By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Nothing compares to the unconditional love we receive and give to our four-legged companions. Our dogs are our best friends, co-workers, workout partners, and, most importantly, our cuddle buddies. Traveling and being away from your family can cause anxiety and stress for many pets and pet owners. Pet owners naturally want to bring their pets everywhere, especially when they are away from home for extended periods.
However, there is a lot to consider when taking your pet on a long-distance trip, especially one that requires air travel. Certain breeds, ages, or sizes of dogs may not be permitted to fly on commercial airlines, so it's critical to understand what is involved with pet travel in the months and weeks before your trip, especially during busy travel seasons. Always have a backup plan, like a boarding facility or pet sitter, if your pet cannot travel due to illness or doesn't meet the airline's requirements.
Flying With a Dog: Who Should (and Shouldn’t) Take the Trip
In most cases, your pup will be permitted to fly on a commercial airline flight, either in the cabin or in cargo. Most airlines no longer allow pets in the cargo hold due to accidents and the inability to properly regulate the temperature. Each airline has specific rules and guidelines concerning pet travel, so always check before booking your trip.
Regardless of the pet policy, it is always best to leave your pet with a trusted caretaker if they fall into one of these categories:
- Brachycephalic dog breeds: These breeds, which include pugs, French bulldogs, Boston terriers, and other bully breeds, should not fly and often are not permitted on the plane, according to many airline policies. Brachycephalic, or flat-faced breeds, have an increased risk for breathing problems and can become easily overheated because of their small nasal openings.
- Senior dogs or dogs with chronic illness: Older dogs and pets with chronic illnesses, like cancer or kidney disease, should not fly. Flying can be stressful, even for healthy pets. Subjecting an ailing pet to cabin pressure, temperature, and environmental changes could harm their already declining health.
- Large breed dogs: Generally, dogs weighing more than 20 pounds are not allowed to fly with you in the cabin. There are some exceptions for certified service animals and approved military dogs. Depending on the airline policy, large dogs can only fly if placed in cargo with the luggage. However, most domestic airlines have suspended this rule and no longer fly larger breed dogs.
- Anxious or poorly socialized dogs: If your dog howls from the moment you leave the house until your return home, it's best to leave them with a trusted caretaker or find another mode of travel. All pets must stay in their approved pet carrier for the duration of the flight. Anxious, stressed, or poorly socialized pets may whine, bark, or howl, which is disruptive to other air travelers and may result in you being banned from traveling with your pet.
How Stressful is Flying for Dogs?
Like for humans, flying is highly stressful for most pets, including dogs that are typically calm and well-socialized. Flying can be exceedingly stressful for older pets, those with chronic health issues, or pups with behavioral problems like anxiety and aggression.
Pets thrive on a familiar routine, and bringing them on a plane will expose them to numerous unfamiliar sights, smells, sounds, lights, and environmental changes. Pets required to fly in the cargo are subjected to the additional stressors of being alone, with unpredictable temperatures and strange people and smells.
When possible, it's best to leave your pup at home in the care of a trusted pet sitter or boarding facility.
Should You Buy a Seat for Your Dog?
If your furry friend is more human-like than dog-like, you are in good company with millions of dog owners. It's not uncommon for pet lovers to allow their dogs to sit on couches or sleep on the bed, and some may even reserve a special seat at the dinner table. However, purchasing an additional ticket for your dog to fly in style is prohibited on most airlines.
Further, your dog can not accompany you if you are seated in an emergency exit row or a "no stowage seat;" some airlines even have restrictions on pets in business or first class. During boarding, in-flight, and deplaning, your pup must stay in their TSA-approved carrier, which counts as one of your carry-on items.
Each airline's rules may vary slightly, but generally, your pet's travel kennel must meet the following requirements:
- Large enough that your dog can comfortably stand up and turn around in the carrier
- Labeled with 'Live Animal' and your contact information
- Fits under the seat in front of you (this will vary slightly by plane, but most crates should be no larger than 17.5" long x 12" wide x 7.5" high)
Requirements, Rules, and Restrictions for Flying with a Dog
Each airline, state, and country has rules and restrictions regarding flying with your dog and transporting them to a new location. Some international destinations do not allow pets to travel in the cabin and may require testing or treatment for diseases months before your travel date.
If traveling outside the continental U.S. (i.e., not to Alaska, Hawaii, or Canada) or internationally, check the U.S. Department of State, the Animal Plant and Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for rules, regulations, and disease risks at your destination. Many airlines and destinations require a health certificate from a veterinary inspection within ten days of travel. These certificates require a veterinary examination to be performed by a USDA-accredited veterinarian. Some airlines may also require a temperature acclimation certificate for pets traveling in the cargo with checked baggage.
