Flying with a dog can be stressful, but it is totally possible. All major airlines operating in the U.S. have pet travel options, though some will be better-suited to your situation than others.
A few things you’ll notice all the airlines on our list mention are: no sitting in exit rows if you’re flying with a dog, make sure your pup is vaccinated and check all the pet regulations for your departure and arrival cities. Some countries have different documentation requirements than others. Finally, and kind of not fun to think about but necessary to mention, is the fact that there won’t be an oxygen mask for your dog should an emergency situation arise. Woof.
OK, let’s talk air travel!
Best for: Small canines and people who want an approved carrier to match their 737.
Who: Up to two pets of the same species per carrier. One carrier per adult passenger. Six pets max on each flight (exceptions have been made, but don’t count on it). If you’re under 18, you may be able to vote, but you can’t bring a dog on a Southwest flight. If your dog is under 8 weeks, he can cuddle with you at home, but he can’t fly Southwest.
What: Small dogs in carriers no larger than 18.5 inches long, 8.5 inches tall and 13.5 inches wide (it’s got to fit under the seat in front of you but also allow the dog to stand and move inside—this is true for any and all carriers in cabin). The carrier also has to be sealed enough so accidents won’t dribble out and ventilated enough so your pup won’t suffocate. (Catch-22 much?) Note that your carrier counts as one of your two carry-on items.
Where: In cabin only (no checked pets!) and never on your lap. Maxy has to stay in that carrier the whole time. Also, forget sitting in the front row or an exit row. And forget traveling abroad; dogs on domestic flights only.
How: Make a reservation and pay a fee of $95 for each flight. The reservation is crucial as there are only six pets allowed on each flight, so if you wait too long, your flight may have reached its max. Be sure to check in your animal at the ticket counter.
Good news: No fees for trained service dogs, emotional support dogs or your first two checked bags. Plus, if your flight gets cancelled or you change your mind and leave Maxy home, the $95 carrier fee is refundable.
Bad news: This is another common theme among airlines: You can’t fly to Hawaii with a dog. You can fly between islands with a dog, but since Hawaii is a rabies-free zone, they really don’t like risking bringing that nonsense into their paradise. However, if you have a trained service or emotional support dog, you’re all good. Just be sure to get your Hawaii Department of Agriculture documentation in order and book a flight that lands before 3:30 p.m. in Honolulu (they inspect all dogs and if you get there after 5 p.m., your dog has to stay overnight so they can inspect him when they open again at 9 a.m.). If you try to smuggle your dog friend into Hawaii without documentation, he could spend up to 120 days in quarantine.
Best for: An airline for international jet-setters and people who need to get big dogs or an entire litter to Europe.
Who: One dog, 10 weeks or older, per person can fly in cabin on domestic Delta flights (he’s got to be 15 weeks if you’re heading to the European Union). Two dogs can travel in the same carrier if they’re small enough to still have space to move around (no extra fee!). Also, if you decide for some reason to fly with a canine who is a new mom, her litter can join her in the carrier as long as they are between 10 weeks and 6 months old.
What: A leak-proof, well-ventilated carrier is required for all animals, though sizing depends on the type of aircraft you’re on. This means calling ahead to get dimension specifications for the under-seat area where your pup will spend his time.
Where: In cabin, under the seat in front of you or in the cargo area through Delta Cargo (see below). Delta does allow dogs on international flights, but there are some restrictions for certain countries, so check their website to get the specifics.
How: Call Delta far in advance to add a pet to your reservation and pay a one-way fee of $75 to $200, depending on where you’re headed. Flights to and from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico require a $125 pet fee. We say way in advance because some flights max out at just two pets. Remember, the carrier counts as your one free carry-on item. This means you’ll have to check your other bags for a fee of $30 to $75, depending on the destination.
Good News: If your dog is too big to fit into the seat in front of you, Delta Cargo exists.
Bad News: Delta Cargo is basically like shipping your dog with the suitcases to your destination—and it’s not guaranteed your dog will even be on the same flight as you. It’s a doable, but not a super fun experience for the dog. And if you’re planning a flight with an estimated duration beyond 12 hours, Delta won’t let you ship your dog (probably a good thing). And no carry-on pets to Hawaii (service pets are obviously the exception).
Best for: Pet parents who are super serious about pet safety and have the cash to prove it.
Who: Small dogs that have already celebrated their 8-week birthday. Adult humans only (no minors can be solely responsible for an animal). If you want to bring more than one dog, you have to actually buy them a seat (for $125) and put them under the seat in front of that seat. Only four pets per flight are allowed.
