All your questions about flying with your pet, answered.
For pet parents, flying with a dog can often seem like a more appealing alternative to leaving their pet behind with a friend, checking them into a boarding facility, or taking a lengthy, pet-friendly road trip to the destination instead. But figuring out how to fly with a dog can be complicated, especially for first-time travelers with pets. How does flying with a non-service, non-emotional support dog work, exactly? What are the rules and specifications? How much does it cost? And, perhaps most importantly, is it comfortable—or even safe—for dogs?
For starters, traveling with dogs is definitely more complicated (and more expensive) than flying pet-free, and there’s a lot to consider before taking dogs on planes. But it can be done—so long as you do plenty of research about how to travel with a dog ahead of time. As a starting point, we’ve done much of that work and spelled it out below.
Here’s everything you need to factor in before flying with a dog, from how to book the flight to what kind of paperwork is required.
Can I fly with a dog on a plane?
my dog fly with me? Yes, in many cases, your dog can fly with you on a plane, either in the cabin or the cargo hold. However, as you might imagine, airlines have tons of specific guidelines for travelers with pets to read up on. It’s important that you read them all thoroughly, well in advance of your trip, so you know exactly what to expect and can prepare for how to fly with a dog ahead of time.
Check with the airline to see which dog breeds they allow on planes. Breeds with short or snubbed noses, also known as brachycephalic dogs, are typically banned from the cargo hold because their facial structure can make it difficult for them to breathe normally. Airlines may also completely prohibit some bully breeds, like pit bulls, from flying.
Most airlines only allow a few dogs per flight—typically two to six, depending on the type of plane—so call and make sure the plane has space for you and your dog before you book. (For this reason, always be sure to make reservations for you and your pet at the same time.) Airlines may also limit which areas of the plane you can sit in if you’re bringing your dog onboard (for example, you may not be able to sit in business or first class, and you likely won’t be able to select a seat in the emergency exit or bulkhead rows).
Also keep in mind that airlines will not accept pets on the plane if temperatures are forecasted to be too hot or too cold at any destination along the route. Of course, the weather can be unpredictable, so If this happens, you’ll have to scramble to make other plans.
How stressful is flying for dogs?
Flying is an incredibly stressful experience for all dogs, but it can be especially upsetting for elderly dogs, as well as pups with health or behavioral challenges.
Think about it: Flying removes pets from the surroundings they are most comfortable and familiar with, then forces them into a situation with loud noises, bright lights, thousands of people, a dizzying array of new smells, changes in air pressure and cabin temperature, and limited access to places where they can use the bathroom. Dogs who must fly in the cargo hold are also away from you, their favorite person, in a scary environment.
In addition, consider whether your dog will be able to participate in all the activities you have planned once you arrive. “If the destination is somewhere where the pup will be alone inside all day, boarding or hiring a dog sitter may be better options to consider rather than subjecting the pet to the stress of flying,” says Jennifer Bruns, a veterinarian at PetSmart.
Unless you have a really good reason for bringing your pet, it’s probably best to leave them behind. You might feel bummed out for a few days, but it’s almost certainly better for your pet in the long run. Consider hiring a pet sitter, asking a trusted friend or family member your pet already knows to watch your dog, or boarding them at a licensed facility. Or, if your budget and schedule allow—and your pet tolerates car travel well—consider driving if you really want your pup with you on the trip.
Bottom line: Before you book a trip, think long and hard about whether it’s essential to bring your dog along for the journey. “In general, I recommend not flying with a pet unless absolutely necessary,” says Justine Lee, veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance. “Ideally, pets should not fly unless an owner is moving permanently or taking a long trip—two to four weeks minimum.”
And if you do decide to proceed with flying with a dog, consult with your vet about food, water, exercise, and medication ahead of time. Experts are divided on whether travelers with pets should sedate or tranquilize their dogs before a flight (even the American Veterinary Medical Association offers a slightly murky answer to this question), so weigh the pros and cons with an expert who is familiar with you and your animal. Also know that there are health risks involved with sedation, and some airlines prohibit this practice or require a veterinarian’s note.
