Best Pet Carriers
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Flying with a pet carrier: Everything you need to know to Have a Stress-Free Flight!

A fear of flying affects 6.5 percent of the population – and that’s just counting people! That percentage would be significantly higher if it accounted for pets, not just us humans.

Let’s face it: flying with a pet can be a stressful situation, both for you and your furry companion! You want to know all the ins and outs to make sure this whole “flying” thing goes well.

Lots of airlines allow you to fly with a pet in-cabin, as long as they’re in an airline-approved pet carrier that can fit under the seat in front of you. You’ll want to make sure they have plenty of room to move around, and that the carrier meets all the requirements! 

Here’s your no-fuss guide to everything you need to know about flying with a pet carrier!

What is an airline approved pet carrier?

Requirements for an Airline Approved Pet Carrier

You might have noticed that all pet-friendly airlines require your pet to be in an approved carrier. But what does that entail, where can you get one, and how much will it cost?

As a (really) rough guideline, your carrier must meet these minimum requirements to be considered airline-approved:

  • It must fit under the seat in front of you.
  • It must have a waterproof bottom or pads.
  • At least two sides of the carrier must have mesh for ventilation.
  • It must be zip-up, not snaps.
  • It must enclose your entire pet (including their head and tail).

Some Other Requirements

All airlines that allow pets require you to keep your beloved friend safely stowed away under the seat in front of you at least during taxi, take off, and landing. Some airlines require your pet to be under the seat the whole duration of the flight. Therefore, they must fit comfortably!

And as you probably know, flying is stressful for us humans. Just think how much more stressful it is for your pet! That’s why you need a waterproof bottom, or at least waterproof pads, in case they get nervous and have an accident.

All airlines also require your pet to have adequate ventilation (which you also probably want for them)! At least two sides having strong mesh will do, but most airline-approved carriers have three or four sides with mesh.

You also want your carrier to be strong and in good condition. Zippers are harder to come undone when your pet presses against them, which is why they are advised over snaps.

And lastly, airlines require your pet to be fully contained, which is why you need to have a carrier that encloses their entire body.

Some other things you might look for in a pet carrier (that aren’t requirements) are:

  • A padded shoulder strap: good for carrying your pet around the airport comfortably!
  • Wheels: if your pet is heavy and carrying them on your shoulder might hurt.
  • Pockets: ideal for storing treats and toys to help keep your pet relaxed!

Where to buy an airline-approved carrier

Pet Carriers and Airlines

Airline-approved carriers can be bought at pet stores, like Petco, or on sites like Amazon.

If you’re looking in the store, most carriers will have a tag showcasing their benefits, including that it’s flight friendly (if it is).

If you’re looking at Amazon, most will list if it’s approved for planes in the description.

When buying online, make sure you don’t buy something ultra-cheap and poor quality. You want a durable carrier that’s made of good materials so that your pet won’t be uncomfortable and you won’t be worried!

Here are some of our favorite pet carriers:

  • Original Sherpa: Comfortable and stylish. It comes in multiple sizes and is on-board guaranteed.
  • X-Zone: Airline approved even with two fold-out expandable zippers for extra room!
  • Katziela Luxury Rider: A very large, (barely) acceptable pet carrier with removable wheels and ultra-high-quality construction.

What size pet carrier will fit under an airline seat?

There is no one single “standard” under-seat size that is the same across all airliners – it varies between aircraft and classes alike. Plus, airlines don’t share with you the dimensions of the space underneath the seat.

Even if they did, it really wouldn’t matter. That’s because there’s generally life vests, electronics, and a whole bunch of other things possibly taking up a lot of that space. That’s why it’s imperative to follow the measurements the individual airlines give you.

Another interesting thing to keep in mind when purchasing a carrier is that most airlines allow a soft-sided pet carrier to be slightly bigger than the maximum limits if it can “squish” to fit under the seat while still giving your pet enough room to be comfortable.

And remember, what airlines consider “being comfortable” generally means your pet can stand, lay, and turn without touching the top or pushing out the sides of the kennel.

