Flying with Dogs: How to Travel With Pets?

Flying with Dogs: How to Travel With Pets?

Updated on May 23, 2024
Written by Brenda Mejia

fact checked by Andre Gregatti

Are you thinking about taking your dog on your next flight? Whether on a family vacation or moving across the country, flying with your furry friend can seem difficult. There’s much to figure out, from airline policies to preparing your pup for the big day. But don’t worry—it’s doable with smart planning and the right information. Preparing for a trip with your dog is more than just packing a bag and heading to the airport. It starts with understanding what to expect and ensuring you and your pet are well-prepared. This guide will walk you through everything from the basics of flying with dogs to how to handle different parts of your travel day. 

Introduction to Flying with Dogs

People choose to fly with their dogs for various reasons—maybe it’s a family vacation where everyone, including the four-legged members, is invited, or perhaps a long-distance move is not feasible by car. Regardless of the reason, flying with dogs is becoming increasingly common, especially on domestic flights. Thorough planning and preparation are key to a smooth trip with your animal. Ensuring that every step, from checking airline policies to visiting the vet, is carefully managed will help make your travel experience as stress-free as possible for you and your dog.

Pre-Flight Preparation


Before you even think about heading to the airport, there’s a lot you need to sort out. Pre-flight preparation is critical to ensure everything goes smoothly on the day of travel. It’s not just about packing your dog’s favorite toy or snack; it’s about ensuring you’ve met all the airline’s requirements and that your dog is ready and safe to travel.

Researching Airline Policies

When you’re planning to fly with your dog, it’s essential to understand if each airline’s specific policies is pet friendly. Here are the key points to consider:

Checking Specific Airline Rules for Non-Service Pets:

  • Airline Websites and Customer Service: Check the airline’s official website for pet travel policies for service animals. If information is unclear, contact their customer service.
  • Documentation Requirements: Some airlines require specific documentation such as health certificates or vaccination requirements. Ensure you have these ready for an airline to accept pets, including service animals.
  • Travel Conditions: Determine whether your animal will travel in the cabin or as cargo. This depends on the airline’s policies and your dog’s size and breed.

Understanding Breed and Size Restrictions:

  • Breed Restrictions: Many airlines have breed restrictions for safety reasons. For example, breeds like Bulldogs, Pugs, and Shih Tzus might be restricted due to respiratory issues.
  • Size Restrictions: Small dogs that fit comfortably in an airline-approved pet carrier can often travel in the cabin, while larger dogs might need to travel in the cargo hold.

Cost of Flying with Dog

Flying with your dog involves various costs, which can add up depending on the airline and the travel conditions.

Typical Pet Fees and Additional Costs:

  • Pet Fees: The average pet fee to travel with a pet in the cabin is around $125 each way.
  • Cargo Fees: Fees for larger dogs or pets traveling in the cargo hold can be higher and vary significantly between airlines. Always check specific airline policies.

Financial Considerations for Different Airlines:

  • Cost Variability: Pet fee can vary widely among airlines. It’s important to compare prices and services before you book flights, such as domestic or international flights.
  • Additional Costs: Consider additional costs such as pet carriers, health certificates, an extra seat, and any extra boarding or handling fees that might apply.

Flying with your pet can be complex, but thorough research and preparation can help ensure a smooth journey.

Health and Safety Considerations


Perhaps the most critical part of pre-flight preparation is ensuring your dog is healthy and safe to fly on domestic flights. This process begins with a visit to the veterinarian to ensure your dog is up to date on rabies vaccination and healthy enough for air travel.

Veterinary Check-Up

A comprehensive veterinary check-up is mandatory before flying. During this visit, your vet will examine your dog to ensure they’re fit for air travel and provide a health certificate, which most airlines require. This certificate must be dated within a certain period before your travel date, so timing your visit is essential. The check-up will also confirm that all vaccinations are current, which is crucial for your dog’s well-being and a requirement of most airlines.

