When deciding to fly with your dog, cat, or bird via commercial airlines, pet air travel involves diligence and planning long before arriving at the airport. Different airlines have different rules about whether and how a pet can travel. Depending on the airline, your pet may be able to travel on your flight either in the cabin or in the cargo hold. Confirm this ahead of time with your airline.
The Humane Society of the United States recommends that you do not transport your pet by air unless absolutely necessary. If you must transport your pet by air, your best option is to take your pet in the aircraft cabin with you. As long as your pet is a cat or small dog, some airlines will allow you to take the animal on board for an additional fee.
Each airline decides if they will allow you to travel with your pet in the passenger cabin. If the airline does allow you to bring your pet into the cabin, your pet container is considered to be carry-on baggage and must be small enough to fit underneath the seat. To find out about this option, call the airline well in advance of your flight, because there are limits to the number of animals allowed in the cabin area.
Another option for pet air travel is flying with your pet on a chartered plane. Many charter services allow animals, regardless of size, to fly in the cabin as passengers close to their owners.
Just about every airline in the world requires documentation from a veterinarian that your pet is in good health before it can board a flight. A veterinarian’s checkup should include a general physical examination to check for signs of illness, like coughing or diarrhea. The vet will also make sure your pet’s rabies vaccinations and other shots are up to date. Don’t visit the vet too early, however. Most airlines require that your pet’s clean bill of health be no more than 10 days old.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), in most cases cats and dogs should not be given sedatives or tranquilizers prior to flying. An animal’s natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium is altered under sedation, which can be dangerous when the kennel is moved. Pet air travel — whether flying in the cabin or in the hold — exposes animals to increased altitude pressures, which can create respiratory and cardiovascular problems for dogs and cats which are sedated or tranquilized.
Book a non-stop flight whenever possible to avoid plane changes; you will avoid the mistakes that occur during airline transfers and possible delays in getting your pet off the plane. Reservations should be made for you and your pet at the same time because airlines often limit how many pets are allowed on each flight.
Flying With Pets? Read This Guide Before You Book Your Next Trip
What to know if your pet is a service animal, an emotional support animal, or fits under another category in travel.
Pets in the Passenger Cabin – Federal Aviation Association (FAA)
Find FAA regulations for taking your pet in the aircraft cabin.
Air Travel with an Assistance Dog
Find the U.S. Government’s rules and policies governing the transportation of service animals in the plane cabin.
Tips for Traveling with a Service Animal/Emotional Support Animal – U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
Things to know at the airport; onboard the aircraft; traveling outside of the United States.
Traveling with Animals – Federal Aviation Association (FAA)
Find U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements for transporting animals; also, tips for pet owners.
Pet Air Travel and Short-Nosed Dogs – Know the Risks
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, short-nosed dog breeds are more prone to respiratory problems under normal circumstances, and not just during air travel. A number of airlines have bans on allowing snub-nosed dogs and cats to be checked in their planes’ cargo holds. However, traveling with one of those animals in a carry-on bag in the aircraft cabin should be just fine.
The 10 Best Airlines for Traveling with Dogs
AirfareWatchdog and ThePointsGuy teamed up to review how different airlines handle traveling with a pet in the cabin.
Top 50 Pet-Friendly Airlines in the World
Find the top 50 airlines in the world as voted for by customers.
International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA)
The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) is a not-for-profit, worldwide trade association for those dedicated to the care and welfare of pets and small animals during transport. IPATA members are professional pet shippers located in more than 80 countries and they work together to move your pet safely and relocated to anywhere in the world.
Each airline establishes its own company policy for the proper handling of the animals they transport. There are three ways you can transport your pet via the airlines:
1. Your pet can travel on the plane with you, either in-cabin or in the cargo area. In either case, your pet will be considered excess/accompanied baggage and charged accordingly. Some airlines no longer offer this option.
2. You can book your pet on a separate flight. In this case, you will be charged the cargo rate, which is considerably more than excess baggage. Some airlines no longer offer this option.
3. You can have your pet shipped through a licensed commercial shipper. You will be charged the cargo rate plus the shipper’s fee. Several airlines require this method unless your pet is small enough to fit in the cabin.
In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it will no longer consider emotional support animals to be service animals, allowing U.S. airlines to come up with their own rules governing these pets. Since the rule change, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, United Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Southwest Airlines have all updated their policies to stop accepting emotional support animals going forward.