Airline pet carrier dimensions

Flying with Your Dog

Different companies will have different guidelines. So, here’s a quick list of (some of) the most popular airlines and the maximum size pet carrier allowed:

  • Air Canada: 8.25” tall x 15” wide x 17” long. If your seat has a lie-flat bed, the dimensions are 11” tall x 8” wide x 16” long.
  • Air France: 18” x 11” x 9”.
  • American Airlines: 19” x 13” x 9”.
  • Alaskan: For hard-sided kennels, the max dimensions are 17” x 11” x 7.5”. For soft-sided kennels, the dimensions are 17” x 11” x 9.5”.
  • Delta: Depends on the aircraft and flight. Their website recommends calling their reservations counter.
  • Jet Blue: 17” x 12.5” x 8.5”.
  • Southwest: 18.5” x 8.5” x 13.5”.
  • United: Hard-sided kennels cannot exceed 17.5” x 12” x 7.5”. Soft-sided kennels cannot be larger than 18” x 11” x 11”.

Which airline allows the biggest pet carrier?

The answer might surprise you, but an airliner called Allegiant allows one of the biggest pet carriers.

Allegiant is the ninth largest airline operator in the U.S. which, honestly, isn’t saying much. However, they offer extremely low fares!

And if you do decide to bring along a pet, their website states that the carrier may not exceed 9” x 16” x 19”. That’s significantly bigger than nearly every other well-known airline!

Unfortunately, their destinations are more limited than others. So, if you want to give your pet the most amount of space possible on a different aircraft, you could try booking with American Airlines, which offers the most amount of space compared to other large companies.

And if you still find yourself worried about the amount of space your pet has, always try and book the middle seat.

Even though it is hated for pretty much every other reason, it does give you the most under-seat storage space. So, if you have a soft-sided carrier, you might be able to squeak by with a very spacious kennel in the slightly wider middle seat – although it is not recommended.

What if my dog is too big for a carrier?

Let’s face it: if your pet is (or is bigger than) a medium-sized dog, they won’t comfortably fit in a carrier under a compact airline seat. What do you do then?

Unfortunately, that means they won’t be allowed to travel with you in-cabin. You can put them either in the cargo space, which has its own set of rules and regulations that we won’t get into here. Or, you can fly them as air cargo.

Neither of those options is ideal. Not only will you be away from your pet, but there have been some nasty incidences of mistreatment that has ended in the death of pets in the cargo hold. Additionally, some breeds (like those that are snub-nosed) are not allowed in some cargo holds due to elevated health risks.

Regardless of the increased risk and less-than-favorable situation a larger animal imposes, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of pets fly both in-cabin and in the cargo hold with no ill effects whatsoever.

Do airlines measure pet carriers?

Airlines and Pet Carriers

You might be wondering if the airlines are actually strict about the size of your carrier, or if they honestly just don’t care.

As with anything, it depends on the person who you’re dealing with. But overall, yes, they do (or at least should) measure the pet carrier and weigh it.

Unofficially, they are more concerned about the size rather than the weight. So, if you were hoping your flight attendant would simply eyeball your carrier and say it’s fine, you might be in for a bad surprise.

The reason they’re more strict about things fitting properly under the seat is that, in the event of an emergency, anything jutting out by your feet is a hazard and could cause some serious issues.

So, even though you and your pet will probably never be involved in a plane crash, it makes sense why they have those regulations and why it is important to stick to them.

Does a dog carrier count as a carry-on?

Even though the air travel scene is rapidly changing, most airliners still offer one free personal item and one free carry-on with your ticket.

Since you have to pay a pet fee, you might be wondering if your dog or cat’s carrier will double as your free carry-on. And the answer is yes, it probably will.

The reason for that is that there is a limited amount of room in an aircraft – even between both the overhead compartments and under the seats. Since your pet has to go under the seat in front of you, that automatically takes up an entire space that would otherwise be dedicated to your luggage.

If you do need to have an extra carry-on on top of your pet and personal item, you can always pay for an extra bag. Always double-check with your airline about the fees!

Can I buy my dog an airline seat?

Buy airline seat for dog

Currently, there are no airliners that allow you to purchase an airline seat for your pet animal with the purpose of them sitting in the seat.

However, for some airlines, like United, you can purchase an extra seat and use the under-seat storage for an extra kennel if needed.

The exception to this rule is if your pet is a service animal (ADA) or an emotional support animal (ESA).

