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Fly the Pet-Friendly Skies

More and more airline travelers are bringing pets along for the ride.

When your neighbor on the plane makes sure her items are securely stowed under the seat in front of her, don’t be surprised if the bag starts meowing. 

Each year, thousands of animals travel in the cabins of planes.

I used to fly with my cat Minx. Come the holidays, into her regulation-sized carrier she would go.

Once we arrived at BWI, I had to take her out of the carrier and walk through security with Minx in my arms. (There was one time, soon after 9/11, when my fluffy little cat got patted down in a private room.)

Meanwhile, her bag, which looked like a regular duffel but had ventilated sides, went through the scanner. Each airline has its own size requirements to ensure animals can fit underneath the seat in front of their owners. Minx's was 11.5" high and 18" long.

After clearing security, Minx happily went back into her bag, and we were prepared for takeoff.

Usually, the plane ride was easy; she mostly slept, and then, it was worth it. We would arrive at my family's house in Florida, where Minx had a whole host of lizards to chase.

Cats aren't the only jetsetters. Small dogs and pets under 20 pounds are allowed on many airliines in the cabin with passengers.

Delta permits eight pets per flight; Southwest said it allows five, though more might be allowed if circumstances allow.

Minx and I took Air Tran, now owned by Southwest, and it allowed two carriers in the cabin. An unlimited number of service animals may travel in the cabin, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

For those with allergies to animals, the FAA recommends minimizing exposure by flying on an airline that does not allow pets in the cabin. However, the FAA has the following disclaimer in its online pet FAQ: "You will still be exposed to pet dander on every flight, even without any pets in the passenger cabin. This is because most allergens are carried into the cabin on the clothes of other passengers."

For those flying with a pet, the ASPCA recommends booking a direct flight.

Before passengers purchase a pet ticket, most airlines ask whether pets' vaccinations are up-to-date and how much they weigh.

For Minx, the ticket was typically $60–$100 each way, and we could not book online; making a pet ticket reservation required a phone call to Air Tran.

Upon arrival at the airport, people with pets have to check in at the terminal regardless of whether they are checking luggage.

Approximately 12 percent of people traveling with pets said they plan to fly, according to TripAdvisor, which tracks travel trends.

In response, airports are providing accommodations for pet travelers. Some even have animal relief areas. At BWI, this section is near Concourse E—the international terminal—by the light rail station.

Even if they're not flying, many pets are going places with their people.

Forty-seven percent of people said they made plans to travel with their pets in 2012, according to TripAdvisor.

This article was originally published on Colesville Patch on Dec. 26, 2011. 

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