Assessing Your Dog’s Health and Temperament

Not all dogs are suited for flying. It’s important to honestly assess your dog’s health and temperament. Older dogs, puppies, or those with health issues might face risks during air travel. Similarly, anxious or aggressive dogs might find the experience overwhelming. Discuss these considerations with your vet and consider what’s best for your pet’s well-being when deciding whether to bring them along on your flight.

Booking Your Flight


When you’re planning to bring your dog along on a flight, one of the first things you’ll need to do is book your tickets. This isn’t just about ensuring you have a seat; it’s also crucial to securing a spot for your dog. Airline policies can vary, so understanding these and acting promptly is key to ensuring you fly comfortably and safely.

Making Reservations

The process starts when you’re booking your own ticket. This is also the best time to make a reservation for a room for your assistance animal, particularly a dog. Airlines often limit the number of pets permitted on a single flight, and spots can fill up fast. On average, only one pet is permitted per flight. Additionally, some airlines may allow up to two pets. There are also specific seats that are “animals allowed” and some areas of the plane where they aren’t, so making these arrangements simultaneously helps guarantee that you and your pets can travel together on the same flight. Discussing these details with the airline while booking is important to avoid any confusion or issues on the day of the flight.

Types of Travel Arrangements


Knowing the types of travel arrangements available for your dog is crucial. Whether your pet flies with you in the cabin or needs to travel in the cargo hold can affect their travel experience significantly. Each option has specific requirements and preparations.

Flying with Dogs in the Cabin

When flying with your dog in the cabin, there are specific requirements and considerations to keep in mind:

  • Requirements and Carrier Dimensions:
    • Pet Carrier: Your dog must be in an airline-approved pet carrier that can fit under the seat in front of you. The carrier should be well-ventilated, leak-proof, and comfortable for your pet.
    • Size Restrictions: The combined weight of the pet and the carrier should not exceed 20 pounds (9 kg). The carrier’s maximum dimensions usually need to be around 18 x 11 x 11 inches, but the maximum dimensions can vary by airline.
  • Airlines that Allow In-Cabin Pets:
    • Many major airlines, including American Airlines, Delta, and United, allow only small dogs to travel in the cabin. However, the specific airline’s policy can differ significantly.
    • Some airlines may have additional restrictions during certain times of the year or on specific routes, so it’s best to verify these details well in advance.

Flying with Dogs in the Cargo Hold

Traveling with a dog in the cargo hold involves more preparation and awareness of potential risks:

  • Risks and Safety Considerations:
    • Temperature and Pressure: Cargo holds are temperature and pressure-controlled, but extreme temperatures can pose risks. Airlines generally will not fly pets if temperatures are too high or too low.
    • Stress and Anxiety: Dogs may experience stress and anxiety from the noise and unfamiliar environment of the cargo hold. It’s important to prepare them as much as possible for this experience.
  • Preparing Your Dog for Cargo Travel:
    • Crate Training: Use an airline-approved crate and get your dog accustomed to spending time in it well before the flight. The crate should be large enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably.
    • Health Check: Obtain a health certificate from your veterinarian within the required timeframe before travel (usually within 10 days of the flight).
    • Labeling: Clearly label the crate with your contact information, the dog’s name, and any special handling instructions. Include food and water dishes accessible from outside the crate for airline personnel.

Proper preparation and understanding of airline policies will help ensure a safe and comfortable journey for your dog, whether in the cabin or the cargo hold.

On the Travel Day


Traveling with your dog requires careful planning, especially on the day of travel. Understanding the procedures can make the journey smoother for you and your pet, from arriving at the airport to passing through security.

Airport Arrival and Check-In

  • Arrive Early: Arrive at the airport well in advance to allow extra time to check in your pet and complete any necessary paperwork.
  • Check-In Procedures: Follow your airline’s specific check-in procedures. This usually includes presenting your pet’s health certificate and verifying the carrier’s size and condition.
  • Separate Cargo Drop-Off: For pets flying in the cargo hold, there is often a separate drop-off area where you can leave your pet in their crate. Ensure the crate meets airline standards for safety and comfort.

