Clover, also known as Clovie, is a three-year-old, 13 pound Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and a seasoned traveler. She has accompanied her owner, Gillian Small, on planes, trains, buses and boats since she was about six months old.
Small never checks Clovie, but carries her on planes in an approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of her. The pair prefer to fly JetBlue.
“They have a special program for dogs, and their JFK terminal even includes an area for dogs to go to the bathroom inside the terminal,” Small said. “That is magical for pet owners like myself that often struggle to walk through security with a big suitcase, take my laptop out of my bag and remove my shoes, all the while holding on to a 13 pound pup whose collar and leash have been removed for the metal detector.”
For the pleasure of Clovie’s company on JetBlue flights, Small pays $100 for each one-way flight.
“The pet travel fees can get expensive,” Small said. “Sometimes when flying to Florida to visit my parents, her add-on fare can be more expensive than my flight. But rules are rules, and it is a small price to pay to be afforded the luxury of traveling with her by my side.”
“The only thing I wish I could change is that I wish I could be given an extra carry-on bag, since the carrier, in addition to being an extra fee, counts as one of your two allotted carry-ons, which means no backpack, for me,” she added.
Morgan Johnston, a spokeswoman for JetBlue, declined to comment on how the pet fees are set, but referred to the airline’s JetPaws program, which offers 300 TrueBlue points on each flight segment for traveling with a pet.
At $100, JetBlue is in the midrange of pet fees airlines charge. For bringing a pet as carry-on to a domestic flight, fees can go up to $125 on American, Delta and United Airlines. American and Delta charge $200 to check a pet, while rates vary for United.
Spokespeople for those airlines did not respond to questions about how the pet fees are set.
For domestic air travel, Frontier and Southwest are among the cheapest for pet fees, at $75 and $95, respectively, for carry-on pets. Neither airline allows you to check a pet in the cargo hold.
Alyssa Eliasen, a spokeswoman for Southwest, said the fees are charged because while the airline is happy to accomodate pets, “there are some additional considerations and costs associated with that service.”
Those include staff to look at the animal “to make sure they fit within our pet fare guidelines,” she said.
On all airlines, people who bring a service animal on board do not pay any extra fee. A service animal is different from an emotional support animal because it’s “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability,” according to the Americans with Disabilities Act National Network.
But many airlines allow both service animals and emotional support animals as long as a medical health professional fills out a form.
So does that encourage travelers to register their pets as support animals to avoid paying extra?
Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American Airlines, said the airline is reviewing its requirements for service and support animals “with the goal of protecting our team members and our customers who have a real need for a trained service or support animal.”
“Unfortunately, untrained animals can lead to safety issues for our team, our passengers and working dogs onboard our aircraft,” he said. “We will continue to support the rights of customers, from veterans to people with disabilities, with legitimate needs.”
Feinstein added that between 2016 and 2017, American Airlines saw an increase of more than 40 percent in customers who transported a service or support animal.
Small, the owner of Clovie, said she wouldn’t consider registering her as a service animal.
“Because no matter how well trained she is — she takes commands in two languages–she does not fit the definition of service animal,” she said. “She is my pet.”
Same goes for Laurie Richards, who travels frequently with her Mi-ki Zoey.
“The flights limit the number of pets on each flight, and I believe that service animal certifications should be reserved for those with true needs,” she said.
Though she does at times break another rule.
“The rules say she is to stay in her carrier at all times,” Richards said. “I’ll confess, I take her out at the gate area. She’s content to sit on my lap, so I don’t think it’s a problem.”