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Airline Pet Policy for Flying With Pets

flying with pets

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Most pet parents want to be able to bring their pet with them to wherever they are traveling. Whether you are taking a long vacation or heading out on a weekend getaway, having your fur baby by your side makes the trip that much more special.

If you want to bring your four-legged friend with you on your next flight, there are important preparations and considerations that must be made before you embark on your journey. Airline pet policies may differ greatly between airlines, but if you are about to set out on a voyage of your own, here are some tips and tricks for flying with pets.

Making a Reservation for Your Pet

Taking the proper steps to reserve your dog or cat on a flight is crucial in solidifying a seamless travel day. Once you have purchased your ticket, contact the airline’s reservations hotline to reserve your pet’s place on the flight, too. Restrictions and rules for traveling with pets vary by airline, so you’ll need to do your research to make sure you are in compliance.

Before you book, decide if you are bringing your pet with you in the cabin or checking him with luggage in the cargo hold. The fee for an in-cabin animal reservation starts at $100 to $125. For pets flying in the cargo hold, the fee starts at about $200.

If traveling in the cabin, your pet must comfortably fit in a carrier, which goes under the seat in front of you. Check the under-seat dimensions of the aircraft to ensure the pet carrier will fit safely. Generally, airlines only permit a certain number of animals in the cabin, not including service animals, so you’ll want to book as soon as possible if you plan on bringing your pet with you as a carry-on.

If your pet is flying in cargo, the weather conditions at departure and your destination must be safe for animals. This will include lay-over locations as well. Also note that not all airlines allow pets to travel in cargo.

Pay close attention the airline’s pet travel rules when it comes to:

  • Pet age
  • Pet breed (brachycephalic, or short-nosed, breeds are prone to respiratory problems that may be exacerbated during air travel)
  • Length of trip
  • Pet health certifications (usually only required if your pet is flying in cargo)
  • Whether your flight is domestic or international

Pet Carriers Are a Must

Pet carriers and dog crates are your best friend when flying with a cat or dog. Most airlines require that your pet stay in a carrier or crate for the duration of the flight, unless you’re flying with a service animal.

If you choose to have your pet fly with you in the cabin, you need to find a pet carrier that will fit underneath the airplane seat and provide plenty of room for your pet, like the Caldwell’s Soft Sided Pet Carrier. Always check with your airline of choice regarding its under-seat dimensions prior to purchase. A carrier needs to offer a comfortable and breathable space for your pet to feel at home while traveling.

If your pet is traveling in the cargo hold, airlines usually require animals to be housed in a crate made of rigid material, among other specifications. Again, check with the airline to ensure your crate meets the requirements.

Potty Breaks and Departure Day Pet Plans

Bringing your pet along for the flight means you’ll have a few more items on your to-do list the day of your departure.

It’s usually recommended that pets fly on an empty or nearly empty stomach. You don’t want your pet to get an upset tummy on the flight. You also don’t want any potty accidents. So, you’ll want to make sure you feed your pet and give him water well in advance of your departure.

Speaking of potty accidents, making time for bathroom breaks and finding airport animal relief areas while flying with pets are imperative. It is important to plan a potty break with your pet before heading into the airport and to locate outdoor/indoor animal relief spots ahead of time.

If your pet is flying with you in the cabin, you’ll need to go through security with him. Pets don’t go through the X-ray machine, so you’ll need to take them out of their carriers and hold them as you walk through the metal detector. Make sure your pet has on an ID tag in case he manages to run away. You might want to put on a leash or dog harness so you have something to hold onto while you’re carrying him.

Airports Are Becoming More Pet-Friendly

Many airports in the United States have made upgrades to include interior animal relief areas, equipped with faux grass, turf, trash bags and even mimicked red fire hydrants to simulate an organic outdoor bathroom experience.

Airports in the United States with such additions are Boston Logan International Airport in Massachusetts; John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York; Memphis International Airport in Tennessee; Los Angeles International Airport  and San Diego International Airport in California, Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia; Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport in Illinois; Miami International Airport and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida; Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Michigan; Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport in Minnesota; Denver International Airport in Colorado; Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas; Philadelphia International Airport in Pennsylvania; General Mitchell International Airport in Wisconsin; Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington, Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada, and many other regional airports. As of 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration put into law that any airport seeing a minimum of 10,000 planes incoming and outgoing per year must install Service Animal Relief Areas (SARAs). Each terminal throughout the airport must have these accommodations with easy entrance for wheelchairs.

Flying With Service Animals

Other animals that can fly are emotional support and service animals. These pets accompany many passengers, aiding their owners in myriad ways. When preparing your emotional support or service animal’s trip, make sure to bring official documentation from a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor that clearly states the pet as a necessary escort.

These animals are not held to the same standards as other pet passengers. Airlines cannot charge added fees, set weight restrictions or discriminate against animal types, providing they are documented as emotional support or service animals. When flying with pets, it is crucial to arrive early and make sure you check-in with your animal, producing confirmation of pet flight payment or medical documentation for his accompaniment.

There are many tips and ideas for traveling… but the one that seems many people may not be aware of is obtaining health certificates, whether it be international or the lower 48,” says Tonya Bonvouloir of Stoney Brook Veterinary Hospital in New Hampshire. “Each country has its own set of mandatory guidelines and some are extremely strict and some have very tight time lines. I have seen the frustration of many clients because it’s not the easiest to track down the requirements (and/or to put a time line on them) for someone that has never traveled out of country. Also, some airlines have specific requirements even when flying within the states. The USDA has a great resource to look up individual countries and what their requirements are, we use this often.”

Taking the Edge Off with Natural Remedies

First off, make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date and that he is clear to fly by speaking with your veterinarian before your trip. Flying not only causes anxiety and nervousness in many people, but also in plenty of animals.

When flying with a dog or cat, you can help keep him calm by giving him a natural calming remedy. If your pet is prone to anxiety, you should visit your veterinarian to see if a prescription medication might be a better option. Another tip is to provide your pet with a reminder of home by packing his favorite blanket or toy.

Flying with a dog or cat can be a seamless and hassle-free process. Just remember to plan ahead and clarify policies to ensure an enjoyable and stress-free flight with your favorite companion.



Leah McCormack is a New England native and dog lover. She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City with her bachelor’s degree and started her animal care business, Winni Pups. Her published articles and features can be found in The Boston Globe, The EveryGirl, The Improper Bostonian, Mane Addicts, WGSN and Chewy!