Despite the added cost, stress, and paperwork, it’s becoming more common for passengers to be flying with a dog. For some, leaving the dog behind on certain vacations, moves, or other situations simply isn’t an option, meaning that Fido must come along on the plane.
Whether your dog is small enough to fly along in cabin or must be checked as baggage, air travel with doesn’t have to be complicated or confusing, though there is a lot of information available (some helpful and some conflicting).
Follow our simple guide below to planning to flying with your dog in the United States.
Things to Know Before You Fly
Before you fly with your dog, you’ll want ask yourself a few questions.
- Is my dog healthy enough to fly? Do they have any medical conditions? Talk to your veterinarian before deciding to buy a ticket and take to the skies.
- Is my dog old enough to fly? Your dog must be at least 10 weeks old to fly.
- What is the size of my dog? Is it small? Small enough to fit below a seat in front of me? If so, your dog may be able to travel in cabin with you. If your dog is too big to fit under the seat in front of you, then your dog will have to fly in cargo. See more below on flying with a dog in the cabin and flying with a dog in cargo.
- Is my dog well-behaved enough to fly? Sometimes it is better to leave your dog with family or friends if you know they can’t handle themselves in public. This includes incessant barking, going up to other people and dogs, whining, and inability to calm down for long periods of time.
- Can my dog hold their pee and poop? Your dog will need to be able to hold off on going potty for many hours. Is your dog potty trained?
- How long is your planned flight? If your flight is across the country? That may be a long time for your dog to be flying. Can it handle that time length? For example, Miami to Seattle is a 6+ hour flight.
If you’re flying with a large dog as cargo, you’ll want to ensure their safety and ask these additional questions.
Flying with a Dog in Cabin
Travel with a dog in cabin is the easiest form of traveling with a small pet. Your dog or cat will travel in their kennel below the seat in front of you. The catch is they must be under a certain size and fit comfortably in their pet carrier.
The dog cannot weigh more than 8 kg (17 lbs), and yes, some airlines will weigh your dog in their carrier. Size and weight measurements vary by airline, so check with your airline prior to booking your ticket.
For pet traveling under the seat in the cabin, the small carrier size should be a maximum of 18.5″ x 8.5″ x 13.5″ (47 cm x 22 cm x 34 cm). The pet carrier must be well ventilated, leak proof, and be able to fit under the seat in front. We’ve compiled our list of our favorite kennels and carriers for flying with your dog.
The process for flying with your dog is to call the airlines after you’ve booked your flight and request they add your pet to your itinerary. Some airlines will allow you to do this at the time of booking. It’s a best practice to call anyway, as there maybe additional regulations and rules you’ll need to confirm that aren’t always available online.
When checking in for your flight, make sure you confirm at the desk that you’re traveling with your dog. Have any relevant medical documentation ready to go as needed.
The typical cost for flying with a dog in cabin is $125 one-way. As with all airline fees, the prices can change quickly, so double check the price before booking. Some airlines consider your pet as your one personal item that you’re allowed to bring onboard the aircraft free of charge, though you still have to pay the fee.
Note: because of pet travel restrictions, you’re not allow to fly with dogs in the cabin to Hawaii (or other international destinations like Australia, Barbados, Dakar, Dubai, Hong Kong, Iceland, Jamaica, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, and the United Kingdom).
Flying with a Dog in Cargo
If your dog cannot fly in cabin, then you’ll have to fly them in the cargo hold in an approved pet carrier. You’ll need to drop the dog off with their carrier when you check in and have to follow the correct regulations with the kennel.
Things to note when your dog is flying in cargo:
- You will need a health certificate issued by your veterinarian within 10 days of transport.
- Minimize the amount of food and water you give your dog the day of flying. Don’t let them starve, but consider reducing their meal slightly. If your dog needs food during transit, you’ll need to provide the food in advance with written instructions.
- Do NOT give your dog sedatives or tranquilizers while in flight. High altitude and some sedatives/tranquilizers do not mix well. Consider giving your dog CBD oil if you’re worried about them being frightened or anxious during flight. Consult your vet before giving it to your dog. We use HempMy Pet, a high quality, organic hemp extract made especially for pet. You can read our review here.