What: A carrier no bigger than 17.5 inches long, 12 inches wide and 7.5 inches tall. This means Economy seats only, since Premium Plus seats have footrests in front of them.
Where: Pups can chill in a carrier in the cabin under the seat in front of you, or down below with suitcases as part of the PetSafe program. Surprise, surprise: no dogs to Hawaii (or Australia or New Zealand).
How: After you’ve made your flight reservation, you can find an “Add pet” option after clicking “Special Requests and Accommodations.” It’ll cost you $150 for a one-way trip; $250 for roundtrip.
Good News: United offers a PetSafe travel program, for which they partnered with American Humane, for pets too big to stay under your seat. With PetSafe, United keeps tabs on when the dog was last fed and watered (psst, it’s best not to feed them within two hours of takeoff, as this can upset their tummies). This airline also requires securely attached food and water dishes to the crates of animals flying through PetSafe. And, unlike Delta, it makes sure you’re on the same flight as Maxy. Finally, United does restrict certain breeds (like bulldogs) from flying PetSafe, because it can be hazardous to their health. We think this is good news because it puts your dog first. Check the website for a full list of embargoed breeds.
Bad News: PetSafe gets pricey. We did a little experimenting with the United site. A 20 lb. dog in a 15 lb. medium-sized carrier going from New York to Los Angeles costs $328. A smaller dog in a lighter carrier flying Seattle to Denver is still $311. Beyond that, you could be charged more if your itinerary requires an overnight or extended layover. Following the American Veterinary Medical Association's advice, United will not allow you to sedate your pup before he flies via PetSafe. You also can’t have more than two connections (or three flights) in your itinerary.
Best for: Pet parents who love checklists, structure and documents to prove everything is in order.
Who: Dogs who are at least 8 weeks old are more than welcome. If you’ve got two and each weighs less than 20 pounds, they can plop themselves into the same carrier.
What: One carrier is allowed per passenger; it must stay under the seat the whole flight and can’t weigh more than 20 pounds (with the dog inside).
Where: Both in cabin and checked options exist.
How: Reservations, of course! Make ‘em, since only seven carriers are allowed on American Airlines flights. You can wait until ten days before your scheduled departure, but earlier is better. Bring a health certificate and proof of rabies vaccination signed by a vet within the previous ten days, too. You’ll have to pay $125 per carrier to carry on and $200 per kennel to check.
Good News: American Airlines Cargo lets you check most dog breeds (and up to two dogs). It has a long list of requirements you need to fulfill, but all are intended to make your dog happy during the flight (things like taping a bag of dry food to the top of the kennel, providing the airline with a Certificate of Acclimation and affixing a sign that says, “Live animal” to the side of the kennel). There’s also a section at the front of the plane specifically for in-cabin animals and carriers to go when the plane experiences turbulence. You may have to place Maxy there for takeoff, too.
Bad News: Any flight over 11 hours and 30 minutes doesn’t allow checked animals (bad news if you’re traveling far, good news for your pet’s well-being). There are also restrictions for hot and cold weather, because the cargo area isn’t often equipped to keep animals warm or cool beyond a certain point. If ground temperatures are above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or below 20, dogs aren’t allowed.
Best for: A cost-effective option if you need a vet check-up or are traveling internationally.
Who: Pet parents who are 18 or older and dogs who are older than 8 weeks. You can only bring one pet in a carrier, unless two fit comfortably. If needed, you can buy the seat next to you for a second carrier.
What: Carriers no larger than 17 inches long, 11 inches wide and 7.5 inches tall work (soft carriers can be taller, as long as they can still fit completely under the seat). If you need to check your dog into the cargo space, double check your reservation to make sure you’re not flying on an Airbus. These aren’t equipped to keep pets warm. Dogs checked into the cargo area must not weigh more than 150 pounds (including the kennel).
Where: Funnily enough, Alaska Airlines explicitly says no dog may occupy a seat by himself (womp womp). But! Remember: If you buy the seat next to you, you can place a second carrier under the seat in front of that one.
How: Check in with Alaska Airlines reservations to make sure there’s space for a pet on board. Then, pay $100 each way (the same price for domestic and international travel—a good deal for world travelers). Bring a printed health certificate from your vet dated within 20 days of the departure flight for checked dogs. If you’re staying somewhere for more than 30 days, you’ll need to obtain a new certificate before the next flight.
Good News: You don’t need to bring a health certificate if your dog is hanging with you in the cabin. But, Alaska partnered with Banfield Pet Hospital to ensure dogs are super healthy for airline travel (which can be draining). You can get a free office visit and a $10 discount on a health certificate by visiting one of Banfield’s hospitals! Also, once your pet has been checked into cargo, a card is delivered to you in the airplane that says, “Relax, I’m on board, too.”
