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How to fly with your dog in cabin

It’s no secret we are huge lovers of travel. From weekend road trips in California to domestic flights across the coast, we always try to bring our pups with us on our adventures when we can. Luckily, Kokoro and Chibi are small enough to travel in cabin with us and are quite the little jetsetters themselves!

We get lots of questions asking for tips on how we fly with Kokoro and Chibi within the United States, so I’ve decided to share our experiences here! As of January 2021, most major airlines have banned Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s) from receiving the lenient travel policies that service dogs do, so we’ve updated our blog post to reflect those guidelines.

IS YOUR DOG FIT FOR AIR TRAVEL?

The first question to ask yourself is whether your dog is capable of enduring the many stressors that come with air travel. Airports are jam packed with strangers, loud noises, rolling objects, and totally foreign experiences that may cause anxiety in dogs.

Airlines require that you keep your dog under close watch at all times, and pets traveling in cabin are not permitted to cause disturbances, injury, or harm to any other passengers or crew members. As long as your dog has a good hold of obedience training, is well socialized, and is calm in new environments, you should be good to go.

DOMESTIC OR INTERNATIONAL?

If you’re planning on traveling domestically, most airlines do not require additional health certificates or proof of vaccinations to bring your four-legged friend with you. Be sure to check each airline’s website to confirm before booking a flight, though. International flights are another story, with health and safety regulations varying from country to country. It can get really tricky with required quarantine times for your dog, so we’ve avoided bringing the dogs outside of North America for the time being.

If you are planning on traveling internationally between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico, you just need to obtain a required health certificate from your vet. From there, it’s pretty easy peasy to get in and out of customs with no problems. The website Dog Jaunt is a great resource for learning more about international rules and regulations.

SIZE MATTERS

As of 2021, there are two ways your dog can fly in cabin with you:

  1. They need to be small enough to fit comfortably inside an airline-approved carrier.
  2. They need to be a working service dog

If you have a working service dog, there is really no size limit since they don’t have to be inside a carrier. Check into each airline’s paperwork requirements and let the airline know ahead of time that you will be traveling with your service animal.

If your dog is not a working dog, the rule states that they need to be able to stand and turn around in a carrier and stay within that carrier at all times. Some airlines have weight limitations and size limitations for your pet’s carrier. More on that in a bit!

BOOKING THE FLIGHT

Let your airline know ahead of time that you’re planning on traveling with a pet. Usually calling them and asking them to make a note of it on your reservation is the best bet, and do it as soon as your flight is booked. Most airlines require notification at least 48 hours before your scheduled departure, but I always like to do things way early. Better safe than sorry!

Each airline has different allotments and fees for pets in cabin. For example, Delta allows up to 8 pets in cabin per flight (4 in the main cabin, 2 in business, 2 in first) for a fee of $125 per flight. Letting the airline know ahead of time can also ensure you are not putting the flight over its maximum number of pets allowed.

WHICH CARRIERS TO USE?

If you’re like me and you have a dog who barely makes the cut off for flying in-cabin in a carrier, you probably are a little nervous about finding the perfect size, especially since dogs are required to stay underneath the seat in front of you for the duration of the flight. Aside from calling the airline to ask about seat dimensions, it’s probably a good idea to look up seat maps for the different aircrafts to understand which seats will have the most space for your pup.

As a reference, Kokoro is about 18 lb and 14.5″ at the shoulders. Chibi is 19 lb and about 9″ at the shoulders. Below are some carriers we’ve tried and used on past flights with the pups!

ROVERLUND OUT-OF-OFFICE CARRIER (LARGE)

This is our current go-to carrier! There are so many things we love about this. First off, it folds down completely flat and is super compact to travel with if you do not need to have your dog in the carrier at all times.

 

It also has a detachable strap that can be used for carrying the bag around or utilized as a super strong leash for your dog. We LOVE multi-purpose pet products. It’s also extremely sturdy and holds its shape, even when being carried with a pup inside.

SHERPA ON WHEELS (X-LARGE)

Both Chibi and Kokoro fit within this carrier. It has a zipper on the top so they can stick their heads out, and the wheels make easier to get them through large airport terminals without breaking your back. The carrier itself is relatively flexible and can conform to spaces and smush if needed. We’ve never had issues fitting it under the seats in front of us on plane rides.

