Need to fly with your dog or cat but they can't fit in the cabin with you? Need recommendations for the best pet carrier or pet crate that is IATA approved? Traveling by air isn’t what it used to be for humans or their four-legged friends, but we've got information for you that can make it easier.
If your pet isn’t small enough to be carried on and stowed beneath the seat in front of yours, be prepared for anything ranging from flat-out rejection to greeting a host of safety criteria for your pet to protect the airline's limited liability.
For instance, Southwest Airlines no longer allows pets to be transported with checked baggage, so your dog or cat's carrier has to be stored under the seat in front of you and your pet has to be able to stand up and move around in it. That limits you to a very small pet! In addition, there can be only one pet traveling per person, and there is a limit of six pets on one plane. Not all airlines are this strict, but they all have their rules.
If they must be stowed in the hold, here is a list of some important things for you to consider when flying with your dog or cat in cargo together with our recommendations for the best pet cargo carriers for airline travel.
Check Your Airline Policies for Pets
It's important to check with the airline’s rules and regulations for bringing your dog or cat on board. While American Airlines still allows pets to be transported in the baggage area, it has very specific guidelines that must be met — which includes the proper transport container — and they will not accept brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs or cats like Pugs or Persians due to possible breathing complications.
Most airlines have strict regulations on flights lasting 12 hours or longer and certain destinations are off limits to pets. There are even rules regarding a pet's age. Checking out the airline's Web information concerning transporting pets is the best way to educate yourself in advance, and it will make it easier to quickly choose an airline and let you know what to expect before, during and after the flight. Be aware that each airline will have its own policies and restrictions.
To give you an overall sense of airline restrictions and rules, here's the info on traveling with pets for some of the most popular airlines: American Airlines- Flying with Pets and Kennel Guidelines; Delta Airlines - Flying With Pets and Kennel Requirements and United - Flying With Pets In Cabin and In Transport. Remember that for Southwest, pets cannot travel in cargo. Go to the airline Website and enter "travel with pets" in the search box. If you need specific info on cargo travel, search your airline and "pet cargo travel."
Book Pet Travel Plans Early
As mentioned above, most airlines have a limited number of pets they'll accept for any one flight. With some airlines that limitation may extend to pets traveling in cargo as well. That's why it's important to find out your particular airline's restrictions and book your trip in advance if you want to travel together. It's also worth noting that, unlike children, most airlines will not fly a pet unattended. For that you'd need a company like Pet Movers. In other words, you must travel with your pet in most cases, even if they're traveling in cargo.
Check And Get The Green Light for Pet Travel
Before you can fly together, you need to take your pet to the vet for a checkup. Besides the fact that only healthy pets should be subjected to flying, this is mandatory for air travel with animals. You'll need to make sure all vaccinations are up to date and that you get a health certificate within 10 days of your flight. Whether it's called a Certificate of Good Health, a Zoo Sanitary Certificate or even a Veterinary Certificate, it's essential if you're going to take to the skies. Once again, check with your specific air carrier to make sure you've got the right verification and that it covers the time frame surrounding your trip.
Precautions for Pets Traveling in Cargo
Pets traveling in cargo should be afforded some extra considerations, like booking flights that are direct and non-stop, thus minimizing the time they spend in the air and in the hold. Another good idea is to plan flights for early morning or late evening during summer months, to avoid extreme temperatures, or take midday flights during colder winter months.
One more thing to consider is to sedate or not to sedate. Most airlines prefer that you don't sedate, and in most cases the American Veterinary Medical Association would agree. Having said that, some airlines will request additional information from you if you have sedated your pet, and they may even require you to sign a waiver of some sort should your pet become ill during transport.
If they ask you about sedation, be upfront about it, or risk being denied your flight. Finally, make sure your furry friend and the airline-approved pet carrier have plainly visible ID tags and emergency contact information attached to both.
Consider Food & Water Needs During Flight
Due to Federal regulations, you’ll need to provide written certification that your pet has been fed and offered water within four hours (with the specific time noted) of your delivering them to the airport. Yup, things have tightened up, so you'll need to find yourself a notary. This certification needs to be securely and visibly attached to the outside of the kennel/pet carrier and must contain your signature with the date and time you signed it.
You’ll also need to provide feeding and watering instructions for a 24-hour period, presumably in case your pet is lost or somehow separated from you during the trip. Be aware that unless specified by a vet, you cannot just leave instructions saying “no food or water." Check with the airlines for all the specifics and whether you need to provide them with your pet's food before take off or what to do in the event of a lengthy delay.
