Complete Guide to Flying With a Dog

Flying with a dog isn’t as easy as booking a ticket and hopping on a plane; it requires thoughtful preparation and an understanding of both your pet’s needs AND airline regulations. It can be quite a stressful experience, but I’m hoping this blog post will make your life a bit easier by diving into everything you need to know about flying with your furry best friend. From airline pet policies to a pet-friendly packing list, we have you (and your pup) covered!

Young female passenger in warm clothes walking with her dog in airport hall.

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Photo credit: Standret/ Shutterstock.

Flying with a Dog: Pre-Flight Preparation

The preparation and research you do before the flight is almost as important as the flight itself. It’s important to choose the right airline, pack all needed documents, and to prepare your dog for the travel day as best as possible. Here are 5 steps you should take BEFORE flying with your dog!

Step 1: Choose a Pet-Friendly Airline

If you are a dog owner, you are likely already aware that not every airline allows you to fly with your dog. It’s crucial (and maybe a bit obvious) to do this research before ever booking your flight.

Jack russell terrier in a travel box. Obedient dog in carry for safe transport
Photo credit: Reshetnikov_art/Shutterstock.

Here’s a quick summary of the airlines that accept pets! I recommend diving deeper into your top few choices to ensure policies have not changed. This is a very important first step when planning a trip with your dog.

  1. Alaska Airlines
  2. American Airlines
    • Pet Policy: Pets allowed in cabin and cargo (only active-duty U.S. military and U.S. State Department Foreign Service personnel are able to check a pet in cargo)
    • Cost: $125 each way.
    • See more details and restrictions here.
  3. Air France
  4. Delta Airlines
  5. Hawaiian Airlines
    • Pet Policy: Cats or dogs allowed in cabin and cargo (inter-island flights within Hawaii and between Hawaii and the US Mainland).
    • Cost: $225 between Hawaii and the mainland, $60 within Hawaii.
    • See more details and restrictions here.
  6. JetBlue Airways
  7. Southwest Airlines
  8. Spirit Airlines
    • Pet Policy: Cats, dogs, rabbits, and household birds allowed in cabin (up to 40 pounds).
    • Cost: $125 (plus additional fees).
    • See more details and restrictions here.
  9. United Airlines
    • Pet Policy: Cats and dogs allowed in cabin (when space is available and you need to purchase two seats).
    • Cost: $125.
    • See more details and restrictions here.
  10. WestJet
    • Pet Policy: Cats and dogs allowed in cabin and checked baggage (must call to reserve).
    • Cost: $50 to $59 CAD/USD, and for travel between Canada/U.S. and all destinations outside the U.S. is $100 to $118 CAD/USD (in cabin), $100 to $118 CAD/USD, and travel between Canada/U.S. and all destinations outside the U.S. is $200 – $236 CAD/USD (checked baggage)
    • See more details and restrictions here.
  11. Air Canada
    • Pet Policy: Cats and dogs allowed in cabin and cargo.
    • Cost: Within Canada and Canada/U.S. (except Hawaii) $50.00 CAD/USD, International $100.00 CAD/USD (carry-on), Within Canada and Canada/U.S.(except Hawaii) $105.00 – $120.75 CAD/USD4, International $270.00 – $318.60 CAD/USD (checked)
    • See more details and restrictions here.

It’s also important to note that when you carry on your pet, it typically counts as your carry on bag, so there will likely be additional costs associated with more luggage.

Step 2: Understand Airline Pet Policies (Cabin vs. Cargo)

In order to travel with your pet as a carry on, they must be small enough to fit in a carry-on kennel that fits under the seat. Typically, this weight limit is around 20 pounds (your pet + the pet carrier).

Unfortunately for big dog owners, there are no airlines that allow large dogs in the cabin which means your pup would have to travel in cargo (under the plane). A lot of airlines are moving away from this as it can be a bit dangerous for your pup, so if you do choose this option, be sure to do thorough research.

It’s very important that you understand your chosen airlines pet policies, breed restrictions, size requirements, age limits, and protocols to ensure a safe and stress-free plane ride.

Dogs traveling by airplane. Boxes with live animals at the airport.
Photo credit: Jaromir Chalabala/ Shutterstock.

Step 3: Gather Necessary Paperwork and Health Records

Although each airline differs slightly in its requirements, you will (almost) always need to gather the necessary paperwork and health records.

Most airlines require you to show a health certificate from a veterinarian which will prove that your dog is healthy enough and up-to-date on all vaccinations. Be sure to double-check how current this certificate needs to be.

