Pet Policies on Airlines: Guide to Flying With Your Pet

September 4, 2021 | by TravelingCreatures.com

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Considering the hassle many travelers face flying without a pet, flying with one can bring up a series of questions:


Is it safe? Is it cost-effective? Is my pet’s breed supported? Where will my pet stay during the flight?


In this guide, we will answer some looming questions you may have about flying with your pet.


Should My Pet Fly With Me?

Before you begin your research, it’s important to decide why you would like to fly with your pet. People typically fly with their pets for one of two reasons: moving or vacationing. For those making a permanent move, there may be no other alternative. However, for people thinking of vacationing with their pets, it’s important to consider whether bringing your pet will benefit them more than leaving them with a sitter. To do this, ask yourself the following:


Am I planning this trip around my pet’s needs or around my needs?


If you are planning on leaving your pet cooped up in a hotel room for a good part of the day, taking them along may not be the best decision. Rather, leaving your pet in their own environment with a trusted pet-sitter will be far better than being in a foreign place, alone. Alternatively, if you are planning on spending 24/7 with your pet on vacation, that’s great! Doing so will not only make them feel comfortable, but it will reduce the anxiety that being away from home can cause. All in all, deciding to fly with your pet is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Though bringing them along might bring you comfort, everything that you are subject to while flying—weird smells, changes in air pressure, cramped spaces—they will be too.


Service Animals vs Emotional Support Animals:

A service animal, according to the ADA, is defined as a dog trained to work or perform certain tasks for a disabled individual. Said tasks may including alerting their handler, who is diabetic, that their insulin is low. It is important that one’s service animal remain with them at all times. As such, all airlines allow service animals in the cabin, so long as they meet certain requirements.


Alternatively, an emotional support animal provides their owner with comfort. Under the ADA, “ Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals the ADA.” Airlines are not required to allow emotional support animals. In fact, as of December 2, 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it’s revisions to the Air Carrier Access Act, stating that it “No longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal.” They also add that airlines will now be allowed to charge transportation fees for said animals.


Carry-on vs. Baggage vs. Cargo: How to Prepare Your Pet Accordingly

There are currently three ways to fly your pet: as baggage, as a carry-on, or as cargo. Unless your pet is a service animal, it is likely you will incur a fee of some sort. No matter which option you choose, it is important you make the airline staff aware that there is a pet on board.


As a carry-on, your pet will be with you throughout the flight, being stored under the seat in front of you. This is the best option, as you can keep an eye on your pet (as they surely will on you!). Not only will you be able to monitor your pet and their needs, but you both will be more relaxed for the entirety of the flight.


As baggage, you will be checking your pet to the same flight as you, prior to your boarding. Airline staff will handle your pet, storing them in the cargo area of the plane. There are size requirements for your pet’s carrier depending on the airline you have chosen to travel with. Typically, pet owners with larger or more exotic pets tend to resort to this option, as their pet may not be permitted in-cabin.


As cargo, your pet will be stored in the cargo area. In this instance, you are not on the same flight as them. I would advise against this option so long as you and your pet are traveling to the same destination.


Is Flying With My Pet Safe?

There are many guidelines that airlines must adhere to in order to ensure your pet’s safety. With that said, flying your pet does have its risks. Consider the following tips when flying with your pets to ensure their safety:

-Fly during off-season: Flights tend to be more crowded during holidays and summer breaks. These times may be very stressful for your pet due to a large volume of people and other animals.

-Get your pet accustomed to their carrier: Once you are certain you’ll be traveling with your pet, begin training them in their travel carrier. Take short trips with them to the mall or park. Reinforce their behavior of entering and staying in the carrier with treats. Establishing a positive association with their carrier ahead of time will reduce anxiety on the day of travel.

-Fly direct: Try to find a flight that travels directly to your destination. Having to stop and transfer flights puts more stress on your pet, and if they’re traveling via cargo/baggage, there is a chance of their carrier being lost/handled improperly by the airline.

