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  • Molly Weinfurter

Flights For Dogs: How to Travel with Dogs on a Plane

Updated: Jun 12

I've flown on planes with my small dog lots of times. If you’re planning a pet-friendly vacation or moving to a new location, you may need to find out how to fly a dog on an airplane. Flying with a dog can be overwhelming at first, especially if you’re not sure how your dog will react. Keep reading to find out details on how to prepare for flights with dogs and information on what to expect before, during, and after your flight.

Puppy in airline carrier

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Can I Bring My Dog on a Plane?

Yes, in most cases, dogs can fly on planes. However, the rules and expectations vary based on the airline and your dog’s size. For the most accurate information, check a specific airline’s pet restrictions before booking a flight with them.

Pets In the Cabin

Dogs that are under 20 pounds are usually welcome in the cabin of the plane, but it varies based on the airline. Your dog must be kept in a carrier that can fit under the seat in front of you. 

The under-seat space varies depending on the plane, but most require your pet’s carrier to be smaller than 21.5 x 15.5 x 9 inches. Check the airline’s pet regulations to find out if the carrier you have is the correct size.

Since my dog is only 15 pounds, she gets to ride in the cabin with me. She's naturally a lazy dog, so she just naps in her carrier under the seat in front of me for the whole flight. It's nice to be right next to her and not have to worry about her in the cargo, but if you have a larger dog, the cabin may not be an option.

Mabel riding in airplane carrier
Here's my dog, Mabel, riding on an airplane

Pets In Cargo

Flying with a large dog is trickier, but not impossible. If your dog is too big to fit under the seat in front of you, they may need to fly with the checked bags. Not all airlines allow this, so look at their pet restrictions in advance. 

Pets in cargo need to be in an appropriately sized crate (big enough for them to stand up and turn around in), which will go into a different area of the plane than the passengers. Luckily, the cargo is still pressurized and temperature-controlled. Some airlines have a weight limit for pets in cargo, which would combine the pet’s weight with the kennel’s weight.

Before arriving at the airport, measure your dog’s kennel to make sure it fits the size restrictions for the airline. If it’s too large or too heavy, it may be denied, or you may have to pay a fee.

Not being able to see the dog during the flight is scary for some pet parents, so if you don’t feel comfortable with your dog in cargo, you may want to consider doing a road trip instead (if possible).

Can Service Dogs Fly for Free?

Yes, service dogs can fly free of charge. Even if they’re over 20 pounds, they can still go in the cargo with their human. Service dogs are defined as any dog that’s trained to perform a specific task for their person.

Service dog airline restrictions don’t apply to emotional support animals. Emotional support animals provide comfort to their humans, but they’re not trained to complete certain tasks. Unfortunately, many people would fake emotional support dogs to get their pets onto airlines for free, which is why most airlines don’t allow ESAs onboard for free anymore.

Dog with suitcases

How Much is it to Fly with a Dog?

A plane ticket for dogs typically costs anywhere from $75 to $300 for a one-way trip, depending on the airline. However, the price may exceed that if you’re flying internationally. Check the airline’s pet restrictions to determine the exact cost.

Unfortunately, the cost doesn’t give your dog an extra seat. They must stay under the seat in front of you if they’re in the cabin. Otherwise, dogs in cargo will be in a different area of the plane during the flight.

Which Airlines Allow Flights for Dogs?

Most airlines allow dogs to some extent, but some only allow dogs in the cabin, not in cargo. Regulations may change too, so the most current information can be found on the airline's website.

Here’s a list of popular airlines that allow dogs:

  • Air Canada (Cabin and cargo)

  • Air Europa (Cabin and cargo)

  • Air France (Cabin and cargo)

  • Alaska Airlines (Cabin and cargo)

  • Allegiant Air (Cabin only)

  • American Airlines (Cabin only, unless in special circumstances)

  • Delta Air Lines (Cabin and cargo)

  • Frontier Airlines (Cabin only)

  • Hawaiian Airlines (Cabin and cargo)

  • JetBlue (Cabin only)

  • KLM (Cabin and cargo)

  • Lufthansa (Cabin and cargo)

  • Southwest (Cabin only)

  • Spirit (Cabin only)

  • United Airlines (Cabin and cargo)

When I lived in Florida for college, I regularly flew back to Wisconsin with my dog to visit my family. Frontier, Southwest, and Allegiant were all airlines that we went on with no issues.

