Flying with a pet isn’t something most of us have ever considered doing but not only have I hauled dozens of cats, dogs, puppies, and kittens onto a plane with me, but it seems like every time I fly I see several dogs at the airport. Flying with your pet has become much more common and much easier than it once was.


Knowing how to fly with a dog can be a bit tricky though. There are two ways to do this – if your dog is small enough you can purchase a ticket for them to fly in the cabin with you. This is only allowed if your dog comfortably fits into an airline-approved, soft-sided travel kennel that can fit under the seat in front of you. Essentially, your dog acts as your carry on bag.

If Rover is too big to fit in a kennel in front of you, then you have the option to fly them in the cargo section of the plane. This gets a little more complicated since there are several regulations regarding kennel size, labeling, food, and water that you have to follow. We will go over each scenario below.

Flying with a Dog In-Cabin

This happens to be the option have used most frequently and while it is convenient, it does have a few things that are tricky to navigate. Here is a checklist of what to do prepare for a flight and make it onto the plane:

  • Most airlines require that puppies be 8-10 weeks of age (depending on the airline) before they fly.
  • Obtain a health certificate from your veterinarian no more than 10 days before flying – many airlines will ask to see this before issuing a ticket for your pet. If you are making a round trip and your return flight occurs greater than 10 days after the initial flight, you may need to obtain a new health certificate for the return flight.
  • Call your airline and let them know you will be flying with a pet carried on. Most airlines have restrictions on how many pets are allowed in the cabin on a flight and they will want to make sure your pet is old enough and meets size and health requirements before they issue a ticket.
  • Be sure you have a carrier that meets airline requirements to fit under the seat in front of you. Each airline has its own guidelines – my absolute favorite carrier to fly with will b reviewed in a future post.
  • You will be required to check in at the ticket counter if you ravel with your dog. This is when health certificates and carriers are checked and a separate paper ticket is issued for your dog. Keep your dog’s ticket with you when you board the plane – it doesn’t happen every time, but the attendants will occasionally ask to see the pet ticket when they scan your ticket.
  • Be prepared to take your pet out of the carrier at the security checkpoint. The pet carrier will need to go through the x-ray machine and you will have to walk with your pet through the metal detector. For this reason, it is recommended that you have a collar/harness and leash on your dog even though they are in a kennel. There is a lot going on in the airport and it can be frightening so it never hurts to take extra precautions in case your dog tries to bolt.
  • Once past the security checkpoint, your dog can hang out in their carrier or out of it as long as they are on a leash. If you need to take your dog on a potty break between flights be prepared to have to go through security again. Some airports have designated dog rest areas within their secured areas but most do not and you have to leave the airport to get to some grass. You can check the websites of your airports to find additional information about pet relief areas.
  • If it is at all possible, a non-stop flight is recommended simply because it can be hard to find an area to potty your dog either because you have to go outside and back through security again or because your layover is too short. If all else fails, I recommend that you line the bottom of your carrier with a pee pad in case there is an accident and carry a couple of extras to change out the lining if needed.
  • While on the plane, pets must remain in their carriers. It never hurts to have a toy or treat in the carrier with them as a distraction. When taking off and landing it might help to offer their favorite treat to distract them from the pressure change, noise, and bumpiness.

Flying with Your Dog in Cargo

dog in cargo

Flying your dog in the cargo area has different requirements than those listed above – most of these related to the kennel used for transport. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Again, you must obtain a health certificate from your veterinarian no more than 10 days before flying – many airlines will ask to see this before issuing a ticket for your pet. If you are making a round trip and your return flight occurs greater than 10 days after the initial flight, you may need to obtain a new health certificate for the return flight.
  • When you are making your reservations, call the airline to book a cargo flight for your dog. Pricing varies on the size of the crate used to transport the dog.
  • Depending on your destination, your dog should be at their drop off location 2-3 hours before the flight leaves. Drop off locations are both airline and airport specific so be sure to check the location online (or ask when you make the reservation).
  • For safety, most airlines will not accept sedated dogs.
  • There are strict requirements for the kennel that your dog travels in. The most important requirements are:
    • The kennel must be made of hard plastic, metal or wood and have a solid roof with no door or grate.
    • Ventilation must be available on three sides of the kennel.
    • The kennel door must be metal.
    • All nuts and bolts and other hardware must be present and secured. Kennels with plastic twist closure or snap sided closure will not be accepted.
    • Your dog should be able to sit, stand, and turn around comfortably without his ears touching the roof of the kennel.
    • Food and water must be provided in dishes attached to the inside of the kennel.
    • The kennel floor must be solid and leak proof and be lined with absorbent material.
    • Toys, medication, and blankets are not permitted in the kennels. This is for your dog’s protection so that they do not chew and ingest any foreign objects during the flight.
    • Kennels must be labeled with your name, address, and phone number. Live Animal stickers and orientation stickers must be present on at least one side of the kennel as well.

Special Exemptions

Trained service animals accompanied by their owners with proper documentation are permitted to travel in the cabin regardless of size. Also, military and law enforcement personnel sometimes travel with their patrol dogs in the cabin as well. Be aware that these are not pets and in most cases should not be approached.

Helpful Links

I am listing the pet travel websites of a few of the largest airlines that operate in the United States for reference purposes. All of the sites go into much more detail about the kennel requirements than what is listed above so they are great resources.

American Airlines

United Airlines


Frontier Airlines

Southwest Airlines

Jet Blue

Alaska Airlines

Final Thoughts

You definitely should not be afraid to fly with your dog but, as you can see, there are several requirements and some variability in rules across airlines and airports. If you do your homework and have the few things each airline requests, getting from point A to point B should be a piece of cake. As always, if you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to leave them below.