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Cargo trailer at the airport with pets to be checked

The essentials

  • Traveling with pets means you have choices to make — Cats and dogs under 20 pounds may qualify to ride with you in the passenger cabin for an extra fee. Larger animals must be checked as baggage or secure a separate cargo flight.
  • Know before you go — Certain destinations and airlines may have travel restrictions and additional health requirements for your pet. Your pet needs a veterinarian exam within 10 days of your departure — or sooner, depending on your destination.
  • Help them rest easy on their flight — Finding a comfortable carrier and harness allows your pet to have a safe, less stressful experience.

We like to bring our pets wherever we go, including on vacation. After all, they’re with us while we’re working at home; why not reward them with a holiday? Most airlines allow small dogs and cats to fly as long as they meet certain requirements. However, not all pets are suitable for airplane travel, especially if they’ll travel as checked baggage or cargo instead of with you in your seat in the main cabin.

Before making plans for you and your pet, visit the veterinarian to check for any underlying health issues that could make air travel dangerous. Additionally, many rules and regulations have shifted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many airlines no longer allow pets to fly as cargo, so check your particular airline information before booking your seat.

Checking your pet on an airplane — 4 statistics you should know

Should your pet travel with you?

While we might not want to leave our pets behind, sometimes placing them in the care of a pet sitter or kennel may be the best choice. Small pets, especially cats, generally like to stay in one place, though some are better travelers than others. Consider how well your cat behaves in familiar scenarios, such as car rides, before you make your decision. If your feline becomes frantic on a road trip, they probably won’t enjoy a long flight on a plane. Here are some other factors to consider:

  • Pets prone to anxiety or aggression shouldn’t fly. The added stress of flying will exacerbate these issues.
  • Never fly any animal with cardiac or respiratory issues. Stressful situations elevate your dog’s body temperature. Panting cools them down, but brachycephalic breeds can’t pant efficiently, which makes them susceptible to heatstroke even if it isn’t that hot outside.
  • Brachycephalic breeds should avoid flying, period. Even those in good health may not tolerate flying since they’re prone to respiratory distress.
  • Elderly or pregnant animals are high-risk passengers. Certain airlines won’t allow them onboard.

When pets are allowed in the main cabin

When possible, arrange for your pet to fly with you in the main cabin. Small pets, like cats and dogs under 20 pounds, are often considered carry-on pets and are generally allowed for an additional pet fee as long as they remain in their dog carrier or cat carrier.

Airlines must accommodate certified service dogs at no extra charge. However, airlines are no longer required to give emotional support animals the same level of accommodations, so your ESA may be refused even if they are certified. If they are accepted, they’re considered pets and must still follow the 20-pound rule. You can expect to pay $200 or less for your pet to ride in the cabin with you versus the $1,000 average for a cargo ticket.

Before traveling with your pet

All airlines will ask for a health certificate from your veterinarian before your pet is allowed onboard. It should be written within 10 days of your departure and say that your pet is up to date on core vaccines, especially rabies, and outline your animal’s overall health, listing any medical conditions and whether they seem fit to fly.

All dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old before going on their first flight and fully weaned for at least 5 days. If they’re flying as cargo or checked baggage, you must drop them off within four hours of the flight. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time, however, since you don’t want the handlers to feel rushed.

Traveling with your pet overseas

International flights pose extra challenges when it comes to traveling with pets. Some foreign countries have strict limits, such as not allowing your pet to arrive in-cabin. A commercial shipping company may be a better option or even required by your destination country. However, shipping your pet will always be more expensive than allowing them to ride in-cabin or as checked baggage. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, most airlines no longer allow live animals as checked baggage or to be shipped as cargo on a separate flight, which means they’ll have to ride with you or get shipped commercially through a third party.

In addition to the health certificate we mentioned earlier, your pet may require additional certificates plus an ISO microchip. Certain locations outside the continental United States may also require a quarantine for your pet once they reach the country. Check with your airline and destination country before you book your pet’s flight so you know what to expect. Ask about necessary vaccines, certifications, and quarantines.

Traveling with your pet in the domestic United States

Flying within the country usually isn’t as big of a hassle as international travel. For example, your pet probably won’t have to undergo quarantine unless you’re traveling to Hawaii, where your pet will be required to quarantine for 120 days if they haven’t received a rabies vaccination within the last 30 days. If they have, they still must remain under watch for 5 days once they arrive. Hawaii is 100% rabies-free, so it maintains stringent preventative measures.

Individual states may have rules that differ from where you live, so you should contact a veterinarian in your destination state before you travel.

4 steps for traveling with your pet

Have you decided to take your pet with you on your trip? Here are a few things you need to know before you pack your bags.