- Dogs are not allowed to fly when the ambient air temperature is above 80F (27C) or below 20F (-7C). The trick is to fly at night if possible in the summer, or during day time for flights over winter.
The pet carrier for flying:
- You will need to purchase a carrier/kennel in advance. Your dog must be able to stand up and turn around easily within the kennel. Instructions for picking the right kennel and our favorites can be found on our Best Dog Kennels for Flying post.
- Include a water bowl mounted on the carrier along with a live animal sticker that has your name and phone number listed on it.
- Get a carrier that has wheels on the bottom. Pushing your carrier through the airport will save your back.
- The carrier will also need to be secured properly at the baggage drop off. Bring heavy duty zip ties.
- The carrier itself will be assembled with appropriate bolts provided when purchased.
Note, many airlines do not allow short-nosed breeds to fly due to respiratory health risks. These breeds include: Affenpinscher, American Staffordshire Terrier, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Brussels Griffon, Bulldog, Cane Corso, Chow Chow, Dogue De Bordeaux, English Toy Spaniel, Japanese Chin, Lhasa Apso, Mastiff, Pekingese, Pit Bull, Presa Canario, Pug, Shar Pei, Shih Tzu, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Tibetan Spaniel. Check with your airline before flying with one of these breeds.
The typical cost for flying with a dog in cargo is $200 one-way. Though prices can be as high as $500, depending on the size and weight of your dog. As with all airline fees, the prices can change quickly, so double check the price before booking, especially when your dog is flying cargo.
Is Flying with a Dog Safe?
In short, yes, flying with a dog in cargo is safe. We’ve been asked this question so many times that we wrote a post about why it is safe to fly with a dog. Statistically, you’re much more likely to get into a car accident than have an issue with your dog in cargo.
The important thing to know is that some airlines are better than others. In 2018, the United States Department of Transportation reported 0.79 deaths or injuries per 10,000 animals on US carriers. United Airlines was by far the worst and had nearly 5x more incidents than American Airlines, the next “worst” airlines. The best of the big four airlines? Alaska Airlines.
The Process of Flying
The day of flying will be stressful, but there are some things you can do to make the actual flight easier. Keep your dog routine the same so as not add stress to your dog. Give them plenty of exercise and/or brain exercise if possible. A tired dog is a good dog.
When you arrive at the airport, have your dog do their potty business outside before you enter the airport. While some airports have pet relief areas, it doesn’t guarantee they’re not behind the security checkpoint or a completely different terminal than you’re flying.
Definitely get #1 and #2 done outside if your dog is flying in cargo to reduce the chances of the dog going in their carrier/kennel. We usually wait until the very last minute to go through security to maximize our dog’s ability to go toilet again and minimize their time in the kennel.
Emotional Support Animals (ESA)
By now you’re probably read or read about the ridiculous lengths some people will go through to fly with service animals. Remember the lady in 2018 that tried to fly with her emotional support peacock? So why go through all the trouble to get a certified ESA in the first place?
In short, emotional support animals fly for free, in cabin, and at your feet (they are not limited to size requirements). With airlines constantly finding new ways to add fees, it’s no wonder that people will use every trick in the book to save some money while traveling with pets.
Full disclosure, Sora, was registered with me as an emotional support animal. Before bringing out the pitchforks and assuming I was just another person abusing the ESA system, Sora was a legit ESA with the proper paperwork: a doctor’s note with medical justification and health certificate.
I do have a history of generalized anxiety and depression and worked with my doctor on the pros/cons of traveling with Sora as an ESA. Ultimately, Sora was the kind of dog you could take anywhere, in any situation, and be perfectly fine, so we registered her an ESA.
Because of widespread abuse, like buying ESA notes online, airlines have cracked down on flying with an emotional support animal. Many airlines now require several pieces of up-to-date documentation before you can fly with an ESA.
Nowadays, we don’t feel like Laila or Riia are well enough behaved to fly as an ESA. And so we have not opted to fly with them as ESAs for that very reason.
Bottom line: be realistic about your mental health situation and you dog’s abilities before flying with an emotional support animal.
Flying Internationally with Your Dog
Flying abroad with your dog is much more complicated than flying domestically. You’ll need to go through a series of export/import procedures depending on your destination. It takes months of advanced planing to ensure your pet will be able to fly with you.