Bad News: If you’re booking multiple legs of your trip and a subsequent flight is through another airline, Alaska won’t transfer your pet. Which means, you’ve got to claim Maxy and then recheck him onto the next flight. There are also restrictions for checking pets during specific holiday dates; November 21, 2019, through December 3, 2019, and December 10, 2020, through January 3, 2020, aren’t options if you want to check Maxy (if he fits under the seat in front of you, you’re still good).
Best for: This seems like the airline for pretty chill pet parents, especially those who are still teenagers.
Who: First of all, you only have to be 15 years old to fly with a dog on Allegiant Airlines. Second, you can only have one pet carrier. Third, if two pups fit into your carrier, you’re good to go (with no extra fee!).
What: Make sure your carrier is roughly 19 inches long, 16 inches wide and nine inches tall.
Where: Destinations within the contiguous 48 United States are fair game.
How: Tack $100 onto each flight for each carrier and make sure you’ve checked in with an Allegiant agent at least one hour before flight time.
Good News: All this info is pretty straightforward!
Bad News: No cargo or checking options for large dogs.
Best for: Families who love bringing their dog on vacation!
Who: There’s not much information on age or number of animals you can bring, so call ahead to make sure you’re complying with their regulations (and the rules other airlines on our list set forth are probably great starting points).
What: Make sure Maxy has plenty of space to move around in his carrier, which shouldn’t exceed 18 inches long, 14 inches wide and 8 inches high. Be sure to bring along a health certificate if you’re flying internationally!
Where: Domestic flights allow dogs in the cabin (inside their carriers the whole time), as do international flights (but just to the Dominican Republic and Mexico).
How: Pay $99 for each leg of your trip, per pet and let Frontier know ahead of time.
Good News: Kids under 15 years old fly free on select Frontier flights when you join the membership club. This is more about kids and less about pets, but again, really fun for bigger families trying to save on airfare.
Bad News: You still have to pay a fee for your carry-on bag or personal item, beyond the pet carrier fee. And, unfortunately, no checked pets below deck.
Best for: Procrastinators and small dogs.
Who: One carrier per guest containing no more than two dogs (both of whom need to be older than 8 weeks).
What: Keep in mind, you can bring two puppies, but they have to be able to stand up and move around comfortably in the same carrier, which must be soft and can’t be more than 18 inches long, 14 inches wide and nine inches tall (per usual, it has to fit under your seat). All animals and the carrier combined can’t weigh more than 40 pounds. You’ll only need a health certificate if you’re flying to the U.S. Virgin Islands and you’ll need a rabies certificate if you’re going to Puerto Rico.
Where: In the cabin (under the seat in front of you) on any domestic flight, including flights to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
How: Only six pets are allowed on each Spirit flight, so call ahead to make a reservation. You’ll also pay a $110 fee per carrier, per flight.
Good News: You technically don’t have to make a reservation (they’re recommended, but not required). So, perfect for anyone who impulsively adopted a dog and wants to bring him across the country for the holidays!
Bad News: There’s no checked option for big dogs.
Best for: Travelers who like perks, leg room and a warm puppy on their laps.
Who: One dog, per ticketed passenger (who, by the way, can be an unaccompanied minor, as long as all fees are paid and guidelines adhered to).
What: A carrier that is no larger than 17 inches long, 12.5 inches wide and 8.5 inches tall (and no heavier than 20 pounds total, with Maxy inside). And be sure to bring along your pet’s ID tags and license. However, you don’t need vaccination or health documents to board domestic flights.
Where: Pets can fly internationally, but there are some destinations JetBlue doesn't allow dogs to travel to, like Jamaica. Check the website for a full list. One great thing about this airline is that Maxy can sit on your lap during the flight—except during takeoff, landing and any taxiing—and he has to stay inside his carrier the whole time. Still, that’s closer than any other airline lets you get during the flight.
How: Book a pet reservation for $125 (each way) online or by calling the airline. Again, the earlier you book the better. Only four pets per flight!
Good News: If you’re a TrueBlue member, you earn an additional 300 points per flight with a pet! You’ll get a special JetPaws bag tag and a Petiquette brochure upon arriving at the airport and visiting a JetBlue counter. It’s free to check a pet stroller at the gate. Flying coach on JetBlue doesn’t mean less space; it boasts more leg room back there than any other airline, which means you and Maxy won’t have to fight over space. Another perk?! Yes. You can buy seven extra inches through the airline’s JetBlue Even More Space program, which also gets you early boarding.
Bad News: No cargo or checked option for big canines on JetBlue.