Flying With A Dog: How To Fly And Travel With Pets (Our First-Hand Experience)


Last Updated: July 20, 2023 | 19 min read | 9 Comments

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girl holding a dog at the airport sitting next to a suitcase

Headed out of town or on holiday and want to bring your furry family member along for the ride? Perhaps you are going to a conference or traveling for work and would like for your pup to keep you company. Whether it’s a short trip or a long-haul flight, we’ve got plenty of first-hand experience traveling with dogs. Here are a few tips for how to fly with pets to have smooth sailing for you and your travel companion that we’ve learned over the years and countless miles together.

Before You Book A Flight

dog riding in a car share and next to back of SUV with luggage
When flying with dogs, you’ll need to also take into consideration ground transportation to and from the airport

Before you book a ticket, consider the following when planning your trip with your cat, dog, or other household pet:

  • Destination – Is it a pet-friendly spot? Are there plenty of parks, patios, and outdoor activities? Familiarize yourself with the local dog laws and find out if Fido will be welcome where you go. Be sure to reference our article on tips for dining out with dogs.
  • Timing – If you’re traveling during peak season, holidays, or summer months, you might anticipate delays due to weather or traffic. Also, the time of day makes a difference, so try to leave early to beat the rush and crowds. Experts also recommend traveling during the week rather than on weekends (this way, you can avoid office closures and higher traveler volume).
  • Ground Transportation – In addition to the airplane, you’ll also need to make note of other forms of transportation to get around before and after the flight. Do you need to take a subway to get around? Uber or Lyft both allow pets at the driver’s discretion. Once you confirm your driver, contact them and ask before you hop into your ride.
  • Accommodations – Staying with someone you know? Make sure they’re willing to host your animal (in addition to you). Hotels, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rentals might allow animals but might charge an additional fee (per night or per stay). Additionally, they could have a weight or breed restriction. Luckily, more places are lenient about letting pooches at their properties (and even cater to them with dog bones and pet gifts upon check-in). Read our article on pet-friendly hotel chains to learn more.
  • Activities – What’s on the agenda for your adventure? Traveling for work and having meetings during the day? If you plan on leaving your dog alone for an extended period, use one of these pet sitting apps to find a reliable walker or doggy daycare in the area that can give you peace of mind while you’re out having fun or being busy.

Before You Go

two cavaliers with ID tags on collar
Make sure your pet has proper identification with a phone number to reach you

Of course, no one intends to deal with a runaway pet. But should they wander off, it will be much easier to find your pet with an ID tag. Double-check that the contact information is correct, including the best way to reach you while you are on the go.

Schedule A Vet Visit

two cavaliers sitting at the vet waiting
Schedule a vet visit before you travel so their vaccinations and records are current

It’s always recommended to confirm that your dog is up to date on all of their vaccinations since your dog could come in contact with illnesses while traveling. Carry a hard copy of proof of records and medical history with you while in transit.

International travel (or outside the continental U.S.) requires at least one pre-flight vet visit to a USDA-accredited vet, who will sign off on the health certificate needed to travel. If crossing any borders, you’ll also need to have a vet health certificate stating your pet is fit to fly. Visit the Department of Agriculture’s site to check if your dog meets the health requirements.

Additional visits may be needed if vaccine updates are in order, and taking the opportunity to request a full checkup isn’t a bad idea, either. Especially if your dog is a senior or prone to genetic complications, having them undergo a comprehensive exam is the best way to identify any underlying issues that may complicate travel.

Pack For Your Pooch

dog sitting in a suitcase with clothes packing and pet medications
It’s easy to forget things when packing for yourself and a pet for a trip or vacation.

A dog’s packing list should include:

  • Bedding or blanket
  • A favorite toy or two
  • Enough food for the time you plan to be gone — if you have a kitchen or are planning an extended trip, you can make your own dog food
  • Bones and treats for rewards
  • Leash and collar
  • Water dish and food bowl
  • Medications (if needed)
  • Pet Carrier (see below)

Have These Things Handy Too

dog toys on car seta and dog bowls with a dog in a hotel room
Make sure all the essentials are in a carry-on versus checked bags or easily accessible in the car.

