In the four years that we have had our dog, Sam, she has been on at least 40 airline flights. (I'm inclined to estimate that she's been on closer to 50 flights, but as a former auditor, I defer to the more conservative estimate.) That probably sounds like a lot of flights for a dog, but given our situation, it's understandable. For every flight on which Sam has accompanied me, we have had to pay $80 (sometimes as much as $100, depending on the airline) for her ticket. So, a round-trip ticket for Sam usually costs us $160. There have been times when my own plane ticket has cost less than the fee to bring Sam onboard with me. I'm not complaining about the cost to transport our dog - I understand that and think it is a good and easy source of revenue for the airlines. There are just a couple of things that the airlines could do to make the process easier and potentially more rewarding for both the travelers with pets and for themselves.
We usually fly American Airlines, but have flown with Sam on other airlines as well. In all cases, the fact that I am traveling with a pet in the cabin has completely hampered my ability to check in electronically both at the airport and from home. I just can't do it. I have to stand in the long check-in line with all of the people checking in luggage (though I never have any to check) and changing their flights. I understand that the agent needs to take a quick look at my dog to make sure that she isn't sick and that she meets the size requirements for a cabin pet. I also understand that I have to pay the fee to have my pet in the cabin with me. What I do not understand is why either of these things should impact my ability to check in electronically. I should be able to pay the pet travel fee when I buy my ticket and not have to wait until I check in at the airport. Also, given that boarding passes must already be in-hand before passengers get through security these days, the inspection of the pet could be performed by the airline agents at the gate, as they're really nowhere as busy as they were in the pre-9/11 world.
During our last flight with Sam, we had to physically check in at American Airlines at O'Hare International Airport and encountered a ridiculously long line. The scary thing was that we were standing in the First Class line and it took more than a good half hour just to get to the front of it. The Coach line was significantly longer. The delay was so long that the ticket agent had to escort us to the front of the security line after we received our boarding passes as we were in danger of missing our flight. If we could have checked in electronically, we could have gone straight through to the security line upon arriving at the airport and wouldn't have had to stand in the check-in line at all. Allowing electronic check-in for pet owners seems like a cost-effective option that the airlines should really explore. Seems like a no-brainer when you think about it.
The other item that I hope the major U.S. airlines implement is some sort of frequent flyer option for pets. There are certain airlines that do offer frequent flyer perks for pets: Virgin Atlantic, Midwest Airlines, EL AL and Japan Airlines have pet perks ranging from free promo pet products to additional miles for the pet owner to free pet airfare. United Airlines offered additional miles to passengers with pets for a few months in 2005 but the program ended. As I mentioned previously, Sam's tickets have sometimes cost us more than my own tickets have (especially on the BOS-ORD route). A free one-way trip for her once in a while wouldn't be such a bad thing. It's not like there are any real additional costs to the airline incurred as a result of transporting her and the fee we pay is basically all margin for them. (In fact, as she takes the place of my carry-on baggage allowed, they end up transporting less weight as I just don't pack as much.) So why not reward your loyal and frequent flying pets? It's in the airline's interest to have pet owners that want to fly with their pets. It's easy revenue with no real additional cost.
As I write this, I am contemplating booking yet another round-trip plane ticket for Sam and me for January. I doubt highly that either of my pet travel wishes will be granted before our next flight but there's always hope.