Flying with a Dog? Here’s What You Need to Know About All Major Airlines
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. Word to the wise: Since many airlines have travel partners, be sure to check the airline actually operating your flight. Some planes have different dimensions, and you’ll need to know exactly what you’re dealing with. It can feel like some tedious pre-travel work, but it’s worth it to avoid a day-of kerfuffle.
There are a few rules you’ll notice among all the airlines on our list.
Changes in Airline Pet Travel
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, airlines have changed up their pet travel policies in a number of ways. During the pandemic, lots of animals were adopted and imported from international destinations. This resulted in lots of dogs with falsified vaccination documentation entering the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed an embargo on importing dogs from international destinations with a high risk of rabies. The embargo was recently extended through July 31, 2023. Because of this, airlines won’t allow pups into the U.S. from a lengthy list of countries. If you travel to one of these countries (many are in Africa, Asia and Central and South America) with your dog, you won’t be able to bring the dog back with you.
It’s also imperative to understand the difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal when it comes to flying. Un-crated emotional support animals are typically not allowed on flights (even though this used to happen all the time pre-COVID). Service animals are allowed at no charge because they have been trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities.
OK, let’s talk air travel!
The 16 Best Dog Carriers of 2023
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Carrier Size Maximum: 18.5” (L) x 13.5” (W) x 9.5” (H)
Best For: domestic flights, small cats and canines and people who want an approved carrier to match their 737.
Who: Up to two small cats and/or dogs 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 old, he can cuddle with you at home, but he can’t fly Southwest. Any pets who display disruptive behavior may be denied boarding.
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 the cabin). The carrier also must 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 under the seat in front of you the whole time. Also, forget sitting in the front row or an exit row. And forget traveling abroad; dogs on domestic flights only. Even if your itinerary includes an international flight later on, your pet cannot join you on the domestic portion.
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 canceled or you change your mind and leave Maxy home, the $95 carrier fee is refundable. If you are only traveling between Hawaiian Islands, the fee is $35.
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 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.
Carrier size maximum: Varies depending on the plane, but typically 18” x 11” x 11”
Best for: bird owners and multi-dog households, international flights
Who: One dog or cat, 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 or cats can travel in the same carrier if they’re small enough to still have space to move around (no extra fee!). Delta also accepts birds.
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 pet will spend its time.
Where: In domestic and international main cabins, under the seat in front of you. Delta does allow dogs on international flights, but there are some restrictions for certain countries, so check their website to get the specifics. Pets cannot sit on your lap during the flight, while boarding or in a Delta lounge. There are some international flights that don’t allow pets in the cabin at all.
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, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands require a $95 pet fee. Call 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 you have two pets of the same breed, of appropriate traveling age that fit safely into the same carrier, you only pay one fee.
Bad News: Delta Cargo used to exist for everyone; it’s now only available to specific U.S. government employees and military personnel. It’s 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). You also likely forfeit the best seats on the plane, as pets aren’t allowed in flat-bed seats and some designated seats on specific aircraft.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Carrier size maximum: 17.5”L x 12”W x 7.5”H (hard-sided); 18”L x 11”W x 11”H (soft-sided)
Best for: single, small companion animals.
Who: Small dogs and cats who have already celebrated their 2-month birthday (or their 4-month birthday if flying internationally). Adult humans only (no minors can be solely responsible for an animal).
What: A hard-sided carrier no bigger than 17.5 inches long, 12 inches wide and 7.5 inches tall or a soft-sided carrier no bigger than 18 inches long, 11 inches wide and 11 inches tall. This means Economy seats only since Premium Plus seats have footrests in front of them. Only one pet per carrier, one carrier per person.
Where: Pets must chill in a carrier in the cabin under the seat in front of you. Check the type of plane you’ll be flying, as that determines how many pets are allowed in the Economy and premium cabins (two to six, depending). Surprise, surprise: no dogs to Hawaii. There’s a lengthy list of countries to which United will not allow pets on the flight, including the U.K. and Australia. Also: No lap sitting!
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 $125 each way (and an extra $125 for each domestic layover longer than four hours). Your pet does get their own confirmation number, which is fun!
Good News: United’s app will show you where pet relief areas are located in airports where the airline operates. Those with disabilities can bring up to two service dogs on board, free of charge. Service dogs in training are also allowed.
Bad News: United no longer operates their PetSafe program, which allowed you to check larger breeds in the cargo area, unless you are a member of the U.S. military or part of the State Department.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Carrier size maximum: 19”L x 13”W x 9”H (hard-sided); 18”L x 11”W x 11”H (soft-sided)
Best for: toy breeds only
Who: Cats and dogs who are at least 8 weeks old are more than welcome. One pet per carrier, and the combined weight of the carrier and the pet cannot exceed 20 pounds.
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). American Airlines flights accept up to seven pets per flight (excluding service dogs, who fly free).
Where: Carry-on pets are allowed in the cabin only, though if you are on active duty as part of the U.S. Military or a member of the U.S. State Department Foreign Service and are traveling for official business, there is an option to check a pet.
How: Reservations, of course! Make ‘em, since only seven pet 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 ($200 if you are able to check your pet per the above restrictions).
Good News: The good news is, American Airlines still accepts pets. There aren’t many perks and even some first class cabins don’t allow pets, but at least they haven’t restricted pets completely.
Bad News: First and Business class cabins on several plane models do not allow pets as the under-seat storage for carriers is non-existent. Like United, American no longer allows people to check larger pets (unless you fit the exception of flying under official U.S. government orders).
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Carrier size maximum: 17”L x 11”W x 7.5”H
Best for: larger breeds in need of cargo travel and rabbit/bird owners, international travel, multiple pets
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. Large breeds can be stowed with cargo in a climate-controlled area. There are breed restrictions - Alaska Airlines doesn’t allow brachycephalic breeds due to their compromised breathing capabilities.
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 15 through January 10 are off limits if you want to check Maxy (if he fits under the seat in front of you, you’re still good).
Tom Williams/Getty Images
Carrier size maximum: 9”H x 16”W x 19”D
Best for: pet owners under 18, budget-friendly option
Who: First, 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 safely into your carrier, you’re good to go (with no extra fee!).
What: You’ve got to arrive at the check-in counter at least one hour before the flight takes off to ensure your carrier is compliant with Allegiant’s regulations. The airline accepts domestic dogs and cats (no exotic animals here).
Where: Destinations within the contiguous 48 United States are fair game.
How: Tack $50 onto each flight segment 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.
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Carrier size maximum: 18”L x 14”W x 8”H
Best for: families who love bringing their small dogs and/or guinea pigs on vacation, international travel
Who: Domesticated dogs and cats at least eight weeks old can fly, as can hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and small birds. Large birds, ferrets, reptiles and tiny rodents are not allowed.
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). You’ll have to choose a row with under-seat storage, so no exit rows.
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.
JIM WATSON/Getty Images
Carrier size maximum: 18”L x 14”W x 9”H
Best for: procrastinators and small dogs.
Who: One soft-sided 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. Check in at the counter, in person to ensure your gear complies with Spirit regulations.
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 and you cannot use a hard-sided carrier.
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Carrier size maximum: 17" L x 12.5" W x 8.5" H
Best for: travelers who like perks, point collectors, international travelers
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. You don’t need vaccination or health documents to board domestic flights (but you do need these docs if heading to Puerto Rico).
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 in the carrier during the flight—except during takeoff, landing and any taxiing. 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 six 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.