Other federal rules for airline travel with your pet include:
- Pet reservation and fee: Most airlines restrict the number of dogs allowed in-cabin per flight, and some may be on a first-come-first-served basis. Ensure to notify your airlines that you will fly with your dog when purchasing your ticket. Most require a pet reservation and a payment of a pet fare to travel with your dog.
- Security screening: All pet carriers must be scanned by TSA. During the security screening, your dog must be removed from their pet carrier, so ensure you have a leash available to prevent them from accidentally getting loose in the terminal.
- Breed and age restrictions: Some airlines may forbid specific breeds, like bully breeds, from flying, so always check before booking travel. Federal regulations state that dogs must be at least eight weeks old and weaned more than five days before your trip.
- Terminal and in-flight rules: Except for security screening and when utilizing the pet-relief area, your dog must remain in their pet carrier in the terminal, in the gate area, during boarding, deplaning, and for the entire duration in-flight.
Tips for A Smooth Flight with Your Dog
Once you have determined that flying with your dog is the best option, preparing a game plan in the weeks before your day of travel will ensure a low-stress experience for you and your pup.
Follow these tips for a low-turbulence travel experience with your dog:
- Schedule your travel early to ensure your pet has a designated space on the plane.
- Book a direct flight when possible.
- Depending on paperwork requirements, schedule a veterinary appointment ten days before your trip.
- Talk with your vet about sedation for your pup during the flight.
- Familiarize your pet with their travel carrier in the months and weeks before your trip.
- Consider upgrading for more legroom for your dog's carrier.
- Arrive at the airport early enough to make time for security screenings and paperwork checks.
- Exercise your pet and take them to the pet-relief area before boarding.
- Don't feed your pet a full meal within a few hours of hitting the road.
- Bring a bag of treats and food in case of a flight delay or layover.
- Pack your pup's favorite toy or blanket in their carrier.
- Provide your pet with extra praise and reassurance.
- Use calming tools, like a thunder shirt, a pheromone spray, or a calming supplement to help decrease their stress.
Pet-Friendly Airlines and Pet Policies (As of April 2023)
Most commercial airlines have pet policies allowing you to fly in-cabin with your dog. However, in recent years, many have discontinued allowing larger, non-service dogs to fly in the cargo hold (the equivalent of shipping your pet). Flying your pet in cargo is risky, especially during extreme hot or cold weather seasons; the cargo area is not properly temperature controlled. Rules constantly change, so check with your airline on their pet policy before booking your flight.
Delta Airlines Pet Policy
Some pets are not allowed on all routes or aircraft. Small dogs that fit comfortably in a TSA-approved carrier under the seat are permitted to fly in-cabin for a fee ranging from $75 to $120. They must be at least 10 weeks old for domestic travel and older for international travel.
United Airlines Pet Policy
There are no breed limitations on United, but dogs must be able to stand up in their kennel that remains under the seat in front of you at all times. Proof of rabies vaccination is required, and there is a $125 fee each way. A reservation is also required for your pet to fly since a limited number of pets are allowed per flight.
American Airlines Pet Policy
Pets may fly as carry-on bags or cargo. Only U.S. Military or Department of Foreign Service working dogs may fly in cargo. Small dogs must be able to stand up and turn around in their kennel. Travel crates must fit under the seat in front of you, and a $125 pet fee is required per flight.
Southwest Airlines Pet Policy
Small, vaccinated dogs that fit in a carrier under the seat are permitted to fly in-cabin. Up to two dogs are allowed per pet carrier; each ticketed passenger may only have one carrier. No pets are allowed for international flights or to and from Hawaii. Pets with disruptive behavior could be denied boarding. A reservation and a $95 fee are required each way.
JetBlue Pet Policy
Small dogs that fit in a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved carrier are permitted in-cabin on all domestic flights. A pet reservation is required a $125 fee each way. Only one pet per carrier is allowed. Jet Blue also rewards passengers with points when they add a pet to their reservation.
Pack These Pro-Tips for Your Next Trip
Airline travel can be stressful for animals and humans. Still, there are a few things you can do to make it as stress-free as possible for yourself and your four-legged travel companion.
First and foremost, plan ahead. Check well in advance if your pup can fly with you and what documentation they need before your trip. Once you've confirmed they can come along, work them up to the adventure by getting them checked out by your vet, familiarizing them with their carrier, and securing any medications they might need for the plane.
On the day of your flight, give yourself enough lead time to make it through security with all your extra documentation. Pack a few snacks for your pup in case you get held up at the airport, and stow their favorite blanket or toy in the carrier with them.
When in doubt, check in with your airline to ensure everything is set up and ready for your trip. Bon voyage!