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Take Off Safely with These 5 Airline-Approved Small Pet Carriers

As pet parents, we don’t like leaving our furry loved ones behind when we take a trip. And naturally, that goes for small pets, such as rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs.

If you’re planning a getaway with lots of sightseeing, it’s probably best to leave your critter at home with a trusted caregiver. On the other hand, if you’re headed off for a laid-back vacation or a relative’s home, your little buddy might be better off joining you. With small pet carriers, it’s possible to bring along your small animals in a safe and secure manner.

Airline-Approved Pet Carriers

When taking your small pet on the plane, no matter the airline or your destination, you need a small pet carrier. It will have to fit under the seat in front of you, provide adequate ventilation, have a waterproof bottom and be sturdy and secure. Be sure it’s not so heavy you can’t manage it easily along with your luggage.

Below, in no particular order, are five airline-approved small pet carriers worth considering.

Note: When we say “airline-approved” what we mean is they should fit under the seats of most commercial airplanes (based on the small pet carrier dimensions and the size of the storage space under most airplane seats). However, it’s always a good idea to check with your specific airline to ensure your small pet carrier will fit under their seats, especially if you are opting for a larger-sized carrier, and to confirm there are no other regulations regarding pet carriers. That information is almost always listed on an airline’s website.

1. Sherpa Original Deluxe Pet Carrier

Small pet carrier

Via Chewy.com

Sherpa’s smallest sized pet carrier (15 x 10 x 8.5 inches) is a good choice among airline-approved pet carriers. It’s in the “Guaranteed on Board” program for several airlines; if you’re refused entry onto one of those airline’s plane due to the Sherpa carrier, the makers of Sherpa will reimburse you for your ticket and pet fee. Other features include nonslip shoulder pads for you, a cozy faux lambskin lining for your pet and a storage pocket that keeps small items, like treats, handy.

2. Kaytee Come Along Carrier

Small pet carrers

Via Chewy.com

Calling all parents of frisky ferrets, charming chinchillas and radiant rabbits, this carrier is crafted specifically for small pets. The mesh windows help keep fresh air flowing freely and allow you to peek at your pet. The easy-clean material makes bathroom accidents a non-issue. Plus, it’s a great value, leaving you with extra cash in your vacation budget.

3. Frisco Premium Travel Pet Carrier

Small pet carriers

Via Chewy.com

This pet carrier features soft sides that can be collapsed slightly to fit snugly under airplane seats. The inside is designed with a fleece sherpa-lined floor to help make your fur baby will be comfy-cozy. For an extra measure of security, the zipper locks from the outside. The small and medium sizes should fit under most commercial airplane seats. Double check with your airline if you need the larger carrier.

4. American Airlines Duffle by Sherpa

Small pet carriers

Via Chewy.com

This modern duffle-style pet carrier can help simplify your trip. As with Sherpa’s Original Carrier, it’s is in the Guaranteed On Board program (for American, United and Air Canada airlines) to help you zip through the airport and onward to your destination. It also is designed to be ultra-lightweight, with wide, adjustable straps to be easy on your shoulders.

5. Pet Gear I-GO2 Traveler

Small pet carriers

Via Chewy.com

Globe-trotting pet parents who appreciate options may want to take a look at this roller travel bag. It can serve as a traditional small animal carrier, as well as a backpack or a rolling bag with a pull-out handle. It should fit under most commercial airplane seats, but check with your airline as other restrictions may apply.

Preparing to Fly with Small Pets

Many small pets are stressed, to varying degrees, by the changes in surroundings that come with flying.

“Rabbits who are nervous, fear the vacuum cleaner, tremble in the car or who are older or have health problems will most likely find a plane trip too stressful,” says Anne Martin, executive director of House Rabbit Society, a nonprofit rabbit rescue and education organization in California’s San Francisco Bay area.

For those moving cross-country, flying with pets can’t be helped. But by planning carefully, you can minimize stress for your pet and make the journey more relaxed for yourself, too.

Your first priority is to shop around for an airline that will allow you to take your specific small pet in the cabin. Some airlines will allow rabbits but not hamsters, ferrets but not chinchillas, etc.

When finding an airline that allows your small pet, make a reservation well in advance. You’ll need to pay a fee to bring your pet in the cabin, which varies by airline. Along with fees, you must check the airline’s pet travel requirements as well.

“Travelers should check with their airline to inquire about their policies as it relates to pets on planes,” says Lisa Farbstein, spokesperson for the United States Transportation Security Administration in Arlington, Virginia.

You’ll need to research the regulations of the state or country to which you’re flying. According to USDA’s pet travel guidelines, your checklist might include meeting deadlines for obtaining a health certificate from your vet, making sure vaccinations are updated or administering a medication pre-trip. While flying internationally has some of the longer requirements list, Hawaii also has strict regulations.

What to Expect When Flying with Your Small Pet

When going through security, place your pet’s carrier onto the X-ray belt and hold him in your arms as you walk through the metal detector.

“Don’t make the mistake of leaving your pet in his carrying case and sending it through the X-ray machine. That’s a big no-no!” Farbstein says. “You don’t want to expose your pet to unnecessary X-rays.”

In addition to a carrier, keeping your small pet secured on a harness/leash is a smart idea. Make sure you choose a small pet harness
and leash designed for your critter’s size and shape. One option is the Kaytee Comfort Harness, which is designed as a vest that adjusts with Velcro. The harness comes in two sizes, so it can keep slender ferrets and rounder rabbits secure.

A leash will come in handy if you pet tries to escape out of his carrier. It also will be useful when you’re exploring once back on solid ground. Just remember to take off the leash if it has metal parts and hand it to the TSA agent before walking through the metal detector.

Note: It’s common for animal carriers to go through a visual and/or physical inspection after going through the X-ray machine, Farbstein says. Be prepared to keep your pet secure in your arms a little longer in case this happens.

Flying with pets is made easier when you know what to expect and select the right ferret, guinea pig, hamster or rabbit carrier for your best buddy. A little preparation can go a long way toward a vacation that’s a great memory for both of you.


Christina Vercelletto is a pet, travel and lifestyle content specialist and a former editor of Parenting, Scholastic Parent & Child, and Woman’s Day. She lives on Long Island with her Chiweenie, Pickles, and 20-pound Calico, Chub-Chub. 

Featured Image: Chewy Studios

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