The main difference between the two is that a service animal has been trained to perform tasks (ie: warn if someone is about to have a seizure), while an emotional support animal has not been trained to work/do specific tasks.

Most times, both types of animals are allowed to sit actually on the seat next to you (provided you purchased it) on the flight. However, because some people have abused the ESA title, airlines are starting to crack down on their regulations.

Which airlines allow pets in the cabin?

With more than 4 million pets traveling by air worldwide (and that’s annual), chances are that you’re looking into taking flying with your pet the next time you need to travel.

And it makes sense! Flights are the cheaper, faster, and safer way to travel when compared to their four-wheeled counterparts.

So, if you’re wondering which airlines are the most pet-friendly – especially when it comes to traveling in-cabin – we picked eight of the most popular airlines to take an in-depth look at!

Air Canada

Air Canada may have been the world’s first scheduled airline to ban smoking on flights, and they might offer the most Wi-Fi availability out of any Canadian airline.

But more importantly, they allow your cat or dog to travel in-cabin with you! This means that, with them, you and your pet can travel to 220 destinations across 6 continents (excluding Antarctica).

Their pet fees are on the low side, too! You can expect to pay:

  • Canada, U.S.: $50 to $59
  • International: $100 to $115

The reason for these differences is because the prices are inclusive of the minimum tax (0%) or the maximum tax (18%) – the percentage depends on your itinerary. And it’s important to remember that those fees are one-way, not round-trip.

Restrictions

As with all airlines, they have certain restrictions for in-cabin pet travel:

  • Only a small dog or cat is allowed to travel with you, and they have to fit in their carrier with enough room to stand up and move around comfortably.
  • Your pet and the carrier cannot exceed a combined weight of 70 pounds.
  • Pets must be at least 12 weeks old and fully weaned, meaning it can’t still be nursing. It has to have at least moved on to a puppy or young kitten’s diet.
  • Only one pet is allowed per person, but that person cannot be an unaccompanied minor.
  • You can’t sit in the Premium Economy cabin or the Executive First Class. You also can’t sit in an exit row or a bulkhead seat.
  • You also can’t bring a pet on board if you have any medical devices that need to be stored under the seat. That’s because your pet has to be under the seat during taxi, take-off, and landing, so there can’t be anything else taking up that space.

Air France

Air France just recently expanded its travel destinations in 2018 to accommodate flights to 12 of the largest airports in the United States. That’s good news for you if you wanted your pet to tag along on a trip to Paris because they let both cats and dogs aboard their planes!

And although they’re one of the cheapest, Air France’s pet fees can get a little confusing. Here’s a quick look:

  • Metropolitan France: 30 Euros (the same price goes for traveling within the Carribean)
  • Europe, Northern Africa, or Israel: 50 Euros
  • All other destinations: 125 Euros

The only exception to those guidelines is if you’re flying from metropolitan France to a few specific destinations, it’ll cost 55 Euros.

Restrictions

Air France is a great airliner for traveling around Europe with, but they have a long list of restrictions. Some of those include:

  • Your pet must meet the vaccination requirements.
  • If they’re traveling with you within the European Union (which includes 28 countries), they will need to have an electronic chip.
  • Your pet must also be at least 10 weeks old (when traveling to certain areas, like flights between France and French Guinea, they must be 15 weeks old).
  • The combined weight of your best furry friend and their carrier cannot exceed 17 pounds.
  • You may only have one pet per carrier, and they don’t allow crates.
  • Your pet cannot be in the Business cabin on intercontinental flights.
  • They do allow snub-nosed pets to travel with you in the cabin, but they strongly encourage checking with your vet beforehand to make sure it is a good idea since they can experience respiratory difficulties.

And if you’re wondering what constitutes an animal being “snub-nosed,” it would depend on their snout length. Snub-nosed animals are those who have shorter than normal snouts – think pugs or boxers or Persian cats.

American Airlines

American Airlines has the largest fleet of planes in the world! Meaning they can take you – and your pet – to a lot of different places, as long as the flight is less than 11 hours and 30 minutes and meets certain destination restrictions.

American allows the standard cats and dogs to travel on board with you in the cabin!

And their pet fee is pretty straightforward, too, especially when compared to other companies. They charge $125 one way per kennel.