1. Check with your vet

If you’re nervous about how well your pet will handle the flight, ask your veterinarian if they recommend using any medications. However, the International Air Transport Association no longer recommends sedatives or tranquilizers as they can put added stress on your animal’s breathing.

Don’t wait until the last minute to call your vet — it may take their office some time to gather the necessary paperwork for your pet’s travel health certificate.

2. Research airline guidelines

Some airlines, such as Delta and Southwest, no longer provide cargo shipping or checked baggage as an option for pets. They only allow animals in the cabin, ruling out larger dogs. American Airlines does allow pets to fly as cargo. As always, check before you go.

Cost of flying with a 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

3. Consider the time of year

Some cargo holds aren’t climate-controlled in the same way as airplane cabins. Avoid booking your pet’s flight during the hottest or coldest times of the year. If you must fly in January, secure a flight in the middle of the day when it’s warmer. In July, travel at night when the summer sun won’t be as scorching. Airlines will probably have temperature guidelines as well.

4. Make sure your pet is comfortable

When flying as cargo, your dog will need a well-ventilated pet carrier in the appropriate size. They should be able to stand up and move without touching the top or sides. Airlines may have rules about carrier type, such as hard-sided or wooden.

In addition to microchipping your pet, you should dress them in a collar with a flat identifier tag. Dangly tags can become stuck in the crate bars and therefore avoided for safety reasons.

Other tips for the trip

  • Pack pet medications — This includes extra flea and heartworm preventatives for extended trips.
  • Choose a direct flight — The exception is long-distance travel that lasts more than 12 hours. Your animal will need food and water at least every 12 hours to stay healthy. Puppies under 16 weeks need refreshments even more frequently.
  • Refrain from feedings within 6 hours of your flight — This reduces the risk of nausea. You should offer water as late as possible to prevent dehydration.
  • Consider potty aids — To keep dogs comfortable during their flight, equip them with a diaper and line their crate with potty pads, so long as you’re sure they won’t chew the diaper or pad in flight.

🚨 According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, tranquilizing or sedating your pets subjects them to a greater risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Talk to your veterinarian about alternative ways to soothe their fears while flying.

Risks of traveling with pets

U.S. airlines transported more than 256,114 dogs and cats in 2021, according to our analysis of the Department of Transportation’s air travel consumer reports. While the vast majority arrived safely at their destination, 21 died, another 7 were injured, and 14 lost.

When examining several years’ worth of reports, large dogs such as Labrador retrievers and Siberian huskies were most at risk for chewing through their kennel in the cargo hold, which often resulted in injury but rarely death. Brachycephalic breeds such as the English bulldog reported suffocation, and the few cats that flew as checked pets and reported fatalities experienced cardiac failure amidst underlying health conditions.

Flying can stress your pet’s heart and lungs, which can have fatal consequences if they’re in poor health. This is another reason your pet needs a thorough exam by a veterinarian before traveling.

Alternatives to flying with a pet

Car travel has an advantage over flying because your pet stays with you, no matter its size. It’s easier to monitor them and treat them quickly if they are unhealthy. However, if driving is not an option and you must take your pet with you, try to fly with them in the cabin if they’re under 20 pounds. It’s generally cheaper than checked baggage and a more economical (and safer) option than the cargo hold.

Frequently asked questions

Can I fly with my newborn kitten or puppy?

For their safety, all dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old and fully weaned before they can fly. In practicality, they might need to be even older than that since most puppies and kittens don’t yet have their required vaccines at such a young age. You’ll need to wait until they grow up a little more before they can join you on your airplane adventures.

How much does it cost to fly with a dog or cat?

In-cabin accommodations are much cheaper than checked baggage or cargo. The price is usually less than $200, which is usually closer to an add-on cost than an extra ticket. Checked baggage costs a little more but still stays in the economical range. Cargo can cost as much as a human plane ticket and may not be an option with many commercial airlines. You’ll probably have the choice of flying with your pet in-cabin or hiring a commercial shipping company to transport your pet. Most airlines no longer allow animals as checked baggage or on their cargo flights.

Is it safe to fly with your pet?

Yes. While the accounts of dog and cat deaths over recent years have made us think twice about how to travel safely with our animals, these incidents account for less than 0.05% of all animals transported. Hundreds of thousands of animals fly safely every year. That said, you should always take your pet to the veterinarian within 10 days of your flight for a health assessment and refrain from flying a sick, pregnant, or elderly pet. Animals with a history of aggression or anxiety or brachycephalic dog breeds may not make good travelers. Talk to your veterinarian if you have any concerns about traveling with your pet.