Introduction to Flying with Pets

Introduction to Flying with Pets

At times, individuals have no other choice but to fly with their pet. Here's how to make your flight with pets easier and safer.

Regardless of how cautious you and the airline are, there are always significant risks involved anytime you decide to transport your pet by air, particularly by baggage or cargo. We strongly recommend you use alternate means of transportation if at all possible. This recommendation is also shared by the Humane Society of the United States, the Doris Day Animal League, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Dangerous temperatures (both in air and during ground handling), lack of oxygen, rough handling, crushed crates, and crates popping open on the tarmac are all dangerous occurrences.

In cabin
Baggage or cargo


The United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") regulates air transportation of pets and requires that all pets be at least 8 weeks old and weaned at least five days prior to flying in order to be transported by air. 
We strongly recommend that you err on the side of safety and not transport any pet under 12 weeks of age. Additionally, ill, very nervous, pregnant, or older pets should not be transported by air.
We strongly discourage the use of other than nonstop flights, especially for pets that will not be traveling in the cabin.
Certain breeds including Boston Terrier, Bulldog, Boxer, Chow Chow, Lhasa Apso, Pekinese, Pug, and Shih Tzu dogs, as well as Himalayan and Persian cats should not be transported by air as these breeds are more susceptible to breathing difficulties caused by the thin air at altitude.
Allow up to two extra hours for check-in and, if your pet is not traveling with you in the cabin, arrival procedures.
When scheduling flights, always attempt to travel on nonstop flights, unless the flight is longer than 8 hours in which case you should schedule a layover.
If your pet will not be in cabin, to avoid potentially dangerous temperature extremes, schedule your flight in the early morning or late evening in summer. Schedule afternoon flights in winter.
Regardless of whether your pet is traveling in the cabin or as baggage/cargo, an approved pet carrier/crate must be used for the pet.
Your airline's pet policies as well the size of your pet determine whether your pet will be allowed in the cabin or will instead need to ride in the cargo hold as checked baggage or cargo. You may view airline pet policies here.
Fees for transport vary by carrier and size of pet.

  • Pet in cabin generally costs $75-$100
  • Pet as baggage generally costs $100
  • Pet as cargo is generally $150+

Make certain to visit your vet no more than 10 days before departure and get a health certificate - bring three copies with you to the airport. Also bring a copy of a current rabies vaccination certificate.
Do not feed or water your pet during the four hours before the flight. Vomiting in turbulence can be life threatening.
Walk your pet before leaving for the airport and again before check-in.
Offer water immediately after flight.
Do not sedate or tranquilize your pet before the flight unless at the specific direction of your vet. These medications can interfere with your pet's ability to breathe at altitude. Instead fill a hollow toy with cheese spread or peanut butter to distract your pet.
Do not muzzle your pet.
Make sure your pet's nails are clipped to protect against hooking on door, holes, and other crevices.

In cabin

In order to be eligible for in-cabin travel, your pet, in their carrier, must fit underneath the seat in front of them. These dimensions vary by airline and aircraft but 21 x 13 x 8 is a good standard. Most pets that will fit are typically 20 pounds or less.
As a condition of in cabin travel, your pet must not make any annoying noise or odor.
Airlines limit the number of pets per cabin per flight so reserve early!
Your pet is not allowed to be removed from its carrier for the duration of the flight.
Bring food and water for your pet.
Consider covering the carrier if that calms your pet.

Baggage or cargo

Be aware of temperature embargoes or seasonal restrictions. Avoid traveling when temperatures at origin/destination are below 45 or above 85 degrees at any time in the trip - most airlines will not transport under these conditions. Your vet can waive the 45 degree restriction down to 20 degrees.
If your pet will not be traveling in the cabin with you, avoid travel during very cold or hot times of the year and make certain that flights are early morning or late night if during the summer and midday if during the winter.
The USDA prohibits the shipment of animals where temperatures at either the origin or destination are below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees. Many airlines have further temperature-related restrictions.
If there will be a layover on your routing, make certain to allow sufficient time for a walk to exercise your pet and allow them to have a bathroom break.
If possible have your pet shipped as excess baggage, not as cargo. In order to qualify as baggage your pet must be on the same flight as you and must meet certain size requirements. If the pet and carrier exceed a certain weight (generally 100 pounds), cargo will be your only option.
If your pet is shipped as baggage:

  • Notify the captain at the time of boarding that boarding can be confirmed and airflow more likely to be monitored carefully.
  • Never change planes without claiming and rechecking your pet even if you are given this option.

If your pet is shipped as cargo:

  • There is generally no guarantee as to which particular flight your pet will be on, unless you choose (and pay for) priority or "counter-to-counter" shipping, which we strongly recommend.
  • Contact the carrier to ask about drop off and pick up areas as these are not located in the passenger terminals.
  • Do not turn over your pet more than four hours prior to the flight.
  • Insure your pet for $10,000 so it will get extra attention. The cost is minimal.
  • Inquire about hazardous cargo on the flight.
  • When you arrive open the crate and let your pet out on leash as soon as your are in a safe place. Document any problems to the airline.


If your pet will be traveling as baggage or cargo, you'll need to use an approved crate. Make certain to confirm with airline that your size crate will fit the particular aircraft to be used on your flight.
The size crate you choose must be large enough for your pet to turn around in, stand without touching the top, and sit up.
Various standard sizes:

  • Size 100 21" long 16" wide 15" high
  • Size 200 27" long 20" wide 19" high
  • Size 300 32" long 22" wide 23" high
  • Size 400 36" long 24" wide 26" high
  • Size 500 40" long 27" wide 30" high
  • Size 700 48" long 32" wide 35" high

There should only be one pet per crate but two are okay if each pet is under twenty pounds.
Acclimate your pet to the crate prior to the trip.
The crate must have:

  • Handles so it can be moved without reaching inside the crate.
  • No interior protrusions.
  • Secure locking systems with hinge and pins extending at least 5/8 inch beyond the horizontal extrusions above and beyond the door opening where the pins are fitted.
  • An attached water container accessible from the outside of the crate. We suggest attaching extra food, water, and medication to the outside of the crate along with instructions and a 24 hour history of food, water, and medication. If you wish, you may freeze a small amount of water in a bowl and place in crate. Do not use ice cubes as they are a choking hazard.
  • Ventilation on all four sides with exterior rims or knobs to prevent blockage.
  • A leak-proof bottom.
  • A door made of welded or cast metal of sufficient gauge or thickness so as to preclude animal from bending or distorting door.
  • No wheels attached at time of turning over to airline.
  • A health certificate attached to outside.
  • Clearly visible exterior designation of "Live Animal - This Side Up" with arrows indicating upright position. We suggest placing some uniquely colored tape of other bright lettering on all sides of crate so you can identify it from a distance.

Have an exterior identification label with your contact information and the pet's name. We suggest placing a copy inside the crate, taping a picture of your pet to the outside of the kennel, and placing a note worded "Hi, I am Fido, a lab going from Denver to Phoenix on flight United flight 816. Thanks for taking good care of me."
Make sure your pet's crate is in good repair and not missing any parts.
Place bed, blanket, towel, or old t-shirt in crate. Litter is not permitted to be used.
Swap your pet's dangling tags for flat tags to avoid injury.
Cats should always have breakaway collar. Dogs should not be wearing choke, pinch, or training collars.
Secure a leash to the outside of the crate.
Use plastic cable ties to secure crate shut. Attach tie cutters to outside of crate. Do not lock crate.


Incorrect or missing information? Please contact us and let us know.


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