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Woman on airplane with dog

The essentials

  • Call ahead for airline policy information — Make sure you’re checking with your airline, airport accommodations department, and even a Consulate or Embassy for international trips to be certain about any government regulations you’ll need to follow to bring a pet.
  • Talk to your vet beforehand — Your dog will probably need a clean bill of health and updated immunizations to fly, so it’s important to reach out to your vet as soon as possible.
  • Know that it’s going to cost you some money — The average cost for checking a pet on a major airline is usually $100 (or more).

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.

In the United States, each major airline has its policies regarding flying with pets. 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.

Before you do that, though, it helps to have a clear understanding of some specific requirements for air travel with your dog. We’ve outlined some important information for you below, helping make your pet travel experience as seamless as possible.

Common questions dog parents have

It’s normal to have questions on how to fly with your dog. Most people don’t take their pets on vacation with them, no matter how much we love spending time with them. Answer these important questions before buying a ticket, and you’ll be well on your way to paradise with your pup:

Can I fly with a dog on a plane? 

Usually, yes. Most airlines allow passengers to bring their dogs in either the cabin of the plane or the cargo hold. However, each airline has its own set of rules when it comes to flying with dogs, so take the time to read through the specifics on the company website before purchasing your ticket.

Where should I sit with a dog on a plane?

Many airlines have special rules for specific breeds like brachycephalic dogs and pit bulls, while others give passengers limited seating options when traveling with pets. If you’re thinking of flying first class with Fido, you’ll probably need to change your plans. Passengers flying with dogs are usually barred from sitting in bulkhead rows, emergency exit rows, and business or first-class cabins equipped with lie-flat beds.

🚨 Most airlines won’t accept pets onboard if temperatures are expected to be too hot or cold at any destination along the route. Keep this in mind as you make your travel plans. 

Do all airlines allow pets as a carry-on?

Yes. Unless your dog fails to meet one of the airline’s specific conditions for flying, they’re more likely to be allowed in the main cabin than they are in the plane’s cargo hold with checked baggage. The exception to this rule is large breeds, which are too big to be allowed in the cabin with all the passengers.

Do I have to buy them a ticket? 

Passengers are usually barred from buying their dog a seat on the plane, though this rule can sometimes be waived for fully-trained service dogs. In most cases, airlines treat dogs as a piece of carry-on luggage, charging passengers an additional $100 to $250 each way for their dog to fly with them.

Can they ride in the cabin with you?

While most airlines allow small dogs in the cabin with passengers, they’re not allowed to roam freely. Typically, an airline will require your dog to be placed in a pet carrier that can be stored under their seat during takeoff, taxi, and landing.

Some airlines allow you to place the carrier on your lap or in the seat next to you (as long as you pay for it) outside of these times, but your dog is still required to stay inside the carrier for the duration of the flight.

Are there size requirements? 

Yes. Since most airlines require dogs to fit inside an under-seat carrier for the duration of the flight, this typically prevents dogs larger than 20 pounds from being allowed in the cabin. A few airlines allow large dogs to fly in the plane’s climate-controlled baggage compartment, but most people agree that this is a scary, uncomfortable situation for a dog.

🚨 Dog owners around the world have shared stories of their pets becoming sick, injured, or even dying when traveling in the cargo hold. Be careful if you plan to travel this way, and speak to a veterinarian first to keep your furry friend as safe as possible. 

Which airlines are the most pet-friendly?

Alaska and Frontier Airlines are considered the most pet-friendly airlines in the U.S. — each for different reasons. Both airlines have pet policies that extend beyond the typical “cats and dogs only” rule, allowing rabbits, birds, and other small rodents like hamsters and guinea pigs on domestic flights.

Alaska Airlines offers some of the lowest pet fees for traveling in the main cabin, charging just $100 each way per kennel or carrier. For $50 more, you can transport a large dog in the plane’s climate-controlled baggage compartment.

Frontier offers a similarly low pet fee of $99 per direction. However, Frontier doesn’t allow pets to travel in the cargo hold, which means you can only fly with your pet if they’re small enough to fit in a carrier under your seat.

👉 Frontier sets maximum pet container dimensions at 18 inches by 14 inches by 8 inches.

How do I make sure my dog is comfortable during the flight? 

If you know your dog doesn’t travel well, ask your vet for some tips on de-stressing your dog during your flight. They may recommend an anxiety ThunderShirt, a pheromone calming collar, or medication like trazodone, gabapentin, and alprazolam to help relieve their anxiety on the trip. Dogs who suffer from motion sickness may also benefit from medications like dramamine, or prescription tranquilizers like acepromazine.

