There’s nothing quite like having adventures with your best friend– but when your best friend is a dog, and you’re traveling by air, it can be a confusing and complicated process. If you don’t want to even think about having a hiking, fishing trip without your dog, don’t worry– we’re here to help. This guide will help to clear things up for you. We’ll show you which airlines are the most dog-friendly for domestic US travel, what it costs to take your pet with you, and what restrictions might be in place.
Common Airline Rules
There are some general rules for traveling with a dog in the US. Before we talk about specific rules, we’ll go over some of the restrictions that virtually all airlines have in common.
Many airlines and destination states require that dogs must have a recent health certificate that meets state and USDA guidelines. Generally speaking, this means they need an up-to-date rabies vaccination and vaccination against parvo. Each state has different requirements. Some states, like Hawaii, have more stringent requirements than others. Your destination’s Office of the State Veterinarian will be happy to help you make sure your dog qualifies.
Kennels and Carriers
All airlines require that dogs in the cabin are carried in hard or soft-sided kennels that fit under the seat. These kennels must have ventilation on at least three sides and contain the entire pet without your dog touching the top or sides of the kennel. Check your flight’s plane for the dimensions of the under-seat storage area. Dogs sent as cargo or as checked luggage must have a hard-sided carrier for their safety.
Airlines do not accept brachycephalic dogs as cargo or checked baggage. Brachycephalic (flat-faced/snub-nosed) breeds often have difficulty breathing and the stress from travel and changes in temperature and pressure makes it too risky for airlines to transport these dogs. Many airlines will still allow these dogs to travel in the cabin, so when you are calling to book your pet’s ticket, ask them about specific breed restrictions.
Brachycephalic breeds include, but are not limited to the following:
- Boston Terrier
- Bulldog (all breeds, including French and English)
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Chow Chow
- Mastiff (all breeds except the Great Dane/German Mastiff)
- Shar Pei
- Shih Tzu
- Mixes with any of the above
Unfortunately, some airlines also restrict breeds based on false stereotypes. Because of this, pit bull-type dogs and other bully breeds may be restricted. Again, it’s best to check with your airline before you fly!
Cabin, Cargo, or Checked?
Generally, small dogs can be carried in the cabin, while bigger dogs must be shipped as cargo or checked as baggage. Some airlines only allow active military personnel and US State Department Foreign Service personnel on official orders to check their dogs and require that all other large dogs be shipped as cargo.
There is a difference between cargo shipping and checked baggage travel. Dogs shipped as cargo must have their travel arranged separately and might not be on your flight. They must be checked in at a cargo facility or counter at least 3 hours before their flight, and they will be picked up at a cargo facility or counter after their arrival. If you are allowed to check your dog, your dog’s hard-sided kennel will be checked at the desk with the rest of your luggage. You will be able to pick up your dog at the oversize/special baggage counter by the baggage claim at your destination.
Which Airlines are the Most Dog-Friendly?
If traveling with your dog is a priority, you should definitely compare each airline’s policies. While each airline has unique rules, which we will explain shortly, here is a quick comparison of some of the major policies that might help you know where to start.
Important: Due to travel demands and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, some airlines have restricted pet travel to cabin pets only, or have suspended it entirely. Please check with your airline to ensure that pet travel is available when you book your flight!
|Airline||Pets in Cabin||Checked Pets||Pets as Cargo||Health Certificate||How To Book|
|Alaska Airlines||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Call customer service|
|American Airlines||Yes||Restricted||Yes||Yes||Call customer service|
|Delta Airlines||Yes||Restricted||Yes||Yes||Call customer service|
|Frontier Airlines||Yes||No||No||No||Call customer service|
|JetBlue Airlines||Yes||No||No||No||Online, mobile app, or call|
|Southwest Airlines||Yes||No||No||No||Call customer service|
|Spirit Airlines||Yes||No||No||No||Call, text, or WhatsApp|
|United Airlines||Yes||No||Yes||Yes for cargo; no for cabin||Online or call|
While most airlines are similar when it comes to the status of in-cabin pets, some airlines go above and beyond for your dog. We like Alaska Airlines’ commitment to notifying owners of their pets’ status and for the availability of checking your pet. Southwest Airlines allows you to check a pet’s crate or pet stroller for free, in addition to your two free checked bags. We also like United Airlines’ policy of allowing you to bring your normal carry-on bag allowance in addition to your pet’s carrier– most airlines require that your pet replaces your personal item or your carry-on bag.