My dog Mabel in her airplane carrier
Here's another photo of my dog in her airplane carrier

Preparing for Your Flight

Flying with a dog requires a lot more preparation than flying by yourself. Here are a few steps to follow for your first time with dogs on airplanes.

Vet Visit

Before planning a flight with your dog, take them in for a vet checkup. Let your vet know that you want to fly with your pup for the first time, and they can let you know if it’s safe based on your dog’s health history.

If your dog is typically anxious or disruptive in new situations, your vet may prescribe a medication to help calm your dog. However, dogs that are naturally calm likely don’t need medications during the flight. My vet told me that my dog was calm enough to not need medication, and she was right. Mabel is typically so relaxed on flights that people assume she's on medication.

You will also want to make sure your dog is up to date on all their vaccinations during their vet visit since most airlines require some vaccines. Bring a copy of their vaccinations to the airport with you because you might be asked to show them.

Find a Pet Airline Carrier

There are lots of carriers for dogs on airplanes, but when choosing one, you need to make sure it fits the requirements of the airline you’re using. Many pet carriers are labeled as “airline approved,” but it’s still best to double-check airline policies. My dog uses a carrier like the Sherpa on Wheels Carrier. I've also heard good things about the Siivton Expandable Carrier and the Amazon Basics Pet Carrier.

The carrier you choose for the cabin should not only fit under the seat in front of you, but your dog should be able to comfortably stretch out and turn around in it. Measure your dog’s length and height, then check the carrier’s measurements to make sure they match. You may be able to test out some carriers at local pet supply stores too. That's what I did when finding a carrier for my dog.

The carrier’s material should be breathable with a padded bottom for comfort. Some carriers may have wheels for easier transport or expandable sides for giving your dog more space while waiting in the airport. The carrier I use for my dog has wheels so I can drag her behind me at the airport. She prefers it to being picked up, and it's way less tiring for me.

If you need a carrier for cargo, a durable kennel is usually the way to go. The kennel you choose should give your dog space to turn around while still fitting into the airline’s size restrictions.

My dog Mabel in her airplane carrier
Here's my dog sitting in her airplane bag

Get Them Used to the Carrier

For a successful first flight, you’ll need to get your dog used to the carrier in advance. Start by setting out the carrier in your home and letting them explore it on their own. If they approach the carrier, sniff it, or stick their head inside it, reward them with a treat.

If they won’t go inside the carrier on their own, try tossing treats inside so they will go in. After having them go inside with the door open a few times, you can try keeping them inside the closed carrier for a few minutes at a time and then rewarding them.

Eventually, you should practice carrying your pet around in the carrier and rewarding them for it. If your dog freaks out when you pick them up inside a carrier, a carrier with wheels may be more comfortable for them.

Some dogs may get used to the carrier after only going in it a few times. Other dogs may need to be exposed to it for short periods daily. Either way, make sure you gradually introduce it and reward your dog for interacting with it so they can associate it with something positive.

My dog usually gets excited when she sees her carrier, but that's because she enjoys traveling with me. Other dogs may need more time to get used to it.

Before Entering the Airport

On the day of your flight, make sure you get your dog to go to the bathroom either at home before heading to the airport or outside the airport before going through security. Once you go through security, they may not be able to do their business again until after the flight.

Most airports have indoor dog bathrooms, but if your dog has never used one before, they might be reluctant to go. Since the bathroom is indoors with fake grass, many dogs don’t recognize it as an acceptable place to pee. My dog refuses to pee on the fake grass in airports, so I give her plenty of opportunities to go outside before we go through security.

If you have a long flight, your dog may not be able to hold it the whole time. Since there aren’t any dog bathrooms on the flight, you would need to try to get your dog to go on a pee pad while in the human bathroom. If they’re in cargo, you may need to line the bottom of the kennel with pee pads. However, you should avoid taking a long flight for your dog’s first time flying unless you don’t have another choice.