-Vaccinate your pet: Check in with your airline and travel destination to see what vaccines your pet must have at the time of travel. Make sure you book a vet visit a few weeks prior to your flight—many vaccines require 2-4 weeks until they take effect.

-Ensure your pet cannot harm themselves: Nervous or anxious pets may attempt to claw their way out of the carrier they’re in. Ensure your pet’s nails are clipped, and they are wearing a collar that will not get caught in anything.

-Food and water within 4 hours of flying: USDA requires that your pet is offered food and water within 4 hours of -checking in. We recommend that you offer your pet food and water at 4 hours before check-in, this way they have ample time to use the bathroom prior to boarding.

-Prepare Identification for your pet: Just as you need to have personal documents when flying, bring the same for your pet. Clearly label their carrier with both their and your information, and carry a recent photo of them with you. I recommend carrying their most recent vaccination records as well, just in case they are required.

-Consider their breed: There are certain breeds that are deemed ‘not suitable’ for air travel, such as those with brachycephaly. These include Bulldogs, Shih Tzus Pugs, Persian Cats, and Himalayan Cats. Brachycephalic pets are characterized by a shortened snout, often as a result of narrow nostrils. These breeds tend to have difficulty breathing when they overly excite themselves or in extreme heat, as may be the case when flying. If it is necessary that you fly with a brachycephalic dog, take them in a carry-on, therefore you can monitor them throughout the flight. Many airlines do not allow muscular and strong-jawed dog breeds as well.


Which Airline?

You may be asking yourself now, which airline is best for my pet?


For you frequent fliers, it’s likely you have an airline that you enjoy traveling with, making this decision that much easier. If that is not you...no worries! The following is a guide to the pet regulations of seven pet-friendly airline companies. Always be sure to check your airlines’ pet policy prior to flying, as the following rules and regulations and are subject to change:

 

Flying With Pets: Alaska Airlines


-Crate Size Requirements (in-cabin):

-For hard-sided kennels: 17” L x 11” W x 7.5” H

-For soft-sided kennels: 17” L x 11” W x 9.5” H

-Permitted Pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, and household birds

-Non-Permitted Pets: Brachycephalic pets, or those mixed with brachycephalic breeds; muscular and strong-jawed breeds

-Age Requirements: 8 weeks old and weaned

-Vaccine Requirements:

-In-Cabin: No health certificate or documentation from the pet’s owner is required; however, be sure your pet meets the health requirements for your specific destination

-Cargo: Pets must have a health certificate valid within 10 days of their initial date of travel and 30 days of their return travel

-Cost: $100 (In cargo & in-cabin; one-way)


Alaska Airlines-Full Pet Policy

 

Flying With Pets: American Airlines


-Permitted Pets: Domestic dogs and cats

-Non-Permitted Pets: Brachycephalic pets, or those mixed with brachycephalic breeds; muscular and strong-jawed breeds

-Age Requirements: 8 weeks old

-Vaccine Requirements:

-In-cabin: No health certificate or documentation from the pet’s owner is required; however, be sure your pet meets the health requirements for your specific destination

-Cargo: Most recent vaccination record; Health certificate signed within 10 days by a licensed veterinarian, and within 60 days of your return flight

-Cost: $125 (In-cabin; one-way); prices vary for cargo


American Airlines-Full Pet Policy

 

Flying With Pets: Delta


-Crate Size Requirements: Maximum-allowed dimensions are determined by your flight

-Permitted Pets: Small dogs, cats, and household birds (birds only permitted on flights within the U.S./U.S. territories, excluding Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and U.S. Virgin Islands)

-Non-permitted Pets: Brachycephalic pets, or those mixed with brachycephalic breeds

-Age Requirements: 10 weeks old and fully weaned

-Vaccine Requirements:

-In-Cabin: No health certificate or documentation from the pet’s owner is required however, be sure your pet meets the health requirements for your specific destination;

-Cargo: At the time of writing, Delta Airlines has suspended all pet shipments due to the pandemic

-Cost: $125 (one-way) U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico


Delta Airlines-Full Pet Policy

 

