How to Choose an Airline Approved In-Cabin Pet Carrier

Leaving a pet at home while you travel can be a stressful experience, both for you and your furry friend. You might miss the companionship that your dog or cat provides while you’re traveling.

Leaving them behind can also mean expensive kennel bills, or asking a family friend to take care of them while you’re gone. Pets can become stressed when their routine is altered, and they might start to become anxious or depressed.

Nowadays, many people choose to take their pets with them on vacations and other trips. Most airlines will allow pet carriers, assuming you follow certain guidelines.

Travelling on a plane with your pet can be plenty of fun – as long as you have the right equipment. An in-cabin pet carrier is an essential if you’re hoping to get on a plane with your dog or cat. No airline will let you aboard their aircraft if you don’t have the appropriate carrier.

In this guide, we’ll look at how you can choose the right in-cabin pet carrier for your pet. We’ll examine some of the best options on the market, and offer some top tips to help keep your pet comfortable on their first domestic or international flight.

The Importance of Choosing an Airline Approved Pet Carrier

All of the carriers we mention will be fully approved by a variety of airlines. Their dimensions are suitable for in-cabin travel, and many users have taken them on flights before with no trouble whatsoever.

It’s vital that you select a pet carrier that has already been vetted and approved by an airline – or at least one that meets their size requirements. If you choose a carrier that isn’t airline approved or is the wrong size or shape, you may end up being denied access to the plane. A refund may not be possible in this case, and you’d need to find alternative travel arrangements with your pet in tow.

Things to Consider When Choosing an In-Cabin Pet Carrier

Of course, there are a multitude of issues you’ll need to think about when you select your in-cabin pet carrier.

Let’s go over some of the main points to consider before you commit to a purchase:

Dimensions and Airline Restrictions

By far the biggest thing you’ll need to think about when choosing your airline approved pet carrier is the dimensions of the product. All airlines have very strict restrictions when it comes to the luggage they allow in-cabin.

When it comes to suitcases and other luggage, this is usually dictated by the space they have available in the overhead luggage racks. But with pet carriers, it’s dictated by the space available under the seats.

Here are some of the in-cabin restrictions for pet carriers on some of the US’ most popular airlines:

  • KLM – 18” (length) x 11” (width) x 9.5” (height)
  • United Airlines – 18” (length) x 11” (width) x 11” (height)
  • Southwestern Airlines – 18.5” (length) x 13.5” (width) x 13.5” (height)
  • JetBlue – 17″ (length) x 12.5″ (width) x 8.5″ (height)

If you’re flying with Delta, the restriction will depend on what type of plane you’ll be flying on. Naturally, their smaller planes will have less space for under-seat carriers than their larger aircraft. It’s advised that you give the airline a call to verify what type of plane you’ll be flying on before you buy your carrier.

You’ll notice that most of the airlines have very similar restrictions on the dimensions. This creates a definite ‘safe zone’ regarding the dimensions of carriers you can buy for your pet. Anything below around 18.5” long, 13” wide and 11” high should be perfectly fine for your upcoming flight.

Airline Approved In-Cabin Pet Carrier

Your Pet’s Dimensions

Of course, you can’t just buy a carrier based on the airline restrictions and hope your pet will fit. You need to consider the dimensions of your pet and then add on a few inches so that they can comfortably move around inside the carrier.

This may mean that some larger pets are unable to fly on many airlines – in this case, you may need to look an alternative mode of transport which will accommodate your large animal.


The weight of your pet is also a key factor in choosing an in-cabin pet carrier. You need to consider whether your pet is light enough for the carrier to accommodate comfortably.

Also, you’ll need to put your pet into the carrier beforehand and weigh the entire thing. Most of the weight restrictions you’ll see issued by airlines include the weight of the carrier with your dog or cat inside it.

