Airlines for Pet Travel: the Good, Bad and Ugly

Having traveled all over North, Central America and Europe for the last 2 years, I’ve finally gotten around to writing up this long-awaited post. Travelling with your pet sometimes is a non-negotiable but searching for best airlines to travel with is tedious not to mention confusing at best. While not an exhaustive list by any means, here are the good, the bad and the ugly airlines, based on my own experiences 

THE GOOD

Europe’s best carries: for cross- Atlantic travel, things don’t get much better than SATA (read the full post HERE->)

The prices are so low that there’s no point redeeming or accumulating any miles (besides, SATA has their own mileage program non-shared with other major carriers). As a point of reference, we booked flights from Montreal to Lisbon, with a 6-day free stopover on Sao Miguel Island (PDL airport) for 240$USD one-way, in August. Unreal!

To get between the neighboring EU countries, many small carriers do a good job and  most allow pet transport. However, I had particularly good experience with Vueling both times I’ve flown (Malaga to Paris and Seville to Rome). Best part: pet booking is simply done online at the time of ticket booking, so you have the peace of mind your pet is accommodated no matter what! No calling centres, e-mails and contact forms to fill out, agonizing over whether the airline is aware of your pet reservation request. And it’s only 45 euro, compared to TAP’s 70 or German Wings and Lufthansa’s 50. Once at the airport, it’s simply a matter of them visually checking over your pet (our flight attendant didn’t even bother to look over the paperwork, since we were flying between EU member states), tagging the pet carrier and off you go!

THE BAD

While Air Croatia hasn’t done anything too awful, they failed to do the simplest of tasks and that was to relay the pet booking for the whole itinerary vs their own. So while they are comfortable with charging the pet fee for the entire trip, they leave it up to you to make sure all the carriers are aware of the pet booking even while booked under the same reservation and booking number. In other words, do not expect customer service. The only saving grace is, they as a company do not require a health certificate when flying with pet in cabin, even when the destination is outside of Europe.

THE UGLY

The worst experience by far had been with the smaller, county-specific carriers: Air Bulgaria and Alitalia. Since the itinerary was booked under Air Bulgaria and it was a code share flight, I will discuss both companies.

Air Bulgaria… Oh my, where to start? The  pet reservation was submitted at the time of booking tickets online, right on their website. It all seemed fine and well, until more than 48 hours later, still no e-mail notification confirming the pet booking showed up. I let it slide…Few weeks later, I send the e-mail to a contact center (in Sofia only, they don’t have an international one), asking if in fact my PETC has been added along with my seat reservation. What followed was a week’s worth of e-mails and phone calls, culminating in a simple “we cannot process any modifications because the flight will, in fact, be operated by Alitalia” (Rome to Sofia route) .

I then take to calling Alitalia-no easy feat, since they’re heavily Itlaian call-centre-only based. Two phone calls later, I get through, and as it turns out, Alitalia cannot see that anyone with my last name has even been booked on this flight, let alone on that date, going as far as asking me if I am sure I’d even booked the flight at all (or simply had too many cocktails by the pool, laying under the Tuscan sun? Seriously?). Obviously, if they cannot locate the booking, they cannot add to it and request my PETC reservation.

The agony continues for a week prior to the flight, the entire time Air Bulgaria reassuring me Alitalia will “see” my reservation once it’s 24 hours prior to the flight. As you can guess, this also means that by then it’d be already too late to add the pet reservation, as those have to be requested as early as possible and  up to 24 hours-catch 22! Needless to say, I’ve lost copious hours of sleep over this issue, picturing worst-case scenarios of being stranded at the Fiumcino airport with no plane, no ticket and an unconfirmed pet. In the end, I gave up altogether and decided to get everything sorted at the airport itself on the day of the flight, since none of the call centre employees were helpful in any way. Lo and behold, Alitalia “found” my reservation, we checked in at the desk with an agent and were able to get on the original flight with PETC after all. Was it an experience I’d care to repeat? Nope. Nor would I wish it upon my worst enemy.

What went wrong/Buyer Beware:

  1. Booking a code-share flight with a partner who clearly  does not have the technical capabilities to update seat reservations in real time. 
  2. Booking with a smaller, country-specific carrier who has no options to modify bookings online and rather relies heavily on the old-fashioned call center
  3. Despite advertising the “option” to allow pet transport onboard the aircraft, these companies are still not optimized for seamless flying experience, regarding it as more of an “option” or “nice to have” and not essential, like it is to those of us who have no choice but travel with pets.

As a bottom line, everyone should take a page out of Vueling’s book: a transparent pet policy, easily bookable online with no follow-up steps or hidden fees that works seamlessly, earning money for the company and providing a great and much needed service to the customers.

Hope you enjoyed this post and happy travels!

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