Charlotte, N.C. Taking your big dog home for the holidays? Not on US Airways.
The airline said Wednesday it is banning live animals from cargo holds, part of an effort to simplify and align its policies with America West's before the scheduled merger of the carriers in six weeks. Carrying small animals on board - a la Paris Hilton and her pooch, Tinkerbell - will remain acceptable for a $100 one-way fee.
In other changes, the airline is prohibiting unaccompanied children, ages 5 to 14, from taking trips that require a connection, and it will stop selling medical oxygen on board.
The pet-rule change mystified some experts in animal travel, who said they thought airlines fetch big money for ferrying animals as cargo or checked baggage.
In the last two years, Midwest Airlines and Continental Airlines have started frequent-flier programs for pets, and United Airlines this year offered bonus miles to owners who brought their pets along.
"The airlines have been more aggressive in their marketing toward accepting pets, encouraging people to take pets with them," said Jerry Hatfield, owner of PetTravel.com, which specializes in "pet-friendly" lodging and ships pets as cargo.
In the first two months since the U.S. government began requiring airlines to disclose incidents involving animals, carriers have reported nine deaths, nine injuries and two lost pets.
The tally includes one US Airways death: a sheltie named Kelly, who flew from Germany to Washington in May, but had to be put down following the trip after apparently ingesting a toxic substance. It is unclear whether the dog swallowed the substance before or during the trip.
US Airways declined to say how many pets it carries. An America West spokesman said his airline has banned pets in the cargo hold because its hubs in Phoenix and Las Vegas are very hot.
Service animals will continue to be permitted. In November 2000, US Airways allowed a 250-pound potbellied pig to travel in first class on a flight from Philadelphia to Seattle. The pig's owner claimed she needed it for "emotional support."