 

SLEEPYPOD

Sleepypod is a great brand for tiny dogs or even cats. Our dogs no longer fit comfortably in the carrier, but back when they were puppies they did. The carrier has slits for you to slide it over the handle of your carry on luggage, making it easy to wheel your dog through the terminal, too.

PREPARING FOR THE FLIGHT

Get your dog used to the carrier you will be using! This will be the most crucial and preparation is key to a stress-free flight. Once you decide what carrier you’re going to use, train your dog to go inside, stay inside for long periods of time, and be carried at home. To start off with, you can put treats and goodies in it and leave it out for them to climb in and out of themselves. If your pup is crate trained, things will be a lot easier, but if they’re not… make sure you practice practice practice. That way, when you get to the airport, it’s something they’re already comfortable with.

If you have a nervous dog and you absolutely need to fly with them, some vets will prescribe a mild sedative to keep them at ease. Trazadone is the safest option, but I’d recommend foregoing medication if you can. Children’s Benadryl can also help your dog get a drowsy and sleep through the entire plane ride if need be.

We don’t bring much on the plane with us for the dogs except some treats to reward good behavior and this intelligently designed water bottle.

With a simple squeeze you can dispense water into a small bowl for your dog to drink out of. If they decide they’re done, the water returns to the bottle so you don’t have to worry about any leftovers while you’re on the plane.

Try not to feed your dog too much food or water before the flight. I still give my dogs breakfast, but make sure to take them on a looong walk and give them plenty of opportunities to empty out before getting to the airport.

Many airports have pet relief areas which I’ve found to be small, unventilated rooms (no windows or anything!) that are usually tiled and filled with a small patch of fake turf. If you’re lucky, there might be a pet relief area outdoors with some real grass.

GETTING THROUGH SECURITY AT THE AIRPORT

Most airlines require you to check in at the counter if you’re traveling with a pet. Usually this is where they’ll check your paperwork for service animals or have you pay the fee for pets traveling in cabin.

Once you get your boarding pass, proceed through security as you normally would. To pass through security, you will have to take your dog out of their carrier, carry them through the metal detector, and have the bag go through the x-ray scanner.

If you have TSA Pre-check, it’ll make things a lot easier since you have a dog with you. This way, you don’t have to worry about taking things out of your bag when you’re going through security. Just pick up your dog and walk through the metal detector and you are good to go! Even if you don’t have TSA Pre-check, you will skip the regular screening machines and go through a metal detector while carrying your dog.

DURING THE FLIGHT

Get your pup situated under the seat in front of you. Most likely, they will take a nap like everyone else on the plane and arrive with no problems. A good way to keep them hydrated without giving them too much water is asking for a couple ice cubes from the flight attendants.

If your dog is a service animal, they are allowed to travel without a carrier in your lap or under the seat in front of you. Sometimes the flight attendants will require that you keep the dog in your lap for takeoff and landing.

 

THE BEST AIRLINES TO FLY WITH

Kokoro and Chibi have traveled with us on JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and American Airlines. We give all of these airlines 5 stars with respect to pet-friendliness and (knock on wood) have never had issues with the pups. None of these airlines, in my experience, have been extremely strict about making sure the dogs can stand and turn around in a carrier or weighing them. They’ve also been really nice about letting us open up the top of our carriers and letting the dogs stick their heads out.

Still, remember that each flight is different and not every flight attendant is a dog lover. It really comes down to your luck on the day of the flight!

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

We get a lot of questions about flying with dogs on social media. Check out my Instagram Story highlight for more information, but here are answers to some FAQs. Hope this helps!

1. What size carrier do you use?

We have had good experiences with the Sherpa On Wheels (X-Large) and Roverlund Out-Of-Office Carrier (Large).

2. Do your dogs bark on the airplane? What do you do?

Our pups are not phased by traveling and do not bark at the airport or on the plane. Not all dogs are a fit for flying, so make sure you really evaluate whether your dog is obedience trained and socialized enough for this stressful activity.