Passing Through Security

  • TSA Guidelines for Pet Carriers: The TSA requires that pets be removed from their carriers and carried through the metal detector while the empty carrier is screened.
  • Tips for Handling Your Dog at Security Checkpoints: Use an appropriate pet carrier that is easy to open and close. Hold your dog securely to prevent them from getting startled or running away during the security screening process.

On the Plane

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Once you and your dog are on the plane, ensuring comfort and safety is paramount. Whether your pet is traveling in the cabin or the cargo hold, knowing the rules and guidelines will help.

In-Cabin Pet Rules

  • Keeping Your Pet in the Carrier: Pets allowed in the cabin must always remain in their carriers. The carrier should be placed under the seat in front of you.
  • Placement of the Carrier During Flight: Ensure the carrier is positioned securely and does not block the aisle or emergency exits. Ensure your pet is comfortable and has enough space to turn around inside the carrier.

Cargo Hold Guidelines

  • Ensuring a Secure and Comfortable Crate: Use a sturdy, well-ventilated crate large enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Add absorbent bedding and a water bottle.
  • Labeling the Crate Properly: Clearly label the crate with your contact information, the dog’s name, and any special handling instructions. If the flight is long, include a note with feeding and watering instructions.

At the Destination


After landing, there are important steps to ensure a smooth arrival and comfortable transition for your pet.

Post-Flight Procedures

Head to the designated cargo area to pick up your dog. Check the airline’s instructions on where and how to retrieve your pet safely.

Pet Relief Areas at Airports

Many airports have designated pet relief areas. Use airport maps or ask airport staff to locate these areas so your pet can relieve themselves after the flight.

Alternatives to Flying

Traveling with your dog doesn’t always mean taking a flight. Other ways to travel might be more comfortable for you and your pet.

  • Road-Tripping with Your Dog

Taking a road trip with your dog can be a great alternative to flying. One of the biggest advantages is the ability to stop whenever necessary for bathroom breaks and exercise. Your dog can enjoy the scenery and feel comfortable in a familiar setting. However, long car trips can be tiring, and not all dogs enjoy car travel. It’s important to ensure your dog is secure with a seatbelt harness or in a travel crate. This keeps them safe in case of sudden stops. Pack plenty of water, food, and your dog’s favorite toys to keep them comfortable and entertained.

  • Boarding Facilities and Pet Sitters

Finding a reliable boarding facility or pet sitter is essential if you can’t take your dog with you. Boarding facilities offer a safe environment with professional care, but it’s crucial to visit the facility beforehand to check for cleanliness and the staff’s friendliness. Some dogs might find boarding stressful, especially if they are not used to being away from home. Alternatively, hiring a pet sitter allows your dog to stay in the comfort of their own home. Look for sitters with good reviews and recommendations. Make sure they meet your dog beforehand to ensure a good fit.

Special Considerations

Traveling with certain breeds and to specific destinations can require extra planning. Here are some important points to consider.

Brachycephalic Breeds

Short-nosed dogs, like Bulldogs and Pugs, face high risks during travel due to their breathing issues. These dog breeds have trouble breathing because of their flat faces and small nostrils. The pressurized air inside an airplane, which is comfortable for humans, can be dangerous for these dogs. This is why many airlines have specific policies for brachycephalic breeds, including restrictions on their travel in cargo holds during hot weather. Always check with your airline about their rules for flying with short-nosed dogs and consider whether air travel is safe for your pet in a high-risk country. In some cases, ground travel might be a better option to avoid potential health risks.

International Travel Regulations

When traveling internationally with your dog, it’s important to understand the various regulations and requirements to ensure a smooth journey. Here are the key points you need to consider:

Quarantine Requirements and Import Laws:

Different countries have different rules about allowing pets. Some require animals, such as cats and dogs, to undergo quarantine for a certain period to prevent the spread of diseases. For example, countries like Australia and New Zealand have strict disease control and quarantine laws.

