimentary meal to enjoy during your travels? Or the pleasant experience of paying for your ticket and conveniently being able to select the seat of your choice without an additional fee?

Those days are long gone.

Now airlines have marketing teams charged explicitly with figuring out how much revenue the company can extract from each passenger.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the seat map for your next flight. You will notice that your airline has meticulously diagramed a price point for each seat throughout the main cabin. And the differences between seat 20C and 35A may be quite minimal, but you can be sure that the airline’s team of revenue extractors (yes, I just made up that term) has studied and determined exactly how many extra dollars each seat can generate.

Related story:   Did Expedia just lie to a consumer advocate?

In fact, our publisher,  Christopher Elliott wrote all about airline seating schemes just this week.

But I digress. Back to Miloro’s question about Southwest’s pet policy.

Southwest’s pet policy

Maximus is a perfect example of an easy source of revenue for Southwest.

Air travel with pets can be complicatedFirst, Southwest directed Miloro to its amenity store. There he could purchase a Southwest-branded airline-approved pet carrier for $58 from the “Southwest Store.” Which he did. And now, every time Maximus travels on Southwest, the airline charges Miloro $95 each way for the cat to travel, stowed under the seat in front of him. Maximus is a fountain of revenue for Southwest.

For an airline that is known for low-cost fares, a $95 pet fee can frequently outprice a human ticket on a flight. Miloro pointed out that his own fare is often $59. But the fare for Maximus is inflexible and remains set at $95. That fact doesn’t sit right with Miloro.

“It seems very unfair that we are charged to bring him with us. We receive no service concerning Maxie,” Miloro argued. “Many folks carry on suitcases, which can weigh up to 50 pounds, at no charge.”

And as Miloro discovered, if he brings Maximus on a flight, the cat also counts as his carry-on.

So what does that $95 fee cover?

I scoured Southwest’s pet policy page to find out what Maximus can expect from Southwest for the cost of his ticket.

Not even one complimentary biscuit!

Southwest’s pet policy covers merely the cost of transporting a pet from point A to point B, no airline employee intervention or service provided.

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Traveling with pets on other airlines

To be fair, Southwest’s pet policy does appear to have the lowest pet transportation fee among the major air carriers. And it seems to be standard procedure that in-cabin pets do not receive any airline employee attention or assistance.

It’s too bad that the United Airlines flight attendant who inexplicably jammed a puppy into the overhead compartment last week, ultimately causing his death, didn’t follow this employee hands-off approach.

Under United Airlines’ pet policy, that passenger paid $125 to United for her pet’s “transportation.”

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines also charge $125 per flight to allow a passenger to transport a pet as a carry-on.

Guidance for air travel with pets

If you decide to take your pet on your next flight, make sure that your veterinarian approves your little friend for travel. Air travel, in particular, can be very stressful to animals. In fact, the Humane Society advises pet owners to carefully consider all options before deciding to transport a pet by air.Southwest's pet policy

And make sure to confirm your pet’s reservation ahead of time. We receive a steady stream of complaints from passengers who arrive at the airport ready to fly with their pets who didn’t reserve their pet’s space in advance. The number of pets per flight is always limited. So it’s imperative to let the airline know ahead of time that you intend to fly with your animal — or your pet may not be going anywhere.

Unfortunately, our advocacy team is not able to facilitate a refund of the fare Southwest charged for Maximus. The Southwest pet policy is unbending, as are most airline policies. But I advised Miloro to use our Southwest company contacts to voice his concern, and he assured me that is what he will do next.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, SEO-lady, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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