Buy the Right Pet Carrier for Airline Travel
Commonly called sky kennels, there are weight and size restrictions as well as impact criteria that need to be met for for those used in air travel. Each airline is different. On Delta, for instance, pet carriers must have wheels that can be removed or made inoperable. Bearing this in mind, save yourself the headache by making sure the model you're thinking of purchasing is IATA (International Air Transport Association) compliant before you buy it and that it meets all airline criteria, including size in connection to the animal being housed within it.
This is extremely important. Airlines want to ensure that the animal has the ability to stand and sit erect with sufficient space to turn about normally while standing and to be able to lie in a natural position. When choosing your air kennel, look for a size large enough to comfortably house your dog, make sure there are plenty of air holes and make sure that the kennel is easily transportable. Most importantly, check your airline's requirements, as no pet carrier likely fits the requirements of all airlines.
Here are five of the best pet carriers for airline cargo travel that meet the key requirements to look for that are IATA Approved:
Approved by the USDA and IATA, Petmate offers affordable sky kennels in a variety of sizes and meets most airline requirements. The Petmate kennels come with heavy-duty plastic nuts and bolts, however, and some airlines require this type of hardware to be metal, so you may need to swap them out with these. This is good to know in advance. The hardware is easily replaced with steel, should your air carrier require the switch. Petmate Cargo Crates also come with "Live Animal" stickers and clip-on bowls, so you don't have to purchase them separately. These carriers have some of the best reviews for strength and durability and come closest to meeting most airline standards.
The Skudo Plastic Pet Carrier by Midwest claims to be as airline compliant as the other pet carriers we've highlighted, but it offers features and accessories most pet owners will really appreciate. First off, snap-lock buckles make assembly a breeze and — wait for it! — casters can be added to the carrier itself, so you can roll it along by the handy-dandy towing handle on top. This portable sky kennel is made of durable plastic with a metal grid door and multiple vents for air circulation and visibility.
If you're flying Delta, this might be the pet carrier for you. It does not have some of the durability features of other pet carriers, but Midwest offers the option of both the wheels you can add and handy pull handles to easily transport your dog. If it comes in a size that works for you, Midwest Carriers can easily be made to meet your airline's requirements. You can see the size options here.
Favorite® portable pet carriers by MFPS are said to meet U.S. and international airline standards and come with an IATA certification. They boast easy assembly, have movable wheels on the larger kennels for easy transporting (but alas no handles on top), ventilation on four sides for plenty of air flow, quick-latching door, a handle for easy carrying and hasps on the top that could be combined with a strap for carrying on the shoulder for smaller models. It comes in several sizes, including XXL for larger dogs up to 70 pounds, and several colors. This is probably the most affordable of the best pet carriers for airline travel.
Grreat Choice® is a pet carrier made exclusively for PetSmart and meets IATA and USDA air travel requirements. It features tough, durable construction with reinforced sidewalls and assembles in minutes with no tools required. As an airline approved pet carrier, it offers adequate flow-through ventilation, safety door locks and a convenient carrying handle for safe travel. As with all pet carriers, check with your airline to ensure it meets their standards before purchase.
The AspenPet is a lightweight yet sturdy kennel that is compliant with most airline regulations. You will need to make a few adjustments to make it compliant with all recommendations for airline cargo kennels. It offers a heavy duty plastic shell that is lightweight along with wire doors and a squeeze chrome door latch. It has plastic wing-nuts, which may need to be replaced with metal ones for air travel (you can purchase this airline travel kit for it), and an interior perimeter moat to keep your pet dry. It features holes on all four corners in order to tie it down.
While vented on three sides, you may need to drill some additional holes on the back side of it to meet some airlines' requirements. Because it's made of plastic, a regular drill will quickly take care of creating those holes. It's a good quality kennel offered in a range of sizes that comes with "Live Animal" stickers as well.
More Pet Travel Considerations
Just like travel insurance is a good idea before embarking on any major trip, getting pet insurance before you depart is another good idea. The coverage should allow you to seek treatment at any licensed veterinarian in the United States and Canada and could very well salvage your trip should the unthinkable happen while you're away from home.
Finally, if you're not staying with family or friends, look into pet-friendly accommodations before booking your flight to ensure a seamless vacation that will be remembered for all the things that went right and not the things that went wrong.
Now that you have done all this work preparing for your pet's upcoming flight, here is a silly and amusing video of a dog flying that you may enjoy.
Or take a look at our tips for traveling with pets on the road, including some fresh ideas you probably did not consider. Remember to save and share this article. This article is one of our Always Fresh Articles - articles on our site that we update several times a year to make sure they include the latest info you need.
Originally posted July 2015 and last updated May 2017.