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What it was like flying internationally with a dog in-cabin on American Airlines: a full review




In March this year I performed the first live test of the PadsPass prototype and it worked! I flew American Airlines, the first time with our head of barketing Peru as a pet in-cabin and here’s how it went on our international flight from our home in Bermuda to Miami, Florida. 


I had never flown with American Airlines with a pet in-cabin. In the past I had traveled with a service dog so I didn’t know what to expect at check in. I was greeted by a really great agent at the priority desk in Bermuda who asked to see his health paperwork. I handed him the CDC vaccine and microchip identification form. 


NOTE: CDC regulations are changing as of August 1, 2024. See the changes on their website.


The check-in agent found all the paperwork acceptable, but then he did something I’d never seen a check-in agent do before- he began his own checklist. I couldn’t believe it! They had their own checklist!



But before I could stare in awe at the checklist I was asked to put the carrier on the scale with my dog inside.


Any pet parent who’s flown with their pet in-cabin in a carrier dreads this moment happening.


I held my breath as he looked at the scale, weighing in at 26 pounds. Peru is a slim 17 pounds and didn’t believe the carrier weighed quite that much. Before I could begin to make something of an attempt to knock off some weight by taking out the towel and anything else that was in the carrier pockets, he just noted the weight on the checklist and moved on. 


I was stunned. The moment of judgment came and went as easy as a tick of a box.


With my jaw likely still dropped I was asked to sign the check list and made sure to take a photo of it. What I was signing was my agreement he would remain in the carrier, and this is an important one for him. He does well in his carrier but he is under two years old. His behaviour is still developing and of course he’s still a pet. He has not completed his training yet. As much as I miss traveling with a service dog, I know from observing his behaviour  its for the safety of others and also myself he remains in his carrier. One day I hope he can graduate and be fully trained, but for now we can explore the world still just with the carrier closed while in-cabin. 


We flew on a A319 EOW and sat in the second row in economy with a little extra leg room. Pets in cabin cannot sit in a bulkhead or emergency exit row. I always prefer the window seat but this plane was retrofitted with silver metal boxes that held either electrical equipment for the seats or life vests. Either way, they cut into our carrier space. 




The pet carrier I’ve used for over the last ten years is the large rolling Snoozer. I am usually confident traveling knowing it can just about fit under the seats with a little help removing the bottom shelf. The retrofitting of this plane made less confident. Lucky for us no one was sitting in our row so I was able to move the carrier to under the middle seat. 


As it was Peru’s first flight with American Airlines, when a flight attendant walked by I had to ask for the essentials for any pet in cabin: 


Do you have wings on board that you usually give out for children?
I think so, why? 
Her skepticism wasn’t ill placed, I clearly didn’t have a child with me.
It's my dog’s first flight with American Airlines and I would always like to collect wings with my last dog. 
Oh yes of course, would he also like a log book? 
Yes of course! 

I had no idea American Airlines offered ‘Junior Aviators’ this book to log flights and learn more about flying. The captain even signed it for Peru’s first flight. The attendant said it was the first time they had ever signed one for a dog. 


I’ve been pushing the boundaries on a lot in pet travel it seems. 


We arrived into Miami more delayed than I had anticipated for my day’s schedule, and so to avoid any further delays I determined the best way to grab food and hit the road was to swing by the AA Flagship Lounge on my way to baggage claim. Peru wasn’t impressed. I didn't offer him anything and he made me and the other guests aware with a little yap. Thankfully we were only there for such a short time for a sandwich and some drinks to go that no one really took note of the yappiness. 



Touching down was pretty seamless compared to the return flight.


In Miami I went to the priority check in desk and got directed to someone that wasn’t the most dog friendly agent, also not the most human friendly agent - even to someone with Gold Status. 


Our minimal conversation went something like this:


Passport.

I handed her my US passport.


Do you have your Visitor Card for Bermuda completed?
No I’m a resident.
ID please. 

This is the first time I’ve been asked for a Bermuda ID, thankfully I had my driver’s license on me and hand it to her.


How many bags?  
Just one. 

She points for me to put it on the scale. And then she pauses. 


Do you have a pet with you?
Yes I do.
You have to tell us.
I did that’s why it’s on my reservation.
You have to TELL US. 
Yes ma’m. 
You have to pay a pet fee. 
Yes of course just let me know when you’re ready I’ll give you my card.
Put it on the scale. 
It looks big. 

I stood there and wanted to start defending my dog but realised she didn’t specify what she meant as ‘big’- size of the carrier, weight or dog itself? I actually thought it best not to ask and wait for her to ask me a question rather than replying to a statement.


That fits under the seat? 
Yes m’am, the bottom solid piece slides off and it becomes a soft sided carrier. Flown with it many times. 
Well, its a return flight anyway. Let me see the paperwork. 

After an interrogation that would give CBP a run for its money, she hardly glances at the paperwork, charges my credit card, and sends me on my way. Most importantly I have a Pet in Cabin noted on my ticket and my ticket in hand. 


Through security and to the gate we roll onto the plane. Once again, we have a retrofitted plane and the window seat choice is a fail. I’m envious of the aisle seat with none of the electrical boxes stealing the real estate. 




My biggest takeaways from flying with a pet in-cabin on American Airlines:


  • Check-in agents still hold a lot of inconsistency even within the same airline with Bermuda being quite friendly for American Airlines and Miami being less friendly.  

  • A319 EOW with the silver boxes reduces carrier space availability and the best options are the aisle seats

  • Get your pet in cabin a flight log book and see what the captain writes in it! 


Thankfully Peru sleeps soundly on the entire flight. We land in Bermuda only for him to awake and realise he hasn’t had dinner and he lets the yapping begin. 


Have you traveled with American Airlines? Yap about it on social media, be sure to tag @digitalpetpassport or PadsPass and share this article.

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