Additional paperwork that may be required:

  • Acclimation certificate
  • Breed Verification
  • Rabies vaccination certificate
  • Proof of ownership
  • Microchip identification

Step 4: Start Preparing Your Dog (Training and Conditioning)

Preparing your dog for air travel is crucial for a stress-free experience (for both you and your pup). New situations are be scary for dogs and cause a lot of unneeded anxiety if not prepared.

Before flying with your dog, you should start familiarizing your pet with the travel carrier. Introduce the carrier at home well in advance of your trip. Then, encourage them to spend time inside it with treats and their favorite toys. Gradually increase the time they spend in the carrier so it becomes a safe, comfortable space for them.

You can even consider simulating the conditions of air travel – like the sound and movement of a plane – to desensitize your pet. Regular, calm exposure to these simulations can greatly reduce their anxiety when the actual travel day arrives.

Additionally, ensure your dog is comfortable with handling and accustomed to being in crowded, noisy environments, which they’ll likely encounter at the airport. Remember, the key is gradual, positive exposure to the travel elements they’ll face, making the actual journey much less daunting for your furry friend.

Step 5: Start Packing

I encourage you to make a packing list in advance to make sure you don’t forget anything. Plus, you may need to make some special purchases that you don’t already have on hand.

Here’s a complete pet-friendly travel packing list!

  • Airline-Approved Appropriate Pet Carrier: Ensure it’s the correct size for your airline’s specifications and comfortable for your dog. Each airline differs slightly on their pet carrier requirements.
  • Leash and Collar: With ID tags including your contact information.
  • Health and Vaccination Records: Required by most airlines and important for emergencies.
  • Pet Passport: If traveling internationally.
  • Food and Treats: Enough for the duration of the journey plus a little extra.
  • Collapsible Water and Food Bowls: For easy feeding and hydration.
  • Bottled Water: To keep your dog hydrated, especially important as airport and airplane water might not always be available.
  • Favorite Toy or Blanket: Something familiar to comfort your dog during the flight.
  • Potty Pads: For long flights where bathroom breaks are impossible.
  • Waste Bags: To clean up any messes.
  • Medications: If your dog takes any regular medication.
  • First Aid Kit for Pets: Including items like bandages, antiseptic wipes, and tweezers.
  • Grooming Supplies: Such as a brush or comb, especially for longer-haired breeds.
  • Calming Aids: Like a pheromone collar or natural calming supplements, if your dog gets anxious.
  • A Recent Photo of Your Pet: In case you get separated.

It’s always a good idea to check with the airline for any specific requirements or restrictions regarding pet travel. Preparing well in advance will ensure a smoother experience for both you and your dog.

Flying with a Dog: At the Airport

From additional check-in procedures to navigating security, it’s important to be prepared so you and your dog can be as calm as possible while at the airport.

Check-in Procedures

When flying with your furry friend, the check-in process requires a few extra steps to ensure a smooth journey. It’s essential to arrive at the airport early, as airlines often have specific check-in requirements and a different ticket counter for passengers with pets.

Typically, you’ll need to present your dog’s health and vaccination records (as discussed above), so make sure these are up-to-date and readily accessible. Some airlines might require a recent vet certificate confirming your dog’s fitness for air travel.

Additionally, if your dog will travel in the cabin, confirm the dimensions of the carrier with the airline beforehand to ensure it fits under the seat. For those traveling in cargo, inquire about the temperature-controlled facilities and how your pet will be monitored during the flight.

Remember, each airline has its own set of rules for pet travel, so it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with these guidelines well in advance of your trip.

Navigating Security With Your Pup

Navigating security can be pretty stressful for some even without a dog in tow. It’s important to know what to expect before arriving at the airport.

At most airports, you are expected to keep your dog in its carrier until just before reaching the X-ray. At this point, you will remove your pet and place the empty carrier through the X-ray machine. You and your pet will then walk through the metal detector.

The TSA agents may have additional questions or ask for the above documents again.

Finding Pet Relief Areas at The Airport

This may seem a bit obvious, but it’s crucial to be aware of pet relief areas before arriving at the airport. This avoids unnecessary accidents and stress. No one wants to miss the flight due to getting lost in the airport.

Most airports are equipped with designated areas for pets to relieve themselves, often both before and after the security checkpoint. These areas are typically marked with clear signage and located in easily accessible parts of the terminal.

To locate these stations, it’s advisable to check the airport’s website in advance or use its mobile app, if available, for real-time information and maps. Upon arrival at the airport, you can also ask a member of the airport staff or look for information desks for directions.

