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travel and adventure

How to fly with your dog

Know how to plan a stress-free flight with your doggo

Updated June 5, 2020

Created By

Madison Blancaflor, Andy Bowen

The essentials

  • Call ahead for airline policy information. Make sure you’re checking with your airline, accommodations and even a Consulate or Embassy for international trips to be certain about any regulations you’ll need to follow to bring a pet.
  • Talk to your vet beforehand. Your dog needs a clean bill of health and updated immunizations to fly. Your vet will be able to walk you through prep and advise you on how to keep your dog calm.
  • 💵 It’s gonna cost at least $100. The average cost for checking a pet on a major airline is $125.

🗝 Know the airline policies for pet travel

Since the early days, airlines and airports have made huge strides to make flying with pets a much safer process for both animal and human passengers. But that doesn’t mean the regulations aren’t confusing.

Can they ride in the cabin with you? Are there size requirements? Which airlines are the most pet-friendly? How do I make sure my dog is comfortable during the flight? These are all super important questions to answer before you buy a ticket.

Each major U.S. airline has its own policies regarding flying with pets. Regardless of the policies, though, you should expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $250 each way for your pup to fly with you — even if you’re gonna hold your pet in your lap or in a small carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.

Once you know the rules and restrictions on the airline you’re flying, you need to call the airline and give them a heads-up. Some airlines allow a limited number of pets on each flight, so calling to reserve a slot as early as possible is best.

Airline pet fees

Airline pet fees

The cost of flying your pet

Airline Cost
Southwest $95 per pet each way
United Airline $125 per pet each way
JetBlue $125 per pet each way
Delta $125 domestic, $200 international, $75 to Brazil
American $200 for a checked pet in the western hemisphere ($150 to/from Brazil); $125 for carry-on

Pet restrictions and policies for major airlines

Delta

Cost: $125 domestic, $200 international, $75 to Brazil

Delta is often considered the best domestic airline for traveling with pets. You cannot fly with your pup as a carry-on to a number of international countries, and your pets must be at least 10 weeks when flying domestically, 15 weeks when flying to or from Europe, and 16 weeks if you are flying internationally into the U.S.

Read Delta’s policies

American

Cost: $200 for a checked pet in the western hemisphere ($150 to/from Brazil); $125 for carry-on

American Airlines is a bit laxer when it comes to restrictions. Your pup must be at least 8 weeks old and are only allowed on flights that are 11 hours and 30 minutes or less in length.

Read American’s policies

United Airlines

Cost: $125 per pet each way

United has been the subject of criticism regarding how they treat animals being held in the cargo section of planes, so consider only taking smaller dogs that are allowed in the cabin with you. When traveling domestically, dogs must be at least 8 weeks old. For international flights, they must be at least 16 weeks. There are a number of location-specific restrictions as well.

Read United’s policies

JetBlue

Cost: $125 per pet each way

JetBlue doesn’t allow pets to fly to a number of Caribbean locations. If you are flying Mint Business Class, you also will not be allowed to have your dog in the cabin with you, even in a carrier.

Read JetBlue’s policies

 

Southwest

Southwest only allows pets in carry-on carriers, which limits larger pups because of size restrictions. Unfortunately, you also won’t be able to take your pet on any international flights with Southwest.

Read Southwest’s policies

🧳 Get packed and prepared for air travel

Despite the regulations and occasionally-confusing policies regarding flying with your dog, preparing in advance of a trip can make the experience go much smoother.

Once you have reserved a spot on your flight for your pup, make an appointment with your vet for a health check. Most destinations and airlines will require a certificate ensuring your dog is healthy enough to fly and up to date on any immunizations. The certificate is good for up to 30 days, but many airlines require more recent clean bills of health. To be safe, try to get an appointment within 10 days of departure.

When you take your dog to the vet, it’s also a good idea to ask about best practices for flying with your pet. Your vet may suggest sedation to help keep your dog relaxed while in-flight. And they will be able to give advice on when and how much your dog should eat before and after a flight. Typically, it’s best for dogs to fly on a nearly empty stomach according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Keep in mind that international destinations may have their own restrictions about bringing dogs or other animals into the country, even if you have documentation about your dog’s health and immunization records. Some countries (and Hawaii) require pets to be quarantined upon arrival for safety. Other countries may not allow pets outright. If you plan to fly internationally, it’s best to contact the Consulate or Embassy in that country at least four weeks in advance to ask about any regulations or special considerations.

dog in bag

📷 by kdnewton

8 must-haves for your packing list

Make sure that you know what to pack for your pup for a day of travel. Every dog is different in what exactly they’ll need to make a flight more comfortable, but there are a few standard things every dog parent should plan to pack when flying with their pup.