Another thing to remember before entering the airport is to give your dog any medications they may need to feel calm during the flight. Also, make sure you have a copy of your dog’s medical records in case you’re asked for it at the airport.

Going Through Security

Airport security procedures differ at every location, so the best way to find out where to go and how to get your dog through security is to ask an employee at the airport. Busy airports may let you go in the handicap line so you don’t hold up the regular line with your dog. If your dog is going in the cargo, they will go where the checked bags go instead of through security.

At the Orlando airport, they almost always told me to go through the handicap line with my dog, Mabel, since it's such a busy airport. However, smaller airports, such as the Milwaukee one, usually just have me go through the normal line since it's so quick.

When you take a dog through security, you will need to take them out of the carrier and hold them in your hands while you send their carrier through the machine. Then, the staff will ask you to walk through a metal detector while holding your dog. After walking through, they will test your hands, so you’ll need to wait for a few seconds before you can grab your dog’s carrier.

If it’s your first time flying with a dog, get to the airport earlier than you normally would. That way, if you run into any issues while trying to get your pet through security, you won’t miss your flight.

Airport dog sniffing suitcases

Waiting to Board

Dogs are supposed to remain in their carriers at all times at the airport, even when you’re sitting around waiting for your flight. You can open the carrier to give your dog some water, but only give them water sparingly since you don’t want to deal with accidents on the flight. I recommend keeping a collapsible water bowl with you while traveling with your pet.

If you don’t already have some with you, grab some paper towels and keep them in a pocket of your dog’s carrier during the flight. That way, if your dog urinates or throws up during the flight, you will be able to clean most of it.

What to Expect During the Flight

During the flight, your dog must stay under the seat in front of you with the carrier closed at all times. Sadly, they cannot sit on your lap unless they’re a service dog. Never put your dog’s carrier in the overhead bins since items shifting could be extremely dangerous for them.

If your dog becomes disruptive during the flight, you can reach into the carrier to pet them and try to calm them. However, if they're barking excessively before the plane takes off, you may be asked to leave. Most dogs will sleep the whole flight, but if your dog seems restless during the trip, you will likely need to talk to your vet about better medications for their next flight (if there will be a next flight).

Can Other Pets Fly on Airplanes?

Most airlines allow cats and dogs in the cabin or cargo. However, certain airlines may also allow other pets, such as birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, and lizards. If the pet policy doesn’t mention anything about your type of pet, call the airline to find out if they’re allowed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Buy My Dog a Seat on an Airplane?

No, most airlines don’t allow you to buy a seat for your dog. Pets are typically considered carry-on luggage during flights, so they must stay under the seat in front of you.

Can Large Dogs Fly on Planes?

Yes, large dogs can fly on planes, but typically only in the cargo. Service dogs are an exception.

Is Flying a Dog in Cargo Safe?

The cargo area is typically safe for dogs because it’s pressurized and temperature-controlled. However, there are some instances of issues occurring that put dogs in danger (although there are risks involved in the cabin too).

What Paperwork Do I Need to Fly with a Dog?

The exact paperwork depends on the airline, but many require up-to-date vaccines and/or a health certificate from a veterinarian. Check your airline’s pet policy to know what’s expected.

Can I Fly with My Dog on Southwest?

Yes, dogs can fly in the cabin on Southwest, as long as they’re kept under the seat in front of you for the duration of the flight. However, Southwest doesn’t allow dogs in the cargo.

Can Emotional Support Animals Fly for Free?

No, most airlines don’t allow emotional support animals to fly for free. However, service dogs can fly in the cabin for free, regardless of their weight.

dog preparing for flight

Traveling with Your Pet

Flying with your pet can be overwhelming the first time you do it, but with vet approval and a comfortable carrier, it should go smoothly. You know your pet better than anyone else, so you can decide if flying is the best travel method for your pup. If driving is an option, it may be better for anxious pups so you can make frequent stops along the way.


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