Are you planning on bringing your pets along on your next flight? Flying with pets is possible with most airlines. However, there are plenty of guidelines you need to know about before you go.

For instance, can your pet fly in the cabin or must they fly in cargo? Will the airline even accept your pet? If so, how much does it cost?

As you can see, there’s plenty to ponder. This guide can help you prepare your flight for your next trip.


In-Cabin Pets

The rules for flying with pets in the cabin or checking into the cargo hold can be different. This section focuses on which animals you can carry-on. 

Your carry-on pet will need to remain in its carrier under the seat in front of you for the entire flight. 

Keep in mind that if you have a service animal, the carry-on policy is more lenient. For instance, the animal might be able to sit in your lap and you won’t pay the carry-on pet fee.


What Pets Can Fly in the Cabin?

Most small dogs and cats can fly in the cabin for most airlines. Delta Airlines even lets you bring select household birds.

Each airline can have a slightly different policy, but there are several common tendencies:

  • Pets must typically weigh less than 20 pounds and shorter than 11 inches.
  • Cats and dogs must be several weeks old (varies by airline)
  • Your pet must remain in an approved pet carrier for the entire flight
  • The pet carrier must fit in the seat in front of you
  • Pets with disruptive or aggressive behavior can be denied boarding
  • Only one per carrier is allowed per passenger

Airlines also limit the number of carry-on pets per flight and cabin class. Even if your pet is eligible, the flight limit may already be maxed out when you book your ticket.

Southwest Airlines allows up to six carry-on pets for most flights. United Airlines allows up to four carry-on pets in the economy cabin for all flights but between zero and two per flight in premium cabins. 

If you’re flying on a codeshare partner, you will also need to verify their pet carry-on policy. You are likely to run into an issue if you use another airline for international travel.


Prohibited Dogs

Even if your dog is well-behaved, it’s possible the airline may not let it fly. 

Brachycephalic, snub-nosed dogs, are likely not allowed to fly in the cabin or in the cargo. These breeds are more likely to be prohibited because of potential respiratory problems.

Examples of brachycephalic and snub-nosed dogs include:

  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Bulldog
  • Chow Chow
  • Mastiff
  • Pit Bull
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu

If your dog has one of these lineages, you should contact the airline to verify they can fly. The airline might be more flexible for carry-on animals versus checking them.


Prohibited Cats

A few cat breeds can also be restricted:

  • Burmese
  • Persian
  • Himalayan
  • Exotic Shorthair

As you might guess, these breeds are brachycephalic.

Flying with Multiple Pets

You might be able to bring two pets inside one carrier. However, both pets must be the same breed and be able to freely move inside the carrier.

Consult with your airline to see if two pets can fly in one carrier.


Carry-On Pet Fees

You will also need to pay an add-on fee for your pet to fly in-cabin or in the cargo hold. This fee can be $125 each way on American, United, and Delta. Southwest Airlines charges $95 each way for domestic flights.

The fee can vary when traveling internationally.

Expect your pet to count as your carry-on item. This means you can only bring one more personal item onboard.


Pet Carrier Restrictions

Here are some general guidelines for soft-sided and hard-sided pet carriers:

  • Soft-sided carriers: 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high
  • Hard-sided carriers: 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high

The soft-sided carriers can be larger because of their adjustable size. Some airlines sell authorized pet carriers so you don’t need to worry about buying one that’s too large.

Your pet must be able to sit, stand, lay down, and turn around in a normal manner. If not, you will need to check your dog or cat.

Because your pet must sit under the sit in front of you, you won’t be able to get a bulkhead or exit row seat. No airline lets you place a carrier in the overhead bin.

Pet Documents and Vaccination Records

Make sure you have a current health certificate from a certified veterinarian to fly. You may also need to show proof of a rabies vaccine within 30 days of your travel dates. 

The documentation is less stringent when you fly within the United States. If going to Hawaii or traveling abroad, you will need more documentation.

To research the latest national and state requirements, visit this USDA website.