While almost all Alaska Airlines flights accept dogs in the cabin, the Airbus fleet employed by the airline cannot accept them as checked baggage due to the unheated cargo hold. Pets as cargo are also not accepted during the holiday season from November 15-January 10. Owners of pets who have to travel as checked baggage will be notified as soon as their pet is on board the aircraft to help them worry less.
American Airlines only allows small dogs in the cabin. All other pets must be booked separately as cargo through American PetEmbark, with the military and Foreign Service restrictions in place for checked dogs. To book travel for your dog, you will need to call American Airlines Reservations. You must do this at least 48 hours prior to your flight, although the earlier, the better!
American Airlines has weather restrictions for pets. You cannot travel with a pet if the current or forecasted temperature is above 85º F. Additionally, pets cannot travel as cargo to, from, or through Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, or Palm Springs during May 1 – September 30. There are also cold-weather restrictions. If your pet is acclimated to the cold, you can get a letter from your veterinarian attesting to this, though this rule applies primarily to working dogs (i.e. sled dogs, livestock companions.) No pets are allowed to travel when the temperature at any point on the itinerary is 20ºF or below.
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines allows small dogs in the cabin and larger dogs as cargo. Military and Foreign Service restrictions apply for checked pets. If you want your dog to travel with you on Delta, you need to call them here.
Delta also has weather restrictions for pets, but these just apply to dogs that are shipped as cargo. Dogs cannot be shipped if the temperature is predicted to be above 80˚F or below 20˚F while your dog is on the ground at any point in the routing. A Certificate of Acclimation from your pet’s vet is required when temperatures fall between 20˚F and 45˚F.
Frontier only accepts pets in the cabin. Frontier does not require a health certificate upon check-in; however, any state rules still apply. Frontier’s fleet has numerous seats that cannot accommodate a pet carrier, but the airline will work with you to help you book a seat that works. To book your pet’s travel on Frontier, you need to call them here.
JetBlue makes it easy to book your pet’s flight. You can book your pet online in the Extras section during booking, on the JetBlue mobile app, or by contacting JetBlue. JetBlue does not accept pets on codeshare or inter-airline flights, so if you have to make a connection to another airline, you can’t bring your dog. JetBlue also only accepts pets in the cabin, not as cargo or checked baggage. JetBlue does not require a health certificate, but they do require that your dog has both ID and license tags.
Southwest’s flexible fare policy applies to pet fare, too: it’s refundable if you don’t fly, your flight has to be rebooked, or your pet ends up not going with you. You must book your dog’s travel by calling here. Southwest does not allow dogs to travel outside of the cabin, so no checking or cargo, and Southwest does not require a health certificate. You are allowed to bring up to two pet carriers per passenger, but if you bring a second carrier, you must purchase a second seat to stow the second carrier.
Spirit Airlines allows pets in the cabin of their aircraft but does not accept them as checked baggage or cargo. They do not require a health certificate, and you are only allowed one pet carrier per passenger. Spirit does not allow hard-sided pet carriers. To book your pet’s travel on Spirit, you can call their reservation center at 1-855-728-3555, text at 48763, or use 855-728-3555 on WhatsApp. Contact information is here.
United Airlines allows dogs in the cabin if they fit under the seat in their carrier. Larger dogs must be transported through United’s PetSafe program. United does not require a health certificate and allows you to book online or by calling their customer contact center at 1-800-864-8331. United lets you bring your normal carry-on bag allowance in addition to your pet.