To minimize your pet’s discomfort, look for non-stop flights with no transfers, and avoid traveling over holiday periods when airlines—and airports—are busier than normal, to help reduce the risk of anything going wrong. If your pet has to fly in cargo, also be mindful of the weather at your destination. For trips to warm-weather destinations, look into early morning or late evening flights when the temperatures won’t be quite so high; conversely, in cooler climates, book flights in the middle of the day, when temps are warmest.
Can I buy my dog a seat on a plane?
Most airlines do not allow passengers to buy their dogs a seat on a plane. However, depending on the dog’s size and breed, as well as the specific airline’s rules, you may be able to pay to have your dog fly with you in the cabin.
Typically, dogs can only fly in the cabin—a.k.a. as carry-on pets—if they are small enough to fit under the seat in front of you in a carrier. Some airlines, such as JetBlue, do allow travelers with pets to buy an additional seat for their dog, but they must still pay the carry-on pet fee and keep the dog inside his crate for the entire duration of the flight. You must stow the crate (with your dog inside) under the seat in front of you for taxi, takeoff, and landing; otherwise, you can hold the carrier on your lap or, if you purchased an additional seat, you can place it on the seat next to you.
Unfortunately, larger dogs (with exceptions for trained service animals) have to travel in the cargo hold, along with all the luggage and freight. Most airlines describe this as “shipping” your pet. (Yikes.)
While airlines say they try their best to make dogs comfortable in the cargo hold, it’s bound to be an unpleasant experience for your pet nonetheless (and that’s likely an understatement). Plenty of animals fly in cargo every year without incident, but travelers have also shared horror stories about their pets being injured, becoming very sick, or even dying.
Once you hand your pet off to airline personnel, their fate is completely out of your hands, so you’ll want to seriously consider whether the potential risks of them flying in cargo outweigh the benefits. Baggage handlers are just trying to get their jobs done and get everything loaded onto the plane—unfortunately, they’re not there to pay special attention to your dog in its kennel. “There are many situations that are beyond your control when your pet flies in cargo,” says Bruns. “Putting your dog in cargo, even on a pet-friendly airline, can be a very risky situation.”
What are the rules for flying with a dog?
The rules around traveling with dogs vary greatly depending on the airline, the destination, and the dog, so you’ll want to do as much research as possible ahead of time. There are also different stipulations for flying with a trained service animal, so be sure to navigate to the right webpage or talk to an airline customer service agent about the rules for non-service animals specifically. Here are the pet travel pages for Delta, American Airlines, United, JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska Airways.
Airlines typically require a health certificate—issued by an accredited veterinarian following an office visit that includes a physical examination—stating your dog is healthy and up-to-date on her vaccinations. The certificate is only good for 30 days, and you’ll need it for both your departure and return. (Many airlines require that your dog’s clean bill of health be no more than 10 days old.) If the duration of your trip is longer than your certificate will be valid for, you’ll also have to schedule a vet visit while on your trip to meet the return flight requirements. Dogs must also typically be at least eight weeks old to fly, says Bruns.
You’ll typically pay between $95 to $125 each way for your pet to fly in the cabin with you, though the pet fee varies by airline. The cost of shipping your pet in the cargo hold depends on the combined weight of your dog and their crate, as well as how far they’ll be flying—most airlines offer online calculators for getting an estimate.
Wherever your pet will spend the flight, airlines typically require an appropriate pet carrier or crate. The International Air Transport Association, whose guidelines most airlines follow, has a list of pet carrier requirements (we’ve also rounded up our favorite airline-approved pet carriers).
