Delta launches new airline pet travel option, feds float restrictions

Delta launches new airline pet travel option, feds float restrictions
Delta Cargo Lead Product Manager Sara Bernhardt and her 5-month-old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Peach, introduce the CarePod. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines is launching a new option for airline pet travel — and it’s not cheap.

In Atlanta and seven other cities, the Atlanta-based carrier now offers the option to transport your pet as cargo in a CarePod.

A CarePod is a specialized pet travel carrier with GPS tracking, a built-in water bowl, industrial-strength walls, a triple-locking door and “specially angled blinds to help create a calming environment for pets.”

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The launch of the CarePod option follows Delta’s decision in 2016 to stop accepting pets as checked baggage, after facing criticism for pet deaths in checked carriers.

Dog owners can bring their dog in on a leash instead of providing their own carrier, and can get updates on their pet’s journey on their mobile phones.

The price for pet travel in a CarePod: $850 one-way. Prices are subject to change, according to the airline.

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That news came on the same day that the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a proposal to stop recognizing emotional support animals as service animals and to recognize only dogs as service animals.

For those that have traveled with their pet as an emotional support animal, such a change could remove the option to travel with a pet for free.

It normally costs $125 each way for a pet to travel in the cabin on a Delta domestic flight, and the animal must be small enough to fit in a carrier under the seat.

Larger pets can only be transported in a plane’s cargo hold on Delta, but even in cargo, Delta last year put in place restrictions on pet carrier size to allow crates only up to 24 inches high. The CarePod is roughly that size — large enough for a dog up to about 50 lbs.

Delta now offers the option of regular Delta cargo service or a CarePod on direct flights between two cities where the service is available. Transporting a pet from Los Angeles to New York via regular Delta cargo service can cost $244 to $656, depending on size and add-ons like use of a crate and GPS.

Delta has been working on the debut of the new pet transport service since 2018, when it announced its partnership with Singapore-based pet travel pod startup CarePod, and just completed a two-month trial.

“With the Delta partnership, we aim to raise the benchmark for pet travel,” said CarePod founder and CEO Jenny Pan in a written statement. Delta says it has an exclusive partnership with CarePod for 12 months.

The CarePod service is now available in Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York JFK and New York LaGuardia, San Francisco and West Palm Beach. It will next be rolled out in phases across Delta’s U.S. network.

Instead of going to the terminal, pets shipped via cargo in a CarePod or in another carrier must be dropped off at a Delta Cargo location at least three hours before departure, and must be picked up at a cargo location. Pet travel in a CarePod can be booked between 3 and 13 days before departure.

The CarePod is designed to reduce vibrations, noise and visual stimulation of pets while they are traveling.

Snub-nosed dogs and cats, which are more prone to respiratory problems and can be at higher risk during flights, are still not permitted on Delta flights. And Delta warns that transporting pets can affect them physically and mentally.

In 2018, 10 pets died during air travel, and another 7 were injured, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That included four pets that died on Delta due to a pre-existing medical condition or other reasons. In one incident, a cat named Bell escaped from a kennel while being driven to the plane and “suffered a fatal injury in the baggage conveyor system.”

With the CarePod, “the goal is to make pet travel as safe or safer than human travel,” said Delta director of safety and alliances Matt Weisenburg.

Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier in Atlanta, also does not allow pets as checked baggage, and charges $95 each way for a pet carrier.

The Department of Transportation proposal issued Tuesday could further change the way animals travel because it could bring an end to emotional support animals getting special access to fly in the cabin. Other animals such as cats or miniature horses would not be recognized as service animals under the proposed rules.

The agency is inviting public comment for 60 days before it decides on the final rules, which could take months or years to finalize.

The DOT is also proposing to require passengers that want to fly with a service animal to fill out federal forms attesting that their animal is a service animal trained to perform tasks to help them with their disability and that the animal can behave well. Making false statements on such forms would be a federal crime.

Under the proposed rules, airlines would be able to require passengers with disabilities who travel with a service animal to check in one hour earlier, and carriers could limit each passenger with a disability to two service animals.

The DOT also plans to continue to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal based on its breed — though Delta Air Lines has maintained its ban on pit bulls even after the DOT issued guidance last year saying such a breed ban is not allowed.

This story written by Kelly Yamanouchi with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.