Necessary Documentation:

You will need to provide several documents for your dog, including a health certificate from your vet that is usually no older than 10 days before your flight. Some countries may also require an import permit and proof of microchipping. Ensure you have up-to-date vaccination records, especially for rabies, as this is a common requirement worldwide. Also, if you have an ESA and wants to guarantee that you rights are being offered by the carrier, you should have a valid ESA Letter.

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Vaccinations and Health Checks:

Make sure your dog is up-to-date with all required vaccinations. Some countries may have specific vaccinations that must be administered within a certain timeframe before entry. A visit to the vet before travel is essential to get a health check and ensure your dog is vaccinated and fit to fly. Quarantine requirements and import laws. Necessary documentation and vaccinations.


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Tips for a Less Stressful Journey

Traveling with your dog can be a smooth experience if you prepare properly. Here are some tips to help make the journey less stressful for you and your pet.

Familiarizing Your Dog with the Carrier

One of the best ways to ensure your dog is comfortable during travel is to get them used to their carrier ahead of time. Start by leaving the carrier in your home and placing treats and toys inside to encourage your dog to explore it. Gradually increase your dog’s time in the carrier, giving plenty of positive reinforcement. This way, when it’s time to travel, the carrier will feel like a safe and familiar place.

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Acclimating your dog ahead of time

Acclimating your dog to the travel process in advance is crucial. Take your dog on short trips in the carrier around your neighborhood or in the car. This helps them get used to the motion and environment they’ll experience during the journey. Gradually increasing the duration of these trips can help your dog feel more at ease when it’s time for the real thing.

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Packing a Pet Travel Kit

A well-packed travel kit is essential for your dog’s comfort and safety. Include water, a collapsible bowl, food, and any medications your dog might need. Don’t forget to pack some of your dog’s favorite toys and a blanket that smells like home to help reduce anxiety. Ensure you have a secure collar with current ID tags and a leash. If you’re traveling with pets, ensure each has its carry-on bag for easy access.

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Essentials for comfort and safety

For a comfortable and safe journey, make sure you have all the essentials. This includes a sturdy carrier that complies with airline regulations, ensuring your dog has enough space to stand, turn around, and lie down. Additionally, keep a supply of poop bags for clean-up, and consider a portable fan or cooling pad if you’re traveling in warm weather. Keeping your pet hydrated is crucial, so bring extra water and a bowl that won’t spill easily.

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Troubleshooting Common Issues

Travel plans can sometimes go awry. Here are some strategies for handling common travel issues with your dog.

  • Handling Delays and Cancellations

Travel delays and cancellations can be stressful, especially when you have a pet. It’s important to have a contingency plan.  Keep extra food, water, and any necessary medications in your carry-on bags. Research pet-friendly areas in the airport where your dog can relieve itself and stretch its legs. These preparations can make unexpected delays more manageable for you and your pet.

  • Heat and Cold Weather Precautions

Extreme temperatures can pose risks to your dog during travel. Check the weather forecast for your departure, destination, and any layovers. Many airlines have temperature restrictions for carry on pets and pets traveling in cargo holds to ensure their safety.  In hot weather, ensure your dog stays hydrated and avoid traveling during the hottest part of the day. In cold weather, provide a warm blanket in the carrier and limited exposure to the cold as much as possible. Planning for temperature changes will help keep your dog comfortable and safe.

Conclusion: Traveling with Dogs

Traveling with pets, particularly dogs, requires careful planning and preparation to ensure a safe and pleasant journey for you and your pet. Key steps include researching airline policies, understanding the costs, and ensuring your dog’s health and safety. Thoroughly preparing for each stage of the trip—from booking your flight to packing a well-equipped travel kit and handling travel day procedures—can significantly reduce stress for both you and your dog. The success of flying with dogs hinges on meticulous preparation and consideration of all the necessary details. Always prioritize your pet’s comfort and safety, and be ready to adapt to any unexpected changes. With the right planning and resources, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable travel experience for you and your furry friend.

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