Flying With Pets: JetBlue


-Crate Size Requirements: 17” L x 12.5” W x 8.5” H Max weight of 20 lbs (pet+carrier)

-Permitted Pets: Small dogs and cats

-Age Requirements: 8 weeks old and fully weaned

-Vaccine Requirements:

-In-Cabin: ID tags and pet license required; vaccination documentation required for travel to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; for all other destinations, be sure your pet meets their health requirements

-Cargo: Animals are not permitted to fly as cargo

-Cost: $125 (one-way)


JetBlue Airlines-Full Pet Policy

 

Flying With Pets: United


-Crate Size Requirements:

-For hard-sided kennels: 17.5” L x 12” W x 7.5” H

-For soft-sided kennels: 18” L x 11” W x 11” H is recommended, but can exceed this slightly; must have 3 ventilated sides

-Permitted Pets: Domestic dogs and cats (excluding Hawaii and only on select flights)

-Non-Permitted Pets: Brachycephalic pets, or those mixed with brachycephalic breeds; muscular and strong-jawed breeds

-Age Requirements: 8 weeks old; puppies and kittens under 2 lbs must be at least 10 weeks old

-Vaccine Requirements:

-In-cabin: Pets entering the U.S. must have a Rabies Vaccine Certification, with the vaccine administered within 30 days of travel, along with a health certificate signed within 10 days by a licensed veterinarian

-Cargo: At the time of writing, United Airlines has suspended their PetSafe Pet Transport due to the pandemic

-Cost: $125 (one-way)


United Airlines-Full Pet Policy

 

Flying With Pets: Spirit Airlines


-Crate Size Requirements: 18” L x 14” W x 9” H; Max Weight of 40 lbs (pet+ carrier)

-Permitted Pets: dogs, cats, household birds (excluding Puerto Rico and U.S.V.I.), and rabbits (excluding Puerto Rico and U.S.V.I.)

-Non-Permitted Pets: Snakes, Spiders, Rodents

-Age Requirements: 8 weeks old and fully weaned

-Vaccine Requirements:

-In-cabin: No health certificate or documentation from the pet’s owner is required (except to U.S.V.I.) however, be sure your pet meets the health requirements for your specific destination; Rabies vaccination record required for pets traveling to Puerto Rico

-Cargo: Animals are not permitted to fly as cargo

-Cost: $110 (one-way)


Spirit Airlines-Full Pet Policy

 

Flying With Pets: Southwest Airlines


-Crate Size Requirements: Maximum of ​​18.5” L x 13.5” W x 8.5” H

-Permitted Pets: Domestic dogs and cats

-Non-Permitted Pets: Any other household pets

-Age Requirements: 8 weeks old

-Vaccine Requirements:

-In-cabin: No health certificate or documentation from the pet’s owner is required; however, be sure your pet meets the health requirements for your specific destination

-Cargo: Animals are not permitted to fly as cargo

-Cost: $95 (one-way)

Southwest Airlines-Full Pet Policy

 

Final Flight Preparations:

If you’ve made it to this point, you and your pet are ready for flight! Once you have decided which airline suits you and your pet’s needs, be sure that:

  1. Your pet’s breed, age, and size is accepted

  2. You purchase a plane ticket for your pet in advance

  3. Note: Many airlines have a limitation on the number of pets allowed on each flightbook your pet’s airfare ahead of time to ensure they can board the same flight

  4. Your pet has the required vaccines/health certificate for your destination

  5. Note: These requirements may differ depending on your destination and where your pet will be stored—in-cabin, cargo, baggage.

  6. Your pet’s carrier meets the requirements of your airline


At the time of writing, regulations are constantly changing due to the ongoing pandemic; consider reaching out to your airline with any remaining questions.


These recommendations are not given by veterinary specialists, as they are our personal recommendations. It is advised you look into each product prior to purchasing, and consult with your pet's veterinarian regarding any questions. Traveling Creatures is an affiliate and is in no way responsible for circumstances that may occur with the use of any of the recommended products.