You’ll first want to start with the USDA APHIS to find out the exact process. Spend the time researching the requirements for your destination country in terms of vaccinations, the specific health certificate (which needs to be signed by an American Veterinary Medical accredited vet), and if the country requires quarantine.
Please note, some countries like Australia and New Zealand specifically require you to use an international air transport company for your dog or pet. The prices are not cheap and can be thousands of dollars.
Further reading: we have cover the exact process and discuss some tips and tricks in our How to Fly Internationally with a Dog post. It’s based on years of travel and visiting over 30+ countries with dogs.
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FAQ – Flying with a Dog
Can my dog fly on a plane?
Yes, of course you can fly with your dog. In the United States, you’ve got two options, in cabin and as cargo. Cabin is reserved for small dogs that can fit in a travel carrier under the seat. Cargo is for bigger dogs that fly in an airline approved pet carrier or kennel.
Which airlines are the best for flying with a dog?
The DOT lists the following big airlines as best to worse in terms of incidents per 10k animals transported: Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and United Airlines (*by far the worst statistically). This doesn’t take into account the overall travel experience, only incidents reported in 2018.
How much does it cost to fly with a dog?
It depends on the airline and the prices change frequently. In cabin costs can be as little as $125 one way. In cargo, the prices rise considerably and can be as high as $500 one way. Look up the prices directly on the airline website prior to booking to avoid any surprises.
Can I buy my dog a seat on a flight?
No. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to directly buy a seat on a plane. You can fly them in cabin only under the seat or a support animal like a registered guide dog or emotional support animal, which fly for free.
Is it safe for dogs to fly in cargo?
Can my dog sit on my lap during flight?
Generally no, the pet must remain below the seat in front of you. In reality, many airlines turn a blind eye when the plane is in route. You can ask the stewardess if your “well behaved lap dog” can sit in your lap for a portion of the flight, assuming they’re under control and not bothering passengers.
Where does my dog go to the bathroom on a flight?
Your dog is supposed to remain in its carrier for the duration of the flight. This includes when it needs to go potty. Always travel with puppy pads that you can put into the carrier to ensure you can easily throw them away if your dog goes in their carrier.
Can my support animal accompany me into the toilet on a flight?
Dogs and cats are not permitted to enter the toilet. Even if you want them to use the space for their own business, the cabin crew will stop you.
How to do I add a pet to my flight ticket?
Call the airlines immediately after booking your ticket and tell them you’re flying with your dog. There are limited spaces for pets on each flight. The early you reserve your space, the less likely you’ll run into any issues.
Should I sedate my dog while flying?
Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid giving your pet any drugs while in flight. If you must, work with your vet on which medication is appropriate and only do this with your pet when they’re flying in the cabin. You are not permitted to give any medication to pets while they’re flying in cargo as they can’t be treated in the event of a medication emergency.
What size dog or cat can fly below my seat?
For pet traveling under the seat in the cabin, the carrier size should be a maximum of 18.5″ x 8.5″ x 13.5″ (47 cm x 22 cm x 34 cm). The carrier must be well ventilated and be able to fit under the seat in front. We’ve got a list of our favorite kennels and carriers for flying.
Which dog breeds cannot fly as cargo?
Many airlines no longer accept short-nosed breeds like: Affenpinscher, American Staffordshire Terrier, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Brussels Griffon, Bulldog, Cane Corso, Chow Chow, Dogue De Bordeaux, English Toy Spaniel, Japanese Chin, Lhasa Apso, Mastiff, Pekingese, Pit Bull, Presa Canario, Pug, Shar Pei, Shih Tzu, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Tibetan Spaniel.
Which countries can I not fly to with my dog in cabin?
Many airlines do not permit flying in cabin to the following countries due to import regulations: Australia, Barbados, Dakar, Dubai, Hong Kong, Iceland, Jamaica, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland,
Hawaii, South Africa, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates.
Can I fly with my Pit Bull?
The regulations around Pit Bulls are changing rapidly. Some airlines, like Delta and United no longer allow Pit Bulls. Generally speaking, you may be able find an airline to fly with your Pit Bull, but you’ll need to do upfront research and it’s a case by case basis with each airline.