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Flying With Pets

So pets and owners fly comfortably

As pets have evolved more and more into full-fledged members of the family, owners have begun including their four-legged friends in travel plans. And that means flying.

Airlines have adjusted their policies, too, allowing for pets to travel in cabins with their owners in most cases, provided the animal is small enough to fit in a pet carrier. While a 150-pound Mastiff or 75-pound Lab obviously won’t qualify, most small dogs and cats will.

To ensure a safe flight, it’s important that owners recognize the health needs of their pets – those that are especially important 35,000 feet in the air.

Here are some guidelines to help both pets and their owners fly comfortably.

Before You Fly:

  • Choose direct flights to minimize the time your pet is traveling.
  • If you’re flying during winter or summer months, be sure that both the hold of the plane and the cargo facilities at the airport are climate controlled. Ask the airline if you need to get an acclimation certificate from your vet, showing that your animal is cleared to fly in temperatures lower than 45 F.
  • Make sure your pet is adequately insured and that the policy covers travel. If you don’t have insurance coverage for your friend, consider getting it.
  • Be aware of destination-specific restrictions. Hawaii, for instance, is a rabies-free state and therefore requires animals be quarantined for up to 120 days upon arrival.


Though individual airlines’ requirements vary, a few guidelines are universal:

  • Per Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the pet carrier must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, allowing for other passengers to easily reach the aisle.
  • Your animal must be at least eight-weeks old and fully weaned, as required by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Make sure to choose a carrier large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around; one that fits your airline’s size requirements.
  • For dogs, have a collar and leash handy to walk your pet once deplaned.
  • Each crate should contain separate bowls for water and food, accessible from the inside (Tip: It’s also a good idea to keep an extra serving or two of food in a bag taped to the top of the carrier in case of any delays, along with a notice asking for your pet to be fed by a certain time if you’re delayed in picking it up.) Here are some good guidelines for choosing a pet carrier.
  • Write the words “Live Animal” in letters at least one inch in height on the sides and top of the carrier, along with arrows indicating the top of the crate.
  • Make two copies of all necessary documentation, including your home and travel contact information and your pet’s name. Also include a recent photo of your friend to have in the rare event that they escape or go missing. Keep one set of copies for yourself, and place the other set in an envelope securely taped to the top of the crate.


  • Check with your vet to make sure your animal cleared to fly and that all vaccinations are current, and carry a copy of the updated health certificate with you. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends that the certificate be dated no more than 10 days prior to travel.
  • If your animal has pet health insurance, make sure it’s current, and have a copy of the insurance card or member information with you, as well as attached to the pet carrier. Also, make sure it covers international travel before leaving the States.
  • Sedation is discouraged, since sedatives and high altitudes can be a deadly combination. Some airlines will refuse to fly a sedated animal.
  • The Humane Society of the United States recommends that you not feed your pet for four to six hours before traveling, though it’s crucial to provide water in a spill-proof bowl.
AirlineCabin fee, by segmentChecked fee, one-wayMaximum kennel size (cabin)Maximum kennel size (checked)
AirTran Airways$75n/a17" L x 12" W x 8.5" HChecked pets not allowed
Alaska Airlines$100$10017" L x 12" W x 7.5" H40" L x 27" W x 30" H
American Airlines$125$17519" L x 13" W x 9" H40” L x 27” W x 30” H
Delta Air Lines$125$20018″ L x 10.5″ H x 11″ W48" L x 32" W x 35" H
JetBlue Airways$100n/a17" L x 12.5" W x 8.5" HChecked pets not allowed
Southwest Airlines$75n/a19" L x 14" W x 8.25" HChecked pets not allowed
United Airlines$125$25017.5" L x 12" W x 7.5" H48" L x 32" W x 35" H
US Airways$125n/a17" L x 16" W x 8" HChecked pets not allowed
Virgin America$100n/a18" L x 15" W x 8" HChecked pets not allowed

Further reading: Expert tips for the first time pet flier.

Melisse Hinkle
A New England native but explorer at heart, Melisse has lived in four U.S. cities, spent a summer in Hawaii, made her way through wine-producing regions in Australia and New Zealand, and traveled around Europe while studying abroad in London. She is the Content Manager for the U.S. and Canada at Cheapflights.