In addition to the packing list above, you’ll want to have these items easy to get to before, during, and after transit.

  • Reward treats in a clear Ziploc bag (that way, you won’t get questioned at security).
  • Reusable water bottle and collapsible bowl (or better yet, a dog water bottle with a built-in dispenser)
  • Poop bags
  • CBD treats for anxiety
  • Small bag of food (if it’s a long trip or in case of delay)
  • Anxiety medication (if needed)

Personal Experience Flying Without Dog Food

“I was flying back to DC from Charlotte when we got stuck at the airport for several hours due to a hurricane warning. I didn’t pack any food since it was supposed to be a short trip (and a quick flight), but we ended up desperate for dinner for Lexie and walked around all the terminals looking for something she could eat that was dog-friendly. Ended up finding a Chinese restaurant and got her unseasoned chicken and rice to hold her over until we got home. In the future, I always pack extra food in a carry-on just in case!”

Train Your Dog To Travel In A Carrier Or Crate

cavaliers in a dog carrier and car seat
Practicing to help your dog feel comfortable in their carrier is one of the kindest things you can do for your pet.

Check the airline’s regulations and get an airline-approved pet carrier (usually soft-sided). They’ll suggest that your dog can stand up and move around comfortably in it.

We also recommend one with pockets or compartments on the sides to stash the stuff you’ll need on the go. And don’t forget to put a travel tag with your contact information and your dog’s ID on the handle of their carrier.

Often overlooked or put off until the last minute, carrier acclimation is one of the most important parts of planning your travels. Building familiarity with this environment will help to reduce their stress levels immensely. Dogs and cats who see their crate as a comfortable and normal place to hang out are much better travelers.

My First-Hand Experience With Wild One Travel Carrier

“Our 15-pound Cavalier uses Wild One’s travel carrier which is FDA-approved and has plenty of room. He seems very cozy inside and likes being able to pop his head out of the corner to look around. The high-quality material makes it durable and easy to clean. The padding on the bottom is spongy and supportive, almost like an orthopedic bed. It has all the strength of a heavy-duty carrier at a lighter weight than the average, making it easier to carry. There are lots of pockets to stash treats and a collapsable water bowl. And the strap doubles as a leash if need be.”

Use treats, toys, and other training techniques to gradually help them get used to their airline-approved carrying case in the weeks before you fly. You might try shorter car rides to get them adjusted to the feeling. Start with them in the carrier unzipped on the seat, then partially closed, and then with the entire flap zipped up. You might even work up to putting them on the floor under your feet.

Airline-Specific Pet Policies

dog with luggage in travel carrier
Here are the policies of the most popular U.S. carriers and what they allow in flight

Contact the airline ahead of time to ensure that your pup meets the airline’s size/weight requirements and fill out the associated paperwork (if needed). There is no FDA standard, and each airline sets its own rules, which are constantly changing, so please double-check ahead of time by contacting them directly.

Fees also vary based on airlines, so check out our article dedicated to pet fees for flying.

AirlineDomestic (48 States)International, Caribbean & HawaiiPets AllowedMax # Of Pets
AlaskacheckmarkcheckmarkDogs, cats, rabbits & household birds11
AmericancheckmarkcheckmarkDogs & catsVaries based on aircraft
DeltacheckmarkcheckmarkDogs, cats & household birds (domestic only)6 (varies based on aircraft)
FrontiercheckmarkcheckmarkDogs, cats, household birds, hamsters & guinea pigsUnknown
Jet BluecheckmarkcheckmarkDogs & cats6
SouthwestcheckmarkDogs & cats6
SpiritcheckmarkcheckmarkDogs, cats, household birds & rabbits6 pet carriers
UnitedcheckmarkcheckmarkDogs & cats2-6 (depending on aircraft)

Alaska Airlines’ pet policy

Alaska Airlines provides Fur-st Class Care™ for furry frequent flyers. There are a limited number of pets allowed on each flight (3 in first class, 8 in main cabin) and reserved on a first-come, first-served basis by calling reservations after booking your flight (at least a day before travel). Dogs, cats, rabbits, and household birds are allowed and must be 8 weeks old and not nursing. You may have 2 of the same pet species in the same carrier.