They do, however, have some stringent destination restrictions:

You cannot take a pet in-cabin transatlantic – meaning across the Atlantic ocean. They also don’t let you take your pet transpacific if you’re going from the U.S. to Japan – however, you can bring them from Japan to LAX.

  • You can have up to 2 pets per person.
  • Your pet must be able to stand, turn around, and lie down without touching any of the sides or the top of the carrier.
  • Certain aircraft don’t allow pets on Business or First classes due to a lack of under-seat storage space.
  • American has destination temperature restrictions – if the ground temperature at your destination is forecasted to be above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, they won’t allow your pet to board.

Delta

Delta is a great option for pet-friendly flying if your companion isn’t just a cat or a dog. That’s because they allow birds, too! As long as they have a well-ventilated carrier that fits under the seat, you can bring along your fine-feathered friend.

Delta’s prices lean a little to the expensive side, though. Here’s a breakdown for one-way prices:

  • U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada: $125
  • Brazil: $75
  • International/U.S. Virgin Islands: $200

Delta’s restrictions are relatively lax, especially when compared to most other airlines (and because they allow birds)! Here’s a quick look:

  • Household birds are only allowed on domestic flights, except for Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam.
  • Cats and dogs aren’t allowed in-cabin to Hawaii.
  • Pets must be at least 10 weeks old if they are flying domestically (if you’re traveling from the U.S. to any other country, they must be over 16 weeks old).
  • If your female dog or cat has kittens or puppies, you are allowed to bring them (no matter how many there are) in the same kennel, so long as they’re between 10 weeks to 6 months old.
  • Emergency exit rows, seats without stowage, and flat-bed seats are incompatible with in-cabin pets.

Jet Blue

If you want to travel comfortably, you might have already considered Jet Blue. They offer significantly more entertainment (especially for domestic flights), and they offer the most legroom in coach.

That’s great news for you if you want your dog or cat to have plenty of room under the seat while still leaving room for your legs to stretch out!

And traveling with them won’t break your bank, either. As with American Airlines, they charge a flat rate of $125 per way per pet.

Their list of restrictions is pretty short, too:

  • The combined weight of your pet and their carrier cannot exceed 20 pounds.
  • Only one pet per customer is allowed.
  • You can’t bring your pet to Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, the Cayman Islands, or Trinidad and Tobago.
  • They don’t allow pets on interline flights.

And if you’re curious as to what an interline flight is, it’s when you book a trip that will be undertaken by multiple airlines. For example, let’s say you booked a trip (through JetBlue’s website) from San Francisco to Amsterdam with one layover in New York.

If from SFO to JFK airport, you were flying with Jet Blue, and from JFK to AMS you were flying with KLM Airlines, which would count as an interline flight. You would not be allowed to bring your pet on board with Jet Blue in that instance.

Southwest

Southwest is the largest point-to-point operator in the United States, which means you and your pet are far less likely to have to deal with connecting flights!

They offer a relatively cheap rate of $95 per carrier per way – and it’s refundable should something come up! However, that rate is only domestic, because they don’t allow pets on international flights.

Some of their other restrictions include:

  • Pets are not allowed on international flights, including itineraries that include an international flight.
  • Pets may be denied boarding for behavior such as urinating/defecating at the gate/in cabin, growling, biting, lunging, scratching, or excessive barking.
  • You can bring up to two pets of the same breed and species in one carrier, given that they have enough room.
  • Pets cannot travel with unaccompanied minors.
  • Pets must be a minimum of 8 weeks old.
  • Pets must “require no attention” during the flight.

Southwest also makes it a point to ensure you know that they take no responsibility for the health or wellbeing of your pet if they travel in-cabin with you. They even go so far as to state that “oxygen or other first aid procedures will not be administered during the flight” should your pet become ill.

United Airlines

If you’re looking for a nonstop flight from the U.S. to somewhere like Australia, look no further than the sixth-longest nonstop flight in the world. And yes, that 17-and-a-half hour flight is operated by United Airlines.

So, whether your pet is a cat, dog, bird, or even a rabbit, you can fly all day long with them – even internationally! And there are zero breed restrictions for your cat or dog if they travel with you in-cabin!

Their pet fees aren’t that ridiculous, either, costing an unremarkable $125 per way per carrier.

