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How To Navigate Air Travel With a Dog

How To Navigate Air Travel With a Dog

Air travel with your furry friend can be an adventure, but as you can imagine, preparation is key. Let’s break down how to fly with a dog so you can make your pup's journey as comfortable and stress-free as possible. 

How Stressful Is Flying For Dogs?

Can dogs fly on planes? Can my dog sit on my lap during a flight? 

No doubt, you will have lots of questions when it comes to flying with a dog. The reality is that flying can be a stressful experience for dogs. The noise, crowds, unusual smells, separation, and flying can feel overwhelming, contributing to anxiety and stress. 

If you think flying would be too stressful for your dog, alternatives include: 

  • Train travel 
  • Road trip 
  • Have your pup stay with a close friend or family member while you’re away 
  • Book a stay with a dog-sitting facility with excellent reviews 

Traveling In The Cabin Vs. Cargo

If you need to fly with your dog, the first thing to consider is how your pup will travel in the plane. Here’s the difference between in-cabin vs cargo travel for dogs. 


So, can dogs fly in-cabin? 

The answer will depend on the airline and your dog’s size and breed. 

Every airline has a different policy surrounding air travel for dogs. Dogs are generally only allowed in the cabin with you if they are a specific size (typically under 20 lbs, including the carrier). 

A major benefit of cabin travel for dogs is that they get to stay next to their favorite person, you! This can help reduce stress and separation anxiety, make monitoring your pup easier, and provide comfort.

Generally, you can’t have your dog outside their carrier on your lap because of safety, comfort, and hygiene. 


Larger dogs are too big to travel in the cabin, so they will need to go in the cargo. Flying with a larger dog will require slightly different preparation. Service animals are exempt from pet regulations and can fly in the cabin with their handler. 

Naturally, traveling in the cargo hold can be more stressful for your dog as they are apart from you. It’s scary to put your pup into the hands of the airline even with the most pet-friendly policy. 

Airlines impose certain temperature restrictions on pet travel, often canceling the option to put dogs in cargo holds due to extreme weather temperatures. While this does prioritize dog safety, it means that your airline may cancel your travel plans at the last minute. Despite cargo holds being temperature controlled, your dog can still be exposed to extreme temperatures during loading, unloading, and layovers on the tarmac. 

What Are The Rules For Flying With A Dog?

Dogs can fly on planes, but the rules for flying can change depending on the airline, your destination, and your dog's breed and size. Airlines can also have different temperature limitations for cargo hold travel, which you can find on the airline’s website or by contacting the airline directly. 

Here are some rules for flying with your dog you can expect to come across: 

  • Size and breed restrictions for in-cabin and cargo travel 
  • Fees for traveling with your dog (cabin and cargo)  
  • Temperature limitations that restrict pet travel during particular weather 
  • Health certificate within a certain period before travel 
  • A carrier that meets your airline’s specifications 
  • Documentation (contact details, flight details, health certificate, etc.) 
  • Vaccination records 
  • Location-specific import/export requirements 

Preparing For Airline Rules And Restrictions

If you know you have a flight coming up with your pup, start preparing early. The exact rules will depend on your airline and flight details. Let’s dive in. 

Breed Restrictions

Airlines have breed restrictions, especially for pets traveling in cargo. This is mainly down to safety. Snub-nosed breeds (like pugs or French bulldogs) can’t generally fly in hold because they already have some difficulty breathing because of their shortened airways. The stress from flying and the limited air circulation in the cargo hold can worsen these problems. Size and temperament are usually the biggest factors for in-cabin travel rather than breed. 

Extra Fees

Can I buy my dog a seat on an airplane? Sometimes, you can buy an additional seat for your dog when you travel. For example, United Airlines lets you purchase an extra seat for your dog, but they still have size restrictions as the carrier has to fit under the seat in front of you during takeoff and landing. 

Typically, in-cabin travel is cheaper than cargo travel on US airlines, ranging from approximately $75-$200 per one-way trip. However, the exact cost will depend on your journey. 

For cargo travel, the cost will depend on the combined weight of the dog and their crate, as well as your flight distance.  

Pet Carrier Standards

Most airlines follow guidelines from The International Transport Association, which states that animals should have enough space to turn while standing, stand and sit, and lie in a natural position. The exact requirements for the carrier can change depending on the airline, but there are key points to consider: 

  • Must fit under the seat for in-cabin travel (check with your specific airline for dimensions) 
  • The carrier should be sturdy, well-ventilated, and leak-proof, with solid handles 
  • Secure closers to stop your dog from escaping accidentally 
  • Clear labeling of “Live Animal” and your details and flight destination

Health Certificate

Another requirement most airlines have is a health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian. A health certificate tells the airline that your dog is fit and healthy for air travel and is up-to-date on their vaccinations. In general, the validity window of the health certificate for dogs is about ten days, so you will need to fly within that time. 

Best Practices for Medications 

Many people think about medications for dogs when flying and wonder if they can help with stress. It’s important to always speak to your vet beforehand and avoid self-medicating your dog. For example, antihistamines can give humans a mild sedative effect, but they can result in unpredictable reactions in dogs. So it’s best to only use vet-approved options like natural calming aids or anti-anxiety medication specifically formulated for dogs, with the proper dosage. 

Not all dogs need medication to fly; some travel well without it. But others may experience a lot of stress during air travel. Your veterinarian can help you create the best travel plan for your pup if they are an anxious traveler. This might include calming aids, anti-anxiety meds, or desensitization training. If your pup also gets motion sickness, your vet can help with medication specifically for that issue. 