Service Animals

The carry-on pet rules can be more flexible when you travel with disabilities

Task-trained service animals are allowed on flights and can fly free of charge. You will need to bring proper documentation and airlines greatly appreciate the advance notice. 

Service animals don’t count toward the maximum carry-on pet limit per flight or cabin class.

Cats and dogs are the most common service animals. Although you may also be able to bring a trained miniature horse (depending on the airline). Service animals may also be able to sit on your lap.

Certified task-trained animals assist travelers with these disabilities:

  • Visual impairments
  • Deafness
  • Seizures
  • Disabilities that impair movement


Emotional Support Animals

It’s also possible to fly if you have an emotional support animal. You will need to notify the airline in advance to make sure your pet qualifies. If so, plan on submitting all required forms at least 48 hours before departure. 

Unlike service animals, airlines tend to charge the standard carry-on pet fee for emotional support animals.


Airline Pet Travel Policies

For a more in-depth look at specific airline policies, visit their traveling with pets page. 

Here are the in-cabin pet travel pages for the large domestic carriers:


Airport Amenities

While you can bring some pet necessities on board like snacks, collapsible water dishes, and wet pads, you will need to find a pet relief area at your airport. 

This is usually the only area where your pet can be outside their carrier while traveling. Pets must remain inside their carrier in the general terminal and airport lounges. Take this time to exercise your pet so they are calm for the connecting flight.

Thankfully, more airports are opening relief areas as flying with pets becomes more common. You can try traveling through these pet-friendly airports to find some of the best spots. 

Try downloading an airport map and finding the terminal’s pet relief areas in advance. Knowing where to go can give your pet a few extra minutes outside the carrier.


Checked Pets

Larger cats and dogs that don’t comfortably fit inside a carry-on carrier will need to be checked. Other animals including birds may also need to fly in the cargo hold.

Checking a pet can seem a bit confusing at times because each airline has different policies. For example, the maximum kennel size can depend on the plane you will fly. You will also need to wait until 14 days before departure to reserve cargo space for your pet.

Depending on how you check your pet, their kennel may be treated as checked baggage. This means you will see your pet at the normal baggage claim. But if your pet flies in the airline’s cargo service, you will need to pick them up in the airline’s cargo area which is separate from the passenger terminal.

You will receive instructions on where to go when you contact the airline to say you are checking a pet.


Restricted Dogs and Cats (For Checked Pets)

Not all dog and cat breeds can fly as a checked pet. Brachycephalic and snub-nosed breeds will most likely be refused. This can be especially true with a pitbull breed. 

Mixed breed pets are also unlikely to qualify if they have a brachycephalic or snub-nosed heritage.

Here are some of the dog breeds that airlines are likely to restrict travel:

  • Boxer
  • Bulldog
  • Chow Chow
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Mastiff
  • Pit Bull

A few cat breeds can also be restricted:

  • Burmese
  • Persian
  • Himalayan
  • Exotic Shorthair

Age Restrictions

Pets must usually be at least eight weeks old before they can fly in-cabin or as cargo. The airline may not have a maximum age restriction but the pet must be in good health.

If the animal has a disability, visual impairment, or respiratory or circulatory issues, the pet may not be able to fly. 

Also, if your pet shows aggressive or unusual behavior, regardless of age, the pet may not be able to fly in cargo either.


Temperature Restrictions

Airlines won’t fly checked pets during extreme cold or hot temperatures. If the temperature is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit during you likely won’t be able to fly your pet in the cargo section. 

That means you will need to either leave them at home if you fly or drive instead. 

For example, American Airlines doesn’t fly checked pets from, through, or to Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, or Palm Springs from May 1 until September 30. 

It’s not that the cargo hold is unsafe. Contrary to popular belief, the hold is pressurized like the main cabin. 

These restrictions are in place because of the ambient temperature on the tarmac when your pet transports between the terminal and airplane. 