Their restrictions also aren’t that shocking. Those include:

  • Cats and dogs must be at least 16 weeks old.
  • Pets cannot travel with unaccompanied minors.
  • Pets must be able to stand up and turn around comfortably within their kennel (they are very strict about this and often refuse to board to those pets who can’t).
  • One pet per carrier, except birds (two birds per carrier are allowed).
  • One carrier per seat is allowed, however, you can buy an extra seat and use the under-seat storage space.
  • Certain seats with limited under-seat storage aren’t compatible with pets.

United Airlines also makes it a point to let you know that you are responsible for finding out the health and vaccination requirements for your destination, and you must bring all the required paperwork for your trip to go smoothly.

It is also worth noting that United has been under fire the last few years due to multiple pets dying on their flights – however, these occurrences were in the cargo hold, not in-cabin. However, they do let you know that oxygen will not be available for your pet in the event of an emergency.

Alaska Air

Being the fifth largest airline operator in the U.S., Alaskan airlines is a go-to company for many flights across the states. And the good news is that they are pet-friendly! They accept small dogs, cats, rabbits, and birds.

And, if you’re looking to save a quick buck, their prices are cheaper, too, with a flat rate of $100 per way.

They have a shortlist of common-sense restrictions, including:

  • Weight cannot exceed 20 pounds (that includes pet and carrier combined).
  • Your pet must be in good health and not in obvious distress from illness or confinement.
  • Pets must be at least 8 weeks old.
  • Pets cannot fly First Class on Airbus flights.
  • Two pets of the same species are allowed per carrier, given they have enough room.
  • Passengers must be 18 years or older to travel with pets.
  • Any pet that is excessively disruptive or has an offensive odor cannot travel in-cabin.
  • Your pet must meet all vaccination requirements (which vary by destination).

Can I take my dog out of the carrier on the plane?

Can You let Your Dog Out During a Flight

The short answer is no, you may not take your pet out of their carrier on the airplane at any point during the flight. They are not free to walk around the cabin at any point. They must be fully enclosed by their carrier at all times, including their head and tail.

This answer currently applies to all airlines – again, with the previously mentioned exception of service dogs/emotional support animals.

The only thing that varies is whether or not you can take your pet out from underneath the seat at any point during the flight.

Some airlines, like Southwest, require your pet to be tucked under the seat for the entirety of the flight. Others, like Alaska, may allow you to remove the carrier from under the seat and have it, say, on your lap once you’re in the air.

Please note that no major airliners currently explicitly state that you can take your pet’s kennel out from under the seat at any point, some just don’t directly forbid it. Ultimately, the flight attendant has the last say, and it’s not worth it to argue with them.

What if my dog has to use the bathroom mid-flight?

You might be wondering if you can’t take them out (or even if you could), how do they go to the bathroom?

Well, there’s a reason pet carriers are required to be leak-proof. There’s also a reason we recommend carrying pee pads. If you can tell what’s about to happen, you might be able to rush your pet to the bathroom to let them out so they can do their business on a pee pad on the floor – not staining their carrier.

But even if your dog or cat has been well trained, depending on the stress level or duration of the flight, accidents can still happen.

You could always take steps to try and prevent the situation, such as:

  • Take them to the bathroom right before you board the plane
  • Stop giving them food/water 2 hours before boarding
  • Get an aisle seat so you can hurry to the bathroom (if needed) with greater ease

Any accidents your pet might have can be resolved by going to the restroom with your carrier (and pet), removing the soiled pee pad, and replacing it. You’ll want to do that to keep your pet comfortable and prevent any smells from offending your seatmates.

Tips for flying safely with your pet

Preparing Your Pet For The Flight in Pet Carrier

As we’ve just seen, there are plenty of risks involved in flying with your pet. But the good news is that most pets arrive at their destination safe and sound!

If you’re concerned, or just want to do everything you can to make sure the flight goes as smoothly as possible, try out these tips:

  • Fly your pet in-cabin whenever possible
  • Try to get nonstop flights
  • The shorter the flight, the better
  • Get your pet used to being in their carrier in the weeks leading up to your travel plans
  • Get a sturdy, high-quality carrier that won’t break or degrade with potentially rough handling

Ultimately, we all want our pets to be safe and comfortable so that they can enjoy the trip as much as us! Taking extra precautions will help ensure that your pet will arrive safe and sound!