Only dogs are allowed to be transported to Hawaii, and additional restrictions apply (including a limited number of pets on a plane, depending on the season). Dogs and cats can travel internationally to Canada, Costa Rica, and Mexico (not Belize) with restrictions and documentation.

Call Alaska Air reservations or chat with a reservations representative to request a spot once your trip is booked.

American airlines pet policy

American Airlines allows 1 kennel per passenger to fly in the cabin with at least 12 hours’ notice within the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and a few select Caribbean destinations (for an additional fee in some cases outside of the 48 contiguous states). In-cabin pets are limited to cats and dogs only and limited in first class and business on some aircraft due to the lack of under-seat storage.

To add a furry travel companion to your trip, go to their website or App, and in the Special Services section, select “add carry-on pets,” review and agree to the terms, and confirm they are allowed.

If your pet is too big to fly in the cabin, you are out of luck at this time. They only allow active-duty U.S. Military and Foreign Service personnel traveling on official orders to check pets (and have additional requirements and paperwork).

delta pet policy

Delta allows pets at least 10 weeks old as a carry-on for domestic travel and 16 weeks old if traveling to another country. Multiple pets per kennel are allowed with certain exceptions. You can not sit in flat-bed seats with your pet, and certain rows are restricted on some aircraft. Typically 2 pets are allowed per first class and 4 in the main cabin.

Household birds are allowed on U.S. flights (except Hawaii, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam). If you visit a Sky Club lounge, your pet must remain in their carrier at all times (similar to onboard).

You must contact Delta ahead of time to make arrangements.

frontier pet policy

Frontier allows dogs and cats (at least 8 weeks old), hamsters, guinea pigs, and small household birds (no parrots, macaws, or cockatoos) on board all domestic flights to/from the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Pets are not allowed to be checked, and you must pay in advance.

You can add a pet to your trip at the time of booking online by selecting “cabin pet” under additional services on the passenger info page. To add them to an existing booking, go to “Manage your booking” online and find “add special services,” and enter your pet’s info.

jet blue pet policy

Only one pet (small dogs and cats) is allowed per carrier on JetBlue (except Mint). A maximum of 2 pets per traveler is allowed, each in their own carrier (with an additional seat and pet fee). International travel is allowed to Barbados, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and other Central America and Caribbean destinations (through JFK airport only), with the exception of Trinidad & Tobago or Europe, including the U.K., with additional planning and paperwork.

They only allow a total of 6 pets per domestic flight, so booking ahead of time is encouraged. You can add them and pay their pet fee at the time of booking or via online or JetBlue’s App. One perk of flying with a pet on JetBlue is TrueBlue members earn 300 extra points per segment.

southwest pet policy

Southwest is known for its family-first and extra-friendly service when flying. What about pets? Not so much. Small vaccinated domestic cats and dogs over 8 weeks old are allowed on board for domestic flights only (except Hawaii). They allow 1 pet carrier per traveler with no more than 2 of the same species of cat or dog.

Unlike other carriers which allow you to pay in advance, you must go to the ticket counter to pay the fee in person. A total of 6 pets are allowed per flight, but the total varies, so make sure to contact Southwest via phone to add your pet to your reservation (can not do online).

You do not get special boarding privileges, so make sure you are quick to check in (or pay extra for a better boarding spot since seats are first-come, serve, and you don’t want to get stuck with a middle seat in the back of the plane). No cargo pets are allowed, and vaccination documentation is not required.

spirit pet policy

Spirit customers can bring domesticated dogs, cats, small household birds, and rabbits on board all U.S. and select Mexico and Caribbean destinations. Birds and rabbits are not allowed to travel to and from Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. A total of 6 pet containers (with up to 2 of the same species per container) are allowed per flight and need to be checked at the ticket counter. Pets should be at least 8 weeks old and not nursing. Spirit does not allow cargo pets.