The airline may waive the cold weather restriction. Although you will need to get specific documentation from your pet’s veterinarian.


Flight Itinerary Restrictions

Airlines may only let you check a pet when your total scheduled flight itinerary is shorter than 11 hours and 30 minutes. One reason for this restriction is to ensure your pet has enough food and water. Plus, what animal wants to be stuck in a kennel for half a day at one time?

Airlines may not accept checked pets when you fly to or from select countries.

Depending on the cargo service policy, the airline may offer kennel service if you and your pet are separated for a long-time. 

One example is your pet arrives at your destination on an earlier flight than you. The airline may keep them in either an on-site or off-site kennel. You might be responsible for paying the additional kenneling charges.


Location Restrictions

Airlines only offer checked pet service to select destinations. You shouldn’t have a problem when flying within the United States and Canada. 

It’s also possible to fly with checked pets to Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. However, each airline may have restrictions on certain nations. 

It’s unlikely you will be able to check pets when flying across the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. One exception is flying dogs and cats to the United Kingdom. Although you won’t be able to check a kennel to the European Union from the United States.

Some airlines don’t offer any checked pet services. The most notable is Southwest Airlines which only accepts carry-on pets.


Kennel Requirements

Depending on which aircraft type you fly, the maximum kennel height can be between 22 inches and 46 inches. On most flights, you can get a 500 series kennel or smaller and be okay. The kennel also needs to be hard-sided and well-ventilated.

Like the carry-on kennels, your pet will need to be able to stand up and move around freely.

In addition to having the right-size kennel, you will also need to provide a few necessary items for your pet and the baggage items:

  • Separate food and water dishes inside the kennel. 
  • One bag of food sufficient for a 24-hour period attached to the top of the kennel
  • Absorbent material or litter to collect waste

You will also need to provide written certification your pet was fed and watered within four hours of drop-off. This note should also provide food and watering instructions for the next 24 hours.


Maximum Number of Kennels per Passenger

It’s possible to check up to two kennels. Once again, the policy depends on the airline and space availability on the airplane.

You might be able to put two pets of the same breed in one kennel if each animal is less than six months old. For adult animals, you will most likely have to put one animal in each kennel.


Kennel Drop-Off Requirements

Most airlines begin accepting checked pets within four hours of the scheduled departure. Drop-off requirements might be different depending on where you and your pet are flying.


How Much Does Flying a Checked Pet Cost?

Costs can vary by the airline depending on the destination and the size of your animal. You might easily pay between $200 and $300 to fly a 30-pound dog across the United States. Because of the relatively high costs, it can be worth your time estimating prices from several airlines if you have the choice of several different airlines.

American Airlines charges $200 per kennel but only $150 to or from Brazil.

United Airlines PetSafe lets you estimate prices for the cargo service you need to check your pet.


Pet Sedation

Airlines strongly recommend that you don’t sedate your pet. Sedating them actually puts your animal at a higher risk of having respiratory and cardiovascular failure. 

If you must sedate your pet, leave veterinarian-provided instructions with the kennel. The airline staff can check these instructions, if necessary.

Required Documents

Make sure you bring these documents along with you when you travel:

  • Veterinarian-provided health certificate
  • Vaccination record
  • Pet license
  • Ownership tag with your contact information
  • Feeding and watering instructions for the next 24 months

The airline or your destination’s customs department may require further documentation.


Does Travel Insurance Cover Pets?

The travel insurance you buy to protect your travel purchases and medical expenses most likely won’t insure your pet. 

Instead, you will need to buy pet insurance. Your coverage amounts depend on which plan you choose. While these policies are designed for ongoing coverage, injuries and sickness can happen even when you travel.

Make sure you read the terms and conditions to determine if your potential expenses are covered when you travel outside the country.



Flying with pets requires extra preparation. Carrying on your pet is the least stressful option. If checking your pet, contact the airline in advance to make sure you complete the correct paperwork at least 48 hours before departure so they can catch the same flight as you.

Johnny Jet Editorial

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