The weight limit for in-cabin luggage is around 20 pounds (9kg) on most airlines. This means you’ll need to ensure the weight of your pet and the carrier combined is less than this amount before you book a seat on the plane. Naturally, the lighter your in-cabin pet carrier, the heavier your pet can be and still fall within the guidelines.


It’s vital that you choose an in-cabin pet carrier made from high-quality materials. A no-rip fabric is a must. The underside of seats can have sharp edges and metal parts (especially if the seats recline). If you choose a low-quality carrier, it could get ripped during the flight.

Many airlines specify that a certain number of panels on the carrier should be made from mesh. This is to ensure that your pet has plenty of ventilation. The carrier must also be leakproof – for obvious reasons!

The quality of the interior should also be excellent. After all, your pet has to lie in here for hours. If you can find a removable, washable lining, that’s ideal. This will help you to keep the carrier clean and prevent any odors from emanating.

Many carriers come with additional cushions or faux fur liners so that your pet will be comfortable throughout.

Best Airline Approved In-Cabin Pet Carriers

Once you’ve thought about the dimensions, weight, and materials of the carrier you want, you can start looking at specific brands and models.

Here are some of the top-rated in-cabin pet carriers, all approved by some of the most popular airlines:

Sherpa Original Deluxe Pet Carrier

This simple but popular pet carrier has served thousands of people well on flights with their dogs and cats. It has everything you could need to transport a pet safely on a plane.

Sherpa Original Deluxe Pet Carrier

There are mesh panels for adequate ventilation, and your pet can enter the carrier through the top or the side. The convenient shoulder strap allows you to keep your hands free when navigating busy airports, which is ideal when you need to show passports and boarding passes to staff.

The design and dimensions conform with all commercial airline guidelines for carry-on luggage and pet carriers. You can take this carrier on any airline, and it will fit comfortably underneath the seat in front.

The carrier provides adequate space for your pet to move and stretch but is not wide enough that your pet could get injured or move excessively within the carrier. Your pet will also stay cozy and warm on the flight with the addition of a removable, machine-washable faux lambskin liner. They can lie down and take a snooze in luxurious comfort while you transport them from A to B.

The Sherpa Original Deluxe Pet Carrier comes in three different sizes. However, the largest size (accommodating pets up to 22 pounds) may end up being too heavy for many airlines. It does fit the restrictions on dimensions, so if you’re carrying two smaller pets that don’t weigh as much, this may be the ideal option.

Petmate Two Door Top Load Pet Kennel

This hard-sided pet carrier is perfect for stubborn pets – especially cats. Many cats don’t particularly like being put into carriers, but this top-loading carrier makes it very simple. It meets all airline travel requirements and is ideal for most cats and some smaller dogs.

Petmate Pet Kennel

It’s also a very sturdy and hardwearing home for your small pet – it’s made from steel wire and plastic. If you’re planning on doing a lot of traveling and need something durable, this carrier is perfect.

The handle of the Petmate Two Door Top Load Pet Kennel has been ergonomically designed. This makes it easy to carry without hurting your hand. In airports, where you may be queued for long periods, this is a much-needed feature.

One important thing to bear in mind when purchasing this pet carrier is you need to use the measurements for the inside of the kennel when deciding which size to buy. Some customers used the measurements for the outside of the kennel and ended up buying a size that wasn’t right for their pet. Choosing the right size ensures your pet has enough room to move around and stretch inside the carrier.

Because of the hard-shell construction of this pet carrier, it’s naturally a little heavier than some of the soft-sided pet carrier options. This makes it more suitable for pets that are lighter. It weighs in at 2.6kg (almost six pounds) which means your pet should weigh less than 7kg (15 pounds) to comply with airline guidelines.

Pawfect Pets Soft-Sided Travel Carrier

The vast majority of cats and small dogs will fit comfortably into the Pawfect Pets Soft-Sided Travel Carrier. It’s been approved by all major airlines, including Southwest, which has notoriously strict guidelines on in-cabin pet travel. You’ll be able to slide it under the seat in front with no problems at all.