To add your pet to your reservation, call Spirit’s reservation, text them, or use WhatsApp to make arrangements.

united pet policy

United dogs and cats are free to move about the world on United-operated flights within the U.S. and select international destinations (with additional paperwork). Domestic pets must be at least 8 weeks old for domestic flights and 4 months old for international. Similar to American, only active Military and State Department officials’ pets can fly in United’s cargo via PetSafe.

To add a pet to your trip, select “Travel with a pet” at the time of booking or go to “My Trips” and add to an existing booking (online only, can not do via Unite’s App).

Additional Policies

airline ticket and dog under the seat on a plane
No matter which airline you fly, there are many rules you must abide by with your pet in the skies

Keep these things in mind as you get ready to embark on your journey. (Pet policies are set by each airline, but most use the following guidelines):

  • The person accompanying the pet must be at least 18 years old (no minors)
  • Pet and carrier combined weight can’t exceed 20 pounds
  • The animal must be in a carrier at all times and fit under the seat in front of you (counts as a personal item towards bag policy)
  • Maximum of 2 pets per customer (same species in the same carrier)
  • Passengers with pets may not sit in the exit row or bulkhead sets
  • Pet must be up to date on vaccinations
  • You must notify the airline ahead of time
  • In some cases, additional paperwork is required
  • If approved, you must pay a fee ahead of time or at the airport

If your pet isn’t approved for in-flight, they’ll need to go into the cargo area (if the airline allows for checked pets and has a temperature-controlled cargo area). And if not, you’ll need to consider leaving your pet at home.

Many airlines have established “pet safe” programs, which means they follow specific guidelines for pets, such as using temperature-controlled ground vehicles and following a last on/first offloading protocol.

Note that airlines have been cracking down and will not accept certain types of pets or snub-nosed dog breeds like Pugs or Bulldogs since they have a more difficult time breathing in higher altitudes. Other animals, including reptiles and birds, are frequently not allowed on board either.

Ultimately, the airline’s main priority is to ensure the safety and comfort of every passenger.

best airline to travel with pets

dog waiting to board aircraft
Smaller aircraft or larger may require riding a bus or shuttle between the gate and plane (or between terminals)

Some airlines are more pet-friendly than others. Based on our research (and personal experience), the most Fido-friendly airlines are the ones that allow the most convenience for traveling with a pet making it easy to book, pay for your pet, and board the flight. The most pet-friendly airlines should also have more pets (and types of pets) allowed on board and the most number of destinations.

Based on that criteria, Southwest is the least friendly option for several reasons (including no international travel, no ability to pick your seat in advance, must call to add, and pay at the gate, etc.). But others like American, Frontier, JetBlue, and United are better options offering more countries and types of pets and making it easy to add and pay for your pet to your trip online or App.

Best airlines for pet travel outside the U.S. and international travel:

  • KLM – Small cats or dogs can ride in the Economy Class cabin of most flights and Business Class for flights within Europe for a fee of 30 to 200 Euros depending on the destination
  • Lufthansa – Up to 2 animals (minimum age: 16 weeks) in the cabin for the cost of 50 to 110 Euros per flight, depending on the route

Select The Right Route

As for routing, sometimes, a direct flight makes the most sense. In other cases, it could be better to schedule a layover to give your dog a chance to leave their kennel (under the pet-safe airline’s supervision) for a bathroom, stretch, and meal break.

My Personal Experience With Flying Direct vs Connecting With A Dog

“Over the holidays in 2022, we flew Southwest from Baltimore to Charlotte (right before their whole system-wide meltdown that was due to winter storm Elliot that caused weather delays across the country). We live in DC, and all SWA flights to Raleigh or Charlotte from DCA require a stopover in Atlanta, so we ended up driving 30 miles to BWI. With holiday traffic, it took well over an hour to get to the airport (when it’s typically 20-30 minutes). Then we were delayed on the tarmac for a good hour waiting for passengers to board (as it was the last flight before they were going to start canceling flights). Then driving from Charlotte to our final destination took a while with traffic. In the end, the total travel time was probably more than if we would have driven. But Georgie was a trooper the whole time, and glad we had flow direct to minimize ever more possibilities of getting stuck in another city with our dog.”