You can help minimize the stress flying puts on a dog by booking direct flights that avoid unnecessary layovers, and by picking travel dates outside of major holidays, when airports and planes are much more crowded than usual.

🚨Always test anxiety medications at home before you fly so you know how your dog reacts to them. 

Considerations before you fly

Flying is an incredibly stressful experience for dogs. It’s hard for anyone to stay calm around loud noises, flashing lights, overwhelming scents, and sudden changes in cabin pressure!

Another important consideration to make is whether your dog will be able to enjoy themselves when you reach your destination. If you’re planning on leaving them alone inside all day while you’re out sightseeing, it’s probably not worth subjecting them to the ordeal of flying.

In most cases, the better option is to hire a dog-sitter and leave your dog at home. They’ll still be there when you get back, and you’ll be able to enjoy your trip without worrying about how they’re handling all the changes. If you do decide to fly with your dog, it’s essential to consult your vet about their food, water, and exercise needs ahead of time.

The best option for the dog is to stay home under the care of a qualified pet sitter or well-familiar friend or relative. Try to keep the daily routine as close to regular as possible for the sake of your pet’s emotional stability and security.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Airline pet regulations at a glance 

Below, we’ve outlined the basic pet policies for the most popular U.S. airlines. Take a few minutes to check each company’s website for a more detailed breakdown, and don’t be afraid to call up a representative if you have any additional questions.

Airline Cost Domestic Flights International Flights Minimum age to fly
Southwest $95 per pet each way Yes (in-cabin only) No 8 weeks
United Airlines $125 per pet each way Yes Yes, with reservation* 2 months domestic, 4 months international
JetBlue** $125 per pet each way Yes Yes 8 weeks
Delta $125 domestic, $200 international, $75 to Brazil Yes Yes 8 weeks
American $200 for a checked pet in the western hemisphere ($150 to/from Brazil); $125 for carry-on Yes Yes (cargo only) 8 weeks

Please note that this information is current as of the time of this publication. Airline-specific information is subject to change.

*United Airlines requires passengers to add their pet to their international flight reservation by calling 1 (800) 864-8331 ahead of time.

**JetBlue only allows dogs and cats under 20 pounds on both domestic and international flights. 

👉 Many of these airlines prohibit international pet travel to and from select countries. Be sure to check their website ahead of your trip to make sure your dog is allowed on board. 

Pet restrictions and policies for major airlines


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


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


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 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

Planning ahead for travel with your dog

Getting ready to go? Knock out these to-dos in advance of your trip to make sure your dog is ready to fly.

Schedule a vet appointment — 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.

Ask the vet for stress management tips — When you take your dog to the vet, it’s also a good idea to ask about best practices for flying with your pet. Depending on the vet, they may suggest sedation to help keep your dog relaxed while in flight.

Familiarize your dog with their carrier — Since your dog is going to be spending a long time inside their crate or carrier during the flight, it’s important to help them get used to the experience as early as possible.

Scope out airport pet potties — Many pet owners look at terminal maps for the airports they’re departing from and arriving in to familiarize themselves with the location of pet relief areas. This is a good idea, as you won’t have to spend extra time finding your dog a place to potty.

Research laws unique to your destination — Keep in mind that international destinations may have their own restrictions about bringing dogs or other animals into a foreign country. Contact the consulate or embassy in that country at least four weeks in advance to ask about any specific requirements or special considerations.

Protect your dog with pet insurance — Whether you’re home or abroad, pet insurance is a great way to help cover the cost of unforeseen medical expenses. Some pet insurance policies offer coverage for accidents that occur while traveling, but others do not.

👉 Most pet insurance policies limit coverage on charges incurred internationally. To avoid spending all your vacation money on vet bills, we recommend adding a travel-specific pet insurance policy to your own travel insurance policy, especially if you’re traveling overseas.

Day-of travel checklist

Travel day is finally here! The hard part is almost over, but there are still a couple of things left to take care of. Here’s how to get your dog (and yourself) ready for a successful plane ride:

Take them to the bathroom, then do it again — Whether your dog is flying carry-on or in the cargo hold, it’s important to make sure they relieve themselves as close to boarding as possible. Take them outside to see if they need to go before leaving the house, and again at a pet relief area inside the airport.

  • You’ll also want to line their crate with puppy pads in case they need to use the bathroom at any point during the flight.

Pack up the essentials — Like you, your dog is going to need food and water at some point during the flight. Check with your vet to see if it’s okay to give your dog bottled water, and bring a little food with you in case they get hungry.

