Pet travel is a practice that’s been growing in popularity for many years and shows no signs of slowing down. Around 60% of dog owners transport their pet by car at least once each month. While long-distance pet travel is less frequent, it’s still more popular than ever before. Thirty percent of pet owners reported transporting their pets long distances, up from 14% in 2013. Pet adoption numbers are up, which means pet travel is more popular than ever. The formerly niche industry is having to keep up with growing demand and the result has been specialized airline pet policies, added travel options, and lower travel rates.
While many facets of pet travel are progressing, one has stayed firmly stagnant: technology. Airline-approved pet carriers have remained relatively unchanged for the past decade. To an extent, we understand this; if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Pet carriers continue to keep animals safe and secure during their time in transit. There are, however, many aspects of pet carriers that hinder pet parents’ ability to travel. The most prohibitive? Weight.
Weight Limits for Airline Pet Travel
Most commercial airlines impose size and weight restrictions on traveling pets. The sweet spot sits between 15lb and 20lb. Animals in carriers that weigh more than the maximum limit are not permitted to travel. Unfortunately, pet carriers cut significantly into that weight requirement, often weighing between 3lbs and 7lbs. This disqualifies some of America’s most popular dog breeds from most commercial flights. For example, a standard Dachshund will weigh between 16lbs and 19lbs. Unless the owner scours the internet in search of an ultralightweight carrier, this small companion breed will have trouble flying. Only toy breeds, such as Chihuahuas, Lhasa Apso, and Miniature Poodles, can consistently fit within the in-cabin guidelines. Even larger cats are hindered by the weight limit.
So, if the maximum weight is so low, why aren’t pet carrier manufacturers scrambling to lower the overall weight of their products? The most lightweight carriers on the market weigh around 3lbs and are made of soft material, such as polyester and fleece—not the most durable materials. Brands like ibiyaya are working to decrease the overall weight of pet carriers (their lightest weighs just 1.37lbs), but high costs make these products inaccessible to most pet parents.
The Next Generation of Pet Carriers
Here’s the most frustrating part of this discrepancy: the perfect lightweight material exists. Dyneema, an ultralightweight fabric, has a strength-to-weight ratio around ten times stronger than steel. Plus, you can already purchase this material in a range of products—just not airline-approved pet carriers. Current lightweight technology is employed in a variety of travel scenarios, from backpacking to back country exploration. Plus, it’s not expensive to make; Dyneema and other ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene substances is relatively cheap to manufacture.
That said, here’s where we see the future of airline-approved pet carriers: As the demand for lightweight carriers grows, manufacturers will begin to utilize existing lightweight technology. Pet travel is growing each year, and parents with larger breeds (or overweight pets) will continue searching for solutions. Relatively inexpensive production costs will drive prices down once enough brands get on the lightweight bandwagon. This “race to the bottom” will finally make this material accessible to most consumers.
Alternate Solutions for Increasing Pet Travel Options
There is another potential outcome. Airlines themselves may feel pressured to increase the maximum weight limit. Pet-centric travel planning and pet amenities are quickly increasing in popularity, and we would not be surprised to see airlines try to cash in on the trend. Certain American Airlines flights already have pet-friendly business class pods; we expect to see more of the same in the coming years.
Regardless of which option becomes reality, here’s the good news: lightweight and airline-approved pet carriers are in our future. We may need to wait for the market to catch up to pet parent trends, but we expect to see ultralightweight pet travel gear become a strong and sustainable trend.