  1. FAA-approved pet carrier — When flying with your pup as a carry-on (in other words, when your dog will be riding with you in the regular cabin), your dog must fit into an FAA-approved soft or hard-sided carrier or kennel. Those dimensions cannot exceed 17.5 in. long x 7.5 in. wide x 7.5 in. tall. As a general rule: “If they fit, they sit.”
  2. Puppy pads. Whether you’ll be in the air for one hour or 10, puppy pads will ensure your dog has a place to go potty if necessary. It also makes cleanup a breeze if an accident occurs.
  3. Portable water bottle. While TSA prohibits bringing large amounts of liquids in your carry-on, you can bring an empty water bottle through security and then fill it up with water from an airport restaurant or water fountain. Make sure you always have water on hand in case your pet needs it in the air or at the airport.
  4. Food and portable doggie bowl. You can easily find packable, collapsible travel bowls for water and/or food for your pet. This is an item that can sometimes be easily forgotten.
  5. Any medications needed. Just like with humans, make sure you have an adequate supply of any medications needed while on your trip, including sedatives if suggested by the vet. It’s best practice to bring enough for the entire trip plus at least two day’s padding in case of delays or emergencies.
  6. Dog ID tags. Losing a pet while away from home is many dog parent’s worst nightmare. Having updated pictures of your pet, ID tags on your dog’s collar and having your dog microchipped can help ensure their safe return to you should anything happen.
  7. Pet treats and chews. Your dog’s ears can pop just like yours can when in flight. Just like chewing gum can help humans adjust to the new altitude, chewy dog treats can do the same.
  8. All necessary documentation. This includes your Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate), medical records if your dog has a pre-existing condition, and contact information for your vet and local vets at your destination.

FAQs

What if my dog is an emotional support dog?

Registered emotional support animals and service dogs are subject to a different set of rules when traveling. For one, they will most certainly be allowed in the cabin with you, and you should not have to pay an additional fee.

While the U.S. Department of Transportation has recently proposed new legislation that would limit what kind of service animals and emotional support animals are allowed on planes, these restrictions will not apply to most dogs (but rather emotional support miniature ponies and the like).

Though airlines generally try to accommodate persons traveling with a trained service animal or emotional support animal, each airline still has their own policies. It’s best to have proper documentation of your dog’s training and your medical condition requiring assistance. Also, you still need to call ahead to arrange everything with the airline.

What if my dog needs to potty on the plane?

On shorter flights, your dog may be able to hold it until you’ve touched down at your destination. However, for longer flights, it’s possible you’ll have to take your dog to potty while in the air. You should be able to take your dog to the bathroom for them to potty on a puppy pad that you’ve brought.

Do keep in mind that if your pet is unaccustomed to flying, they may not be able to hold it for as long as usual. Or on the flip side, they may not be comfortable going potty in the bathroom. For this reason, make sure your dog’s carrier is lined with puppy pads just in case.

There are of course ways to mitigate potty issues while flying with your pup. To start, make sure you’re taking your dog out to potty as close to boarding as possible. This might mean using the bathroom right before entering the airport. But many airports do have pet relief areas airside that pet owners can use closer to flight time. If you are unsure of the availability or location of a puppy relief area at your airport, a quick Google search should help you locate terminal locations.

Is it safe to check a dog as cargo?

When it comes to flying with a furry member of the family, safety is a top concern. In recent years, some airlines have come under fire for their lack of dog safety, despite promises that they treat animals with every bit of care as human passengers.

Certain airlines have better reputations than others when it comes to pet care. Call the airline ahead of time to walk through their policies on how they treat animals flying in the cargo hold, conditions in the cargo section of the plane and special considerations you need to know about in advance. If you have not yet picked an airline, ask your friends, family members and even other travelers on Reddit or travel forums like Boarding Area for advice on which airlines have the best reputation for treating pets right.