Dog Sitting Near Airplane
Travel With Dogs

Do Airlines Measure Pet Carriers? Will Yours Measure Up?


Many people prefer to bring their pets in-cabin with them on flights, but the restrictive limitations can make this difficult. What if your pet only fits into a carrier slightly bigger than the airline wants? Or what if they’re more comfortable in a carrier that’s a bit too big? Will the carrier still fit beneath the seat, and do airlines measure pet carriers?

It depends on the airline, the location, and the day. Some people travel regularly and never have their pet carriers measured, while others have their carriers measured and even weighed. There’s no way to know for sure how strict the airline will be until you’re already there, so it’s best not to risk it.

Alternatively, try bringing a backup carrier if you can. This way, if your larger carrier is denied you’ll have a smaller one ready. However, you will need a place to put this extra carrier such as in your luggage.

Strict Airlines Checking the Pet Carrier Luggage
Airlines can be strict about pet carrier sizes

Keep in mind that no matter what, your carrier will need to fit beneath your seat on the plane. Your pet will not be allowed to fly with you if it doesn’t.

In this article, we’ll talk about whether airlines measure pet carriers, how strict airlines are about carriers, and how to choose the best carrier for your flight.

Do Airlines Measure Pet Carriers?

Whether airlines measure pet carriers or not seems to depend on where you’re flying, with what airline, and likely how lucky you are that day. Even people flying with the same airline seem to have different experiences.

This might be down to the location or even the employees working that day and how strict they are with rules.

White and brown dog sitting
Fido getting on the flight could depend on a number of things

Some people report having their carriers measured but not weighed, while others say they were weighed but not measured. Others have been able to take animals on a flight without having the carrier weighed or measured at all.

Due to everyone having different experiences, we suggest keeping your carrier within the airline’s guidelines the best you can.

Keep in mind that carriers must fit beneath airline seats, so a carrier that’s much too big will be caught and likely have you and your pet kicked off the flight. Not only will you lose money and not get to your destination, but you’ll also hold up the flight for other flyers.

Are Airlines Strict with Pet Carriers?

As we discussed above, some airlines and some employees may be stricter than others. It’s best to err on the side of caution so that you don’t end up losing the money you spent on your flight.

Pet and the carrier together
It doesn’t hurt to be prepared

If your carrier doesn’t fit underneath the seat or otherwise doesn’t follow the rules, they might not let you and your pet fly. Alternatively, you might have to pay to have your pet fly in cargo instead of being at your feet on the plane.

While an inch or two probably won’t make a difference, losing your spot on the plane is a big price to pay if you’re caught breaking the rules.

How Much Room Should a Dog or Cat Have in a Carrier?

Your pet should be able to stand and turn around comfortably inside of their carrier. If they cannot do so, the carrier is too small for them. Airlines require carriers to be an appropriate size for the animal.

dog in carrier on plane
Not sure your dog fits? Measure first

The American Kennel Club suggests measuring your dog before buying a carrier. Measure first from the back of their neck to the base of their tail, then from the top of their shoulders to the floor.

Add 3-5 inches to this measurement. Also check the weight limit for your carrier to ensure your pet does not surpass it. Otherwise, the carrier might break under their weight.

Cats can be measured in the same way as dogs with the same 3-5 inches added to ensure they fit inside of the carrier.

What Size Carrier Will Fit Under an Airline Seat?

Required carrier sizes vary depending on the airline due to them having differing amounts of space beneath the seats.

Height seems to be the main thing that varies, with some airlines requiring carriers to be 8 inches and others going up to 12 inches.

Carrier weight matters as well since most airlines require the pet and the carrier together to weigh under 20 pounds.

If you’ve not yet purchased a carrier for your flight, we recommend checking the requirements of your airline first. Then, buy a carrier that is lightweight, soft-sided, and matches the airline’s recommendations.

Lightweight carriers will make your travel easier and ensure your pet gets in under the weight limit. Soft-sided carriers tend to do better on flights because they can give a little to fit beneath seats if necessary.

A hard-sided carrier won’t bend, and therefore you’ll have less wiggle room when it comes to sliding it beneath your seat.

How to Choose the Best Carrier for Your Flight

First, measure your pet from the tip of their nose to the base of their tail and from their shoulders to the ground, as described above. Weigh your pet as well or check the paperwork from their last check-up at the veterinarian to see how much they weigh.

Next, check your airline’s restrictions to ensure that you can bring your pet in-cabin with you. Your pet might be too large or a brachycephalic dog breed, which are banned by many airlines due to their increased risk of breathing difficulties and heat stroke while traveling.

Many airlines banned dog due to their risk of breathing
Check with the airline about your specific dog’s breed

Once you know what size carrier you need to make both your pup and the airline happy, look for a carrier that:

  • Is a few inches larger than your pet and gives them the ability to comfortably stand and turn around while inside.
  • Contains your pet entirely, without their head or other body parts sticking out.
  • Has a waterproof bottom in case of accidents
  • Is ventilated on multiple sides so your pet can breathe easily on the flight.
  • Is easy for you to carry with your pet inside.
  • Provides a comfortable spot for your pet to reside during the entire flight—remember that they won’t be allowed out of the carrier until you land.
  • Is hard-sided, soft-sided, or rolling (check with your airline, but rolling carriers are typically okay as long as you can remove the wheels or lock them in place).

Some bonus features to look for include:

  • Pouches or pockets since your pet likely takes the place of a carry-on
  • Attached pet bowls to easily feed your pet on long flights, layovers, or after you arrive at your destination
  • A good view for nervous owners or curious pets
  • A poor view for anxious pets who don’t do well with a lot of activity around them
  • Sturdy but lightweight material so that it’s long-lasting and easy to carry

Lastly, here are some additional items you might consider packing for your pet on the flight:

  • Blankets or pee pads to line the bottom of the carrier for comfort and easy clean-up
  • Favorite toys to provide comfort to your pet
  • A t-shirt that smells like you to make your pet feel less anxious
  • A cooling mat if the flight is too hot
  • Extra blankets if the flight is too cold
  • A collar or harness with ID tags and a leash to bring your pet out of the carrier during check-in, layover, potty breaks, etc.
  • Treats, particularly long-lasting ones to keep them busy (but not rawhide for dogs, as this can pose a choking hazard or cause other health problems)