Pawfect Pets Pet Travel Carrier

Made from reinforced polyester and with plenty of mesh panels, your pet will be able to watch the world go by. They’ll have plenty of ventilation, yet their claws won’t be able to punch holes or make scratches on the carrier.

Comfort is a priority when it comes to in-cabin pet carriers. This particular carrier comes with two padded, mats both of which can be removed from the carrier completely. You can take both mats with you and swap them over in case of any accidents! This means you’ll always have a clean option with you, so your cat or dog won’t need to put up with a wet or soiled mat for too long.

Measuring in at 17.5” long, 10” wide and 11” high, this travel carrier provides a perfect benchmark for most airline approved carriers. If your cat or dog doesn’t fit in this carrier, they probably won’t fit into any other airline approved carriers either. This means you should try to make alternative travel arrangements if your pet doesn’t comfortably fit inside this travel carrier.

Snoozer Wheel Around Travel Pet Carrier

Airports are often huge. When flying, you can walk miles just getting from your check-in desk to security. You’ll spend a long time snaking through the security queues, and then you face an even longer walk to your departure gate. Naturally, you might be wondering whether there are any pet carriers out there with wheels.

Snoozer Wheel Around Pet Carrier

Fortunately, the Snoozer Wheel Around Travel Pet Carrier ticks every box. It’s airline approved, and it can hold pets up to 15 pounds, which makes it suitable for most cats and some smaller dogs. It’s compact without being restrictive to your pet, and it comes with wheels so you can simply roll it along rather than carrying it.

This particular carrier is a great travel companion – not just on the flight itself. You can use it as a backpack, it can serve as a car seat for your pet, and it also acts as a comfortable bed for your pet. Despite having a soft shell, it’s sturdy and hardwearing. The manufacturers have even tested it with a crash test dummy – when used as a car seat, it can withstand crashes up to 30mph. For many pet owners, safety is a priority, and this carrier has great safety credentials.

The multi-stage telescopic handle means that any member of your family can take charge of the carrier for a while. Whether you’re six feet tall or just under four feet, you can choose the stage that allows you to pull it along comfortably, without straining.

The entire thing is very well ventilated, which is ideal if you’re traveling to a different part of the country. It’s also made from a microfiber material which is comfortable for your pet, as well as being easy to clean.

For a multipurpose airline approved pet carrier, look no further than this fantastic wheel-around option.

Tips for Travelling on Planes with Pets

Here are some additional tips if you’re planning a plane trip with your dog or cat:

  • Your in-cabin pet carrier must have the words ‘LIVE ANIMAL’ written on the sides and the top of the crate. The letters must be one-inch tall at least and placed in a visible location.
  • The carrier you choose must have a good lock. We all know that some animals could double as escape artists – especially cats. You could get into trouble if your pet manages to spring open the door of their carrier halfway through a flight.
  • Bring a selection of absorbent pads with you when you fly – especially on longer flights. It may be awkward, but there’s nowhere for your pet to go to the toilet on these journeys, and you’ll need to ensure they’re not sitting in their own mess for hours.
  • Tire your pet out as much as you can before you get on the plane. Take them for a long walk or indulge in some playtime before you set off for the airport. Then cross your fingers and hope they take a long nap!
  • Treats and toys are a must on flights – you’ll need something to keep your pet occupied.
  • You know your pet’s temperament best. If you think your pet might not react well to flying, consider looking into other options rather than causing them stress and panic.

Traveling with pets can be a wonderful experience. Keeping your furry friend by your side can bring you lots of happiness, and also reduce the stress and anxiety of leaving them at home. But it’s vital to ensure you have the right equipment and accessories for such a journey.

As you can see, there are lots of things you should be thinking about before you commit to taking your pet on a flight. It’s always best to contact the airline you’re flying with and request their specific guidelines on in-cabin pet carriers. Then, you can use those guidelines and the advice above to select a carrier that is suitable for your cat or small dog.

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