Managing Anxiety: Tips for Keeping Your Dog Calm

The airport can be a pretty stressful place for your dog. There’s a lot going on, countless new smells, and unfamiliar noises. In addition to preparing your pet BEFORE arriving (as discussed above), there are several effective strategies you can take while waiting for flight.

  1. Comfort Items: Bring along their favorite blanket or toy. Familiar scents can be incredibly soothing and provide a sense of security in a new environment.
  2. Calm Behavior: Dogs often mirror their owner’s emotions. Stay calm and positive, as your dog can pick up on and react to your anxiety or stress.
  3. Calming Aids: Consider using calming aids like pheromone sprays, anxiety vests, or even prescribed medication from your vet for dogs with severe anxiety.
  4. Hydration and Feeding: Ensure your dog is well-hydrated but avoid heavy meals before the flight. A light meal a few hours before departure can prevent nausea.
  5. Regular Breaks: Use pet relief areas at the airport for bathroom breaks and a chance to stretch, which can help ease anxiety.
  6. Quiet Corners: While waiting for your flight, find a quiet corner away from the hustle and bustle of the airport to help keep your dog calm.

Flying with a Dog: On the Plane

Yay! You made it through security and the airport and have found your seat on the plane. Now, it’s time to keep your pup as calm as possible until reaching your final destination.

It’s important to keep your pet in it’s carrier secured under the seat in front of you during takeoff and landing. Make sure they have access to water throughout the flight and minimize movements throughout the flights (for the sake of your pet and other passengers).

Flying with Emotional Support Animals

Due to many complaints, behaviors, and problems, emotional support animals can no longer fly without restrictions. However, they can still fly as long as they fit the pet restrictions outlined above.

As always, consult with your specific airlines for exact policies.

Flying with Certified Service Animals

Certified service animals ARE able to fly with their owners for free. Owners must fill out the “Service Animal Transportation Form” at least 48 hours before departure and travel with your pup’s ID card or training certificate.

Service dogs must be under the control of its owner at ALL TIMES. In certain circumstances boarding can be denied (ex: wrong paperwork, bad behaviors, etc).

Flying with a Dog FAQ’s

Can I buy a seat for my dog?

Unfortunately, you can not (except on United). Dogs typically must be small enough to fit comfortably in a carrier under the seat in front of you for in-cabin travel.

Larger dogs need to travel in the cargo hold, unless they are certified service animals. However, policies can vary between airlines, so it’s best to check with your specific airline for their rules.

What is the average weight limit for flying with dogs?

For dogs flying in the cabin, many airlines have a weight limit that usually includes both the dog and the carrier. This limit often ranges from about 15 to 20 pounds (7 to 9 kilograms).

For dogs traveling as checked baggage or cargo, airlines have different weight and size limits, and it’s important to check these specifics with the airline.

Can you fly with a puppy?

Yes, you can (usually) fly with a puppy, but there are still important guidelines to follow. Puppies must typically be at least 8 to 10 weeks old and have the necessary vaccinations.

Just like with an adult dog, a health certificate from a vet, obtained within 10 days of travel, is often required.

The puppy should fit in a carrier that goes under the seat in front of you. Each airline has its own pet policies, including fees, carrier size restrictions, and international vs. domestic restrictions, so it’s crucial to check these in advance.

Is it safe to fly with your dog?

Flying is generally safe for dogs, but there are risks, especially for dogs with health issues or certain breeds. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like pugs and bulldogs can have respiratory difficulties at high altitudes.

It’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian before flying, especially if your dog is elderly, in poor health, or a brachycephalic breed. When traveling in the cargo hold, temperature extremes and poor ventilation are potential risks, so choosing direct flights and traveling in mild weather can mitigate these issues.

If your dog is too large to be carried on the flight, I almost always recommend road-tripping with your dog instead. I love traveling with pets, but sometimes it’s not worth the risk.

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Bella Bucchiotti

Bella Bucchiotti of xoxoBella is a storyteller, food lover, dog mom and adventure seeker living on the Pacific coast. She shares her passion for recipes, dogs, sustainability, adventures, travel and philanthropy, in hopes of encouraging followers to run the extra mile, try new recipes, visit unfamiliar places and stand for a cause. Bella lives with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease.

Bella Bucchiotti is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle writer for MSN and the Associated Press Wire.

Welcome to xoxoBella! I am Bella Bucchiotti and I am a recipe developer, content creator and writer. Here you will find delicious recipes, travel inspiration, crafts, pet tips and more.

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