Consider Priority Boarding & Security Upgrades

If you are traveling with a pet, waiting in long lines at the ticket counter, security line, and boarding can be stressful. You might consider paying for upgrades like expedited services (TSAPrecheck, Clear, or through your airlines) to get through the process faster. Pre-boarding also allows you to get settled in and comfortable before taking off. One other upgrade worth considering is extra legroom in premium seating (either in economy plus or first-class). Your pup (and feet) will thank you.

how to fly with multiple pets

As you can see from the list above, many carriers allow you to travel with multiple pets in one carrier (of the same species). They must be able to get up and move around comfortably and meet the weight limits, so it’s limited to miniature dogs and small cats (or other animals like guinea pigs or rabbits). If you have multiple pets that don’t fit in the same travel container, consider flying with another person who can transport the other carrier for you.

Day Of Travel Preparations

Pets are passengers and should be just as respectful of others as humans are. However, just like you can’t control crying babies or kids who kick your seat, you can’t control your dog. But bringing a dog on a plane can be a stress-free situation for everyone on board if you follow these tips.

We should note that our advice is based on how to fly with your dog in the cabin (versus checked in the cargo). 

Locate The Pet Relief Areas

pet relief areas at airports
Larger and updated airports tend to have potty relief areas in the terminals, so you don’t have to exit security.

Get to know where the pet relief areas are at the airports you will be traveling to ahead of time (including layovers). Most smaller airports will only have them outside. In this case, if you need to take them out, ensure that you have plenty of time to leave and come back through security. And don’t be surprised if your pup is potty shy, as there are lots of people passing by, which might distract them. Some dogs also may not be accustomed to going on fake grass.

My Personal Experience With Pet Relief Areas In Airports

“Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has huge pet relief areas inside near T7, A10, B33, C19, D Centerpoint, E14, and F7. Each comes equipped with concrete and grassy turf areas, a ground-level drinking fountain, poop bags, a washing station, and an automated entry door (see pictured above on the left). They even have a 1,000-square-foot fenced dog Poochie Park outdoors near passenger pickup in the South Terminal open 24/7 (in addition to an additional pet relief area outside of door A1 in the International Terminal). With 7 indoor and 2 outdoor pet relief areas, ATL has the highest number of areas for a U.S. Airport.”

Before The Flight

Your travel day can be hectic (especially when adding a pet into the mix). Follow these guidelines to make things less chaotic.

  • Take your dog potty before going into the airport (or train station) to resist the urge to go potty while in transit
  • Resist giving your dog larger meals before your flight (if possible), and restrict water intake to avoid accidents
  • Get to the airport or train station extra early since, and likely, you’ll need to go to the ticket counter ahead of time to check them in (no mobile boarding passes for them, sorry!)
  • Your dog will go through security (just like everyone else), so prepare to remove their harness, collar, and leash and guide (or carry) them through the metal detector
  • Fill up your dog’s reusable water bottle once you get through security to have plenty of water for them to drink
  • If you have the option to select your seat, try to find a location close to the front of the plane so you can de-plane quickly (pay extra, it’s worth it).
  • If you have the luxury of a non-packed flight, see if you can request a spot without anyone next to you for a little extra breathing room under the seat
  • Check excess bags so you have enough hands to carry your pet in their carrier along with your purse or other personal belongings
  • Not accustomed to taking your pet in a carrier? Practice at home
  • Get a carrying case on wheels or one that can strap onto your roller bag to make it easier on you (and your back)
  • Keep in mind your dog carrier counts as your personal item

During The Flight

Buckle your seatbelts — it’s time to take off. You can sit back and relax thanks to these friendly reminders on how to take your dog on a plane safely and efficiently.