  • The TSA classifies both wet and dry dog food as “solid food,” so it’s okay to bring in your carry-on. Don’t forget to pack other travel essentials like poop bags, a leash, and a collapsible food bowl.

Administer any medications — If you’re planning on giving your dog medication to soothe their anxiety on the flight, you’ll likely need to do so before you get to the airport. Check the instructions on the container for proper dosage and timing.

Bring a couple of toys — Throw a chew or puzzle-type toy into your dog’s carrier so they have something to keep their mind on during the journey.

Day-of tips for large dog breeds 

Since large dogs will almost exclusively be flying in the cargo hold with checked luggage, there are a couple of extra steps you’ll need to take to get them onboard. These include:

Take them to the cargo drop-off — Dogs flying in the cargo hold often need to be dropped off at a special cargo hangar located on the outskirts of the airport. Owners are generally required to arrive here at least three hours before departure for domestic flights, and five hours before international flights.

  • Most airlines will list the locations and operating hours of these facilities inside the airport. Call ahead so you aren’t stressed and rushing the day of.

Attach food and a photo to their kennel — Attach a current photo of your dog to the outside of their carrier to help airline staff locate them in the unlikely event that they go missing during the flight. It’s rare, but it does happen. We recommend keeping another photo of them on your phone for the same reason.

  • It’s also a good idea to attach a small bag of food to the outside of your dog’s kennel so a baggage handler can feed them in the event of a long delay.

Pick them up when you land — Once you’ve gotten off the plane and collected your bags,  head to the cargo hangar at the airport you arrived in to collect your dog. Most dogs are available two hours after arrival, and they’re held for up to four hours before being taken to a local vet or boarding facility.

Day-of tips for small dog breeds

Small dog breeds are usually required to fly in the cabin with their owner, so they go through a boarding process more similar to the one you know.

Go to the passenger check-in desk — Even if you’ve checked into your flight online or don’t have any bags to check, you’ll still need to visit the airline check-in desk before flying to show an agent your dog’s paperwork. Once they’ve looked it over and cleared you for takeoff, they’ll give you the go-ahead to move to security.

Take your dog out of their carrier at security — After placing all your personal belongings on the conveyor belt, you’ll need to take your dog out of their carrier and send it through the X-ray machine.

  • Put them on a leash while the crate is being scanned and wait your turn to pass through the metal detector. TSA advises passengers to remove their dog’s leash and collar before passing through and instead carry them through to avoid setting off the alarm.

👉 Whether your dog flew in the cabin or the cargo hold, the first thing you should do after landing is take them on a nice long walk. Find a place where they can relieve themselves and give them ample praise for being so good on the flight. 

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.

  • 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.”
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • All necessary documentation. Required paperwork 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.

Flying with a dog can be a stressful experience for everyone involved. While it may seem like a hassle getting the necessary equipment and paperwork together beforehand, remember that an unforgettable vacation awaits the both of you at the finish line. Once you’ve endured the flight and cleared the airport, there’s nothing left to do but relax and explore with your best friend by your side.

Frequently asked questions

How can I bring my dog on a plane?

In most cases, travelers are only allowed to bring dogs on a plane as carry-on pets if they’re small enough to fit in a carrier that fits under their seat. Some airlines allow passengers to buy an extra seat for their dog, but even in these cases, the dog is required to stay in a carrier for the duration of the flight.

A few major airlines are willing to fly larger dogs in the plane’s cargo hold, but our veterinary team doesn’t recommend doing this unless absolutely necessary, as it’s a highly stressful situation for a dog. The exceptions to this rule are trained service and emotional support animals, who are legally permitted to sit with their owners in the cabin regardless of their size.

Can I buy my dog a seat on a plane?

It depends. Some airlines allow passengers to buy their dog an extra seat on the plane, but they generally still require the dog to fit in a compact carrier and remain inside at all times. This rule typically limits the size of dogs allowed in a seat to those weighing 20 pounds or less.

Do you need paperwork to fly with a dog?

Yes. Airlines require dog owners to present a certificate of veterinary inspection, or health certificate, issued within 10 days of the travel date. Many airlines also ask owners for a ​​rabies vaccination certificate, as well as an acclimation certificate for dogs traveling in the cargo hold.

How much is a certificate for a dog to fly?

The cost of a health exam and associated treatments required for a health certificate varies depending on the vet, but you can usually expect to pay around $200. On top of that, you’ll usually need to pay $38 to get the certificate endorsed by the USDA.