10/30/2009 at 03:00 PM EDT
If you want to take Fluffy or Fido with you on that airplane trip to visit Aunt Millie in Nebraska, the most important item of your journey will be your pet carrier. Depending on the airline, your pet can travel in the cabin with you (for small animals only) or as checked baggage.
When it comes to checking your pet as luggage, airlines have strict requirements for size, type and material (plastic yes, wire no). Show up with the wrong kind of carrier and your pet can be refused boarding mostly for his safety. If it's collapsible, for example, that's a no-no, as it could crush your pet in transit.
To be safe, "Always check with your airline ahead of time," advises Jason Goldberger, chief merchandising officer for Hayneedle.com
with sites PetCarriers.com
Having flown our yellow Lab, Ollie, across states and even continents, I've tried various means of transporting him. My favorite crate so far is the Pet Mate Extra Large Vari Kennel Ultra
With hand-screws to secure the halves together at the airport, it requires no tools and is light enough for me (a woman of average height and weight) to carry. Some of the tougher hard-plastic models are extremely heavy and difficult to maneuver, though they're undeniably sturdy.
The Ultra also has proper ventilation on ALL four sides, something some airlines demand, as well as a raised interior with a sort of moat around it so, says Goldberger, "If there is an accident your dog doesn't have to sit in it."
Keep in mind that prices and delivery charges will vary widely, and often a pet superstore will be far more expensive. After taking hours to find the best deal, I found DogKennels.com ruled, with $5 shipping (I paid this for a book and a CD last month!) and super-fast delivery, along with the lowest price. (Prices do change, so always compare deals at the time of purchase.) If a carrier on their site doesn't specifically say "airline approved," give them a call to check.
"We have a prominent 800-number on the site," says Goldberg. "We love it when people call and ask questions."See more reviews on PEOPLEPets.com:REVIEW: No Bath Time Struggle with TrueBlue's All-Natural Pet WipesREVIEW: What Recession? Dogs Live in Luxury at Hollywood's D Pet Hotels