Generally speaking, the crate needs to be durable and have plenty of ventilation, strong handles, and a leak-proof bottom. Clearly mark the pet carrier with the words “Live Animal” and arrows that show which way is up, with a label containing your name, phone number, address, and destination contact information.
In addition to researching airline rules about flying with a dog, look into local animal import laws at all stops along your route, especially if you’re traveling internationally or even to some far-flung United States’ destinations, such as Hawaii. Many places have painfully complicated processes and long quarantine periods—which could mean you’d be separated from your pet for most or all of your trip.
Some destinations do not allow pets to fly in the cabin, even if your dog is small enough to be a carry-on; there are even some countries and states that prohibit pets from flying to, from, or through on a connection, period. Others have specific requirements that may take a while to coordinate, so it’s best to start your trip-planning process extra early if you want to bring your dog. “Some countries require testing and treatment for disease months in advance of travel, so timing is of the utmost importance,” says Bruns.
Also note there are currently special requirements for dogs traveling to the U.S. from a country the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deems high risk for rabies. For example, dogs who have been vaccinated against rabies in the U.S. by a U.S.-licensed veterinarian may return from a high-risk country if they have proof of rabies vaccination and a microchip; are at least six months old; are healthy upon arrival; and arrive at one of 18 specific airports with CDC quarantine facilities.
Before your trip, thoroughly research the departing and arrival airports, paying close attention to any pet relief areas. Familiarize your dog with their crate well in advance of your trip so they are comfortable spending long periods of time inside it. You might even consider taking your dog to the airport’s departure area a few times so they becomes slightly more familiar with this strange place. “Every time I fly with my dog, I look at the terminal map—both the one I’m leaving from and the one I’m landing at—to see if there is a pet relief area,” says Nicole Ellis, a certified professional dog trainer with Rover. “This way, if my flight is delayed, I can give him another chance to go. And as soon as we land, I know where to head.”
Flying with a dog: Day-of travel
On travel day, be sure to get to the airport extra early so you don’t feel rushed or stressed. If your pet is flying cargo, most airlines require you to arrive at least three hours before departure for domestic flights and at least five hours before international flights. You’ll likely need to take your pet to a separate cargo drop-off location at the airport (this is where you’ll pick up your pet after the flight, too), so review your departure and arrival airport maps ahead of time to know where to go.
If your pet is small enough to fly in the cabin, go to the passenger check-in desk, where an agent will ask to see all of your dog’s required paperwork. Once you’ve got the all-clear and paid the pet carry-on fee, you’ll head to security. Deal with your shoes, liquids, laptop, and other items before tending to your dog. Then, remove the dog from the kennel and carry or walk her on-leash through security; place the kennel on the conveyor belt and send it through the X-ray machine. (To speed things up, you may want to remove your pet’s collar or harness so it doesn’t set off the metal detector.) Be sure to review the TSA’s rules around dog food, especially if you want to bring a little wet food in your carry-on bag.
If the dog is flying as cargo, make sure to attach a current photo of her to the outside of the carrier, as well as a small bag of food so airline personnel can feed it in case of a long delay. Keep a current photo of your dog handy on your phone, too, in case the airline accidentally “misplaces” your pet—it’s not likely, but it’s better to be prepared. (Getting your pet microchipped can also help in the event that your pet gets lost.)
Once you touch down at your destination, grab your checked baggage (or, to speed things up while traveling with dogs, only bring a carry-on) and head straight to the airline’s cargo location. Dogs who fly cargo are typically available two hours after the flight’s arrival, and you must pick them up within four hours or airline staffers will take them to a veterinarian or boarding facility.
Whether your pet flew in cargo or the cabin, take your dog for a walk right away and be sure to give them lots of praise, cuddles, treats, toys, or whatever other positive reinforcement rewards they prefer. (If you’re flying with a dog in the cabin and have a layover, stretch your legs—and your pup’s—at a pet relief area in the airport.) Though the journey can be complicated, you’ll breathe easier once you’ve both arrived safe and sound.