  • When boarding, notify the flight attendant and passengers around you that you have a pet to set expectations in case of any in-flight issues, and any nearby allergic passengers can get a new seat if needed
  • Unless they are a therapy dog, keep them in their carrier at all times
  • As recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association, pets should not be tranquilized or given sedatives as they will be at higher risk of cardiovascular issues at high altitudes
  • Pet their head or put your hand next to the mesh so they can sniff your scent and give them security
  • The stress of traveling, the motion of the aircraft, and other factors could make your pet uncomfortable, so it’s not advised to give your pet water or food on board the aircraft
  • Since Fido isn’t in an actual seat, no oxygen will be administered to a pet in the event of an emergency

After The Flight

outside pet relief area at airport and dog sitting entrance
Your dog appreciates access to green grass as quickly as possible. Bonus points for pet parents who book daycare or play dates on vacation.

As soon as you land:

  • Head to a relief area (outside if possible). Even if they don’t need to go, your pet can get fresh air and stretch their legs
  • Schedule time for a little exercise like a walk or fetch before starting the next leg
  • Have fun and give them lots of ear and belly rubs for a job well done

How To Minimize Your Pup’s Anxiety While Traveling

pet friendly hotel rooms
Pet-friendly hotels offer amenities like pet-relief areas, blankets for bedding, water bowls, and treats

Our pets know when something is up and sense when you’re planning to head out of town. Hence their tendency to follow around your suitcase or act strange when you’re packing. The anticipation of change and loneliness can turn your pet’s normally calm personality into a frazzled Fido.

There are steps you can take as a loving pet parent to minimize your pet’s travel anxiety and make life better for the whole family:

  1. Keep your dog on a regular schedule while gone — this includes food and potty breaks
  2. Limit the amount of travel that you do with your pet — don’t overdo it
  3. Don’t leave things lying around for your pet to “dig around in” just because you are away from home
  4. Keep introductions of new friends (pets or people) to a minimum, and don’t over-stimulate them
  5. Inspect the area where you plan to walk your pup before taking them out, as there may be unlit areas, unsafe sidewalks, broken glass, or even snakes or other varmints that could harm your pet

If your dog has anxiety issues, speak to your vet about possible anti-anxiety medications they could take. We also recommend CBD oil or essential oils to help calm dogs who might be nervous. You might try getting a Thundershirt for them, but only leading up to the trip or once you are getting settled in post-travel (not during transit, in case they get tangled up in it).

Video: Pet Travel Tips

Watch this video we made with pet-friendly travel tips.

Should You Get Pet Travel Insurance?

First off, what is pet travel insurance? It is insurance that covers the financial risks associated with your traveling pet from when they are dropped off at the airport to when they are picked up at the end destination. This is generally for pets traveling with a pet relocation service. This policy covers vet bills that arise during the transport period, assuming your policy covers the need in question.

What If Your Pet Is Hurt While On Vacation With You?

So, what if your dog needs vet attention while traveling with you on vacation? This would not be covered by pet travel insurance but by pet health insurance (aka pet insurance), the same policy that would protect them at home.

Pet insurance is often purchased to manage the expenses that you cannot plan for when your pet has an unexpected illness or injury. It allows you to make the best health decisions without worrying over the financial impact of your choices since you have been paying a monthly premium to allow you this freedom during a difficult moment. Check out our pet insurance comparison charts to find out how pet insurance could protect your dog and your wallet.

More Tips On How To Travel With A Dog

Flying with a dog (or other pet) can be a fun experience if you plan in advance and follow these tips. Going on a road trip with your pet? We’ve got a whole article dedicated to traveling with dogs in cars, including specific gear, safety precautions, and more.

Moving to a new city or country with your pet? You might consider a relocation service that specializes in pets. They take care of everything for you from start to finish for long and short-distance moves. And, after all the fun, your dog might be dirty and in need of a bath, so check out our dog bathing guide. Ready to jet set with your furrr-quent flyer?

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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