Keep in mind that if you are traveling with prescribed medication for your pup, you will likely need the prescription on you as well as a clearly labeled medication container with your dog’s name, dosage instructions, and expiration date. 

Additional Rules To Check

If you’re spending your nights Googling “how to bring my dog on the plane,” here are some additional rules to check as you prepare for travel. 

Destination-Specific Rules

Some destinations don’t allow pets in the cabin, regardless of size. A small number of countries may also have complete bans on pet entry or certain breeds due to current public health concerns or safety. Countries usually have specific requirements for border entry, including certain vaccinations, parasite prevention, health testing, and import permits. 

Local Animal Import Laws

Local animal import laws can vary depending on your destination and if you have any layovers during international travel. Some countries may have restrictions even if you just pass through their territory in a stopover. For instance, Hawaii has stricter pet import regulations than the mainland US because of its unique ecosystem and to prevent rabies from spreading. To help you prepare, research all airport layovers, contact the airline, and consider direct flights where possible. 

Rabies Risk

There are rules for dogs returning to the US from countries deemed high-risk for rabies by the CDC. This list can change, so checking the CDC website for the most up-to-date information is important. In cases where your dog has their rabies vaccine in the US, they may be able to return from a high-risk country, but there will likely still be additional requirements to follow. 

On The Day Of Travel

All the paperwork is complete, and now you're ready to fly. Here are some tips for helping you and your pooch prepare for the day of travel. 

Preparing the Carrier

Read up on the TSA’s rules on dog food, especially if you’re bringing your pup’s favorite wet food in your carry-on. The TSA considers both wet and dry dog food solid food, so you should be able to pack them in your carry-on bag. But there is a restriction on the amount you can bring in. 

If your pup is flying in cargo, make sure your carrier meets your airline’s regulations. Use clear labeling, markings to identify your dog, contact information, and directional arrows to ensure the carrier stays upright. While not mandatory, you can add a photo in a clear plastic pouch to the carrier for identification. 

Getting your pup microchipped is also helpful. Some airlines allow attachable food and water bowls in the carrier for longer trips, so check with your airline. 

Preparing Your Pet 

So, your carrier is prepped and ready to go, now to look after your pup. 

Here are some tips to help get your dog ready for air travel: 

  • Introduce the carrier early, way before you plan to fly, and leave some treats inside to encourage exploration. 
  • Play a recording of plane and airport noises at home. 
  • On the day of the flight, get out for some exercise so your pup feels tired. 

  • Try to stick to your dog’s routine as much as possible, even when traveling. 

  • Add familiar items to your dog’s carrier to provide extra comfort. 
  • Stay calm yourself and offer reassurance to your dog.

Make sure to pack for accidents so you are ready if they do happen. Bring some dog-safe wet wipes, a small plastic bag, and extra puppy pads. Choose a leak-proof carrier to contain potential messes, and line the bottom with puppy pads. Feed a lighter-than-normal meal before the flight, and try to squeeze in a potty break beforehand. 

Checking In

Give yourself plenty of time for the check-in process. However long you think it will take, add a little buffer. Double-check you have all your documents and review the airline’s procedure for pet check-in. 

Ahead of the flight, practice getting your dog into the carrier calmly so that it doesn’t feel like a big stressful experience on the day. Here are the general steps to take for check-in: 

  • Locate the pet check-in desk 
  • Show all your documentation to the airline representative 
  • Some airlines may visually inspect your dog 
  • The carrier and your dog will likely be weighed 
  • Pay any extra fees 

If your pup is coming with you in the cabin, the carrier will need to go on the x-ray belt, and you will need to keep your dog on a leash during security. Airports may ask you to carry your dog through security. 

Arriving at Your Destination

If your pup is in the cargo hold, go to the airline’s cargo facility to pick them up. Always confirm the exact timeframe for pickup with your airline ahead of travel. Whether your dog flew in cargo or with you in the cabin, go for a walk, potty break, and praise them with lots of cuddles, treats, and toys. Some airports have a pet relief area for a good leg stretch between flights.

Which Airlines Are The Most Pet Friendly?

Here are some of the most pet-friendly airlines based on factors like fees, in-cabin acceptance, and weight allowances:

  • Alaska Airlines: A popular choice, they allow dogs to travel in the cabin and cargo hold, with an in-cabin fee of $100 per carrier with up to 2 dogs per carrier. 
  • American Airlines: Dogs can travel in the cabin and cargo hold. The in-cabin fee is $125 for domestic flights and $200 for international flights. 
  • Delta Air Lines: Dogs can travel in both cabin and cargo, with an in-cabin fee of $95 for domestic and $200 for international flights. 
  • Frontier Airlines: The in-cabin fee is $99, but there are some restrictions based on destination. 
  • JetBlue Airways: Only allows small dogs in the cabin for $125. 
  • Southwest Airlines: Dogs can only travel in the cabin, and the fee is $95. But you can’t fly with a dog on flights to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands. 
  • United Airlines: Dogs can travel in the cabin and cargo hold. If an additional seat is available, you can book it for your dog at the cost of a standard passenger seat. 
  • Hawaiian Airlines: Dogs can travel in cabin and cargo, but they don’t allow pets on flights to and from Hawaii. 

  • As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into flying with your dog, and it takes time to get everything together. Overall, careful planning and speaking with your airline are crucial to a smooth experience and keeping your pooch as happy and calm as possible while traveling.


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