The Cost of Flying With A Dog
|Airline||Cost in Cabin||Cost as Cargo||Pet + Carrier Weight Limit||Pet Policy|
|Alaska Airlines||$100||$100 for checked pets||150 pounds||Policy|
|American Airlines||$125||Varies; fees confirmed at time of booking||100 pounds||Policy|
|Delta Airlines||$125||Varies; fees confirmed at time of booking||Varies based on aircraft||Policy|
|Frontier Airlines||$99||N/A||No weight limit, but pets must fit under seat||Policy|
|JetBlue Airlines||$125||N/A||20 pounds||Policy|
|Southwest Airlines||$95||N/A||No weight limit, but pets must fit under seat||Policy|
|Spirit Airlines||$110||N/A||40 pounds||Policy|
|United Airlines||$125||Varies; fees confirmed at time of booking||No weight limit, but pets must fit under seat||Policy|
Key Considerations Before You Fly
In addition to the rules and regulations discussed above, pets with certain health conditions, like heart problems or chronic respiratory issues, might have difficulties flying. Consult your vet before taking your dog on an airplane. Additionally, puppies must be at least 8 weeks of age for domestic travel. If your dog weighs less than 2 pounds, 10 weeks is a safer age (and is required by Delta and American Airlines).
Tips for Keeping Your Pup Happy During Travel
Air travel can be a scary experience for any dog, but there are things you can do to make it easier for them!
- Introduce your dog to the carrier they’ll be in for their flight in advance of travel
- If you have a connecting flight, most airports have pet relief areas located just outside the terminal
- About four hours before the flight, offer your dog a light meal with both food and water. Don’t feed them too much too close to the flight to avoid throw-up incidents
- Line your pet carrier with potty pads, especially for long flights– accidents happen!
- Talk to your vet about calming treats or anxiety medication for your dog. Some vets may recommend sedation; however, some airlines, like American Airlines, do not allow sedated pets to fly. Check with your airline before you administer even a light sedative!
- If your pet has a favorite soft toy or blanket, consider packing it with them so that they have that familiar comfort. This only applies to cabin pets
- Bones, toys, medications, and other objects are not allowed to be packed in cargo containers to prevent choking or suffocation. The only things allowed to be in cargo containers with your dog are a secured food dish and water dish that can be accessed without opening the crate
- If your dog isn’t traveling with you in the cabin, make sure they have food and water for the trip. Many airlines make it mandatory to provide these, but even if yours does not, you should do so anyway. For water, you can get a no-spill, no-drip water bottle that clips to the door or side of a crate
- The TSA will never put your dog through an X-ray machine. Instead, you will be asked to hold your dog and go through the scanner or metal detector. You may require an advanced screening or pat-down, as well as a separate visual inspection of your dog. To help your dog get through security smoothly, try doing “trial runs” for a few weeks before the trip. Invite people the dog doesn’t know to meet you in a neutral but busy location, and practice having the stranger pat you and your dog down
How To Buy a Plane Ticket for Your Dog
The vast majority of airlines require you to contact customer service to buy a plane ticket for your pet dog. Most flights can accommodate up to six or seven pet carriers in the cabin, but this can be as low as four– or even fewer, if you’re on a small plane. Pet tickets are first-come, first-serve, so call between 10 and 14 days before you are due to travel. You should also expect to spend more time at the airport to check in your dog and take them through security.
Traveling with your dog via airplane can be a rewarding experience, but there are several hoops to jump through. Many airlines will not allow dogs that don’t fit in carriers that can stow under your seat, and fewer still will allow you to check them instead of shipping them separately as cargo. You should talk to your vet and the airline before you book pet travel to make sure that your pet will be safely accommodated. Several airlines have breed restrictions and require health certificates before they’ll let your dog fly. The best thing you can do once you’ve chosen an airline is to call customer service to make sure that you comply with all of their rules, and then it’s up, up, and away for you and your pup!
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about