3. How do you get your pup feeling comfortable in a carrier?

Preparation is key. I highly encourage all dogs to be crate trained – if your pet is comfortable in a crate, teaching them to be in a carrier will be much easier. To start off with, keep the carrier in your house and open the zipper so your dog can feel comfortable exploring it. Do not force your dog inside, and make sure to use lots of rewards (treats, toys, etc.) to positively reinforce any interaction with the carrier. You can slowly work up to having your dog go inside by himself, keeping him inside for longer and longer periods of time, and practice carrying him around while you’re at home. Using it as a car carrier can also help with getting your dog more comfortable before you take him on a flight.

4. Are you flying your dog as an Emotional Support Animal?

No, as of 2021 airlines do not need to recognize ESAs in the same category as service dogs and will no longer be allotted the same privileges of flying free of charge without a carrier. Dogs must fly as pets in carriers and for an extra fee each way.

5. What’s it like going through security?

You’ll have to take your pup out of the carrier and hold them as you walk through security. Your dog’s bag must go on the belt and be scanned by the x-ray machine. Once you are through, you’ll have to put your pup back inside the bag before proceeding to your terminal.

6. Are there any pre-flight documents that pets need to get on board? Do they need passports?

Nope – you just need to call your airline ahead of time and let them know you are flying with a dog in cabin. The only dogs that need paperwork are specially trained service dogs who are assisting a disabled customer.

7. Do the flight attendants measure and weigh your dog?

We luckily have never encountered this, but have definitely read bad experiences from other customers having issues with their dogs who are right on the border of being too large. Make sure your dog is able to go inside the carrier himself and turn around comfortably. Being able to stand and turn comfortably is a rule that most airlines include, but we have been okay so far *knock on wood* with Kokoro, who is around 14″ at the shoulders. She is probably right at the largest size that would be able to squeak by these regulations.

8. Are your dogs nervous in the air or during take off and landing?

The first time we flew with the pups, Kokoro was a little nervous during take off and landing because of how loud it was. She got a little more squirmy in her carrier but was fine otherwise. Since then, she has taken multiple flights and has been totally fine.

9. Do your dogs like flying?

Our pups do not mind flying and have taken many flights throughout the years. Again, flying can be extremely stressful for dogs so we do not recommend all small dogs take advantage of this option. Take into consideration your dog’s socialization level, obedience training, and whether this is something you really need to travel with them for.

Aaaand that’s about it! Thanks for taking the time to read about our experiences. We’re constantly growing more and more cautious when we travel with our dogs. It’s important to always respect others and appreciate the privilege of taking them with us when we’re on the go.

Hopefully this was helpful for those of you looking to take your pup in flight on your next adventure!

Emily is a Los Angeles based content creator with a passion for photography, videography, and storytelling. Through @emwng, you'll find photos and videos of people, places, delicious food, and of course, her two fluffy sidekicks Kokoro and Chibi.

Comments

  • March 15, 2018
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    Michelle

    Thank you for this post! It had a lot of great information that was easy to understand. I have a 23 pound corgi and we we’re wondering how to fly with her (if we ever have to). Thank you again!

    • March 16, 2018
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      Tracy

      Love the article, thanks Emily. I got the Sherpa on wheels and Milo definitley couldnt stand and turn around in it. Would you need to keep you do in the carrier from the time you get to the airport or ate they flexible about that and also in thr carrier, are Kokoro and Cheebs lying down the entire flight?

    • November 4, 2018
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      Ildar

      Hi. So, how did it go? We also have a corgi and he is almost the same weight.

      Thank you.

  • March 17, 2018
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    Kayoko

    Thank for the very informative information! Although it would be nice to fly with my corgi, at 24lbs. she is too big to fit under the seat. We will stick with car travel.

      • March 18, 2018
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        Kayoko

        Oh good to know! I will have to check out the Shrepa on wheels. Thank you!

  • March 24, 2018
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    Fabiola

    Hi Emily,

    My parents live in Myrtle Beach, SC and my dog rocky is a Jack Russell. He weighs 14 lbs and his height is 20 in (standing) 17 in (sitting) 11in (laying down) and 23 in long from neck. Do you think he will be ok to fly in cabin? Will he be able to fit the shepa bag you recommended? I would like to start prepping my dog which I m planning to flying for xmas 2018.

  • March 26, 2018
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    It’s so nice to be able to travel with the pups! We too swear by the Sleepypod. Great read, I need that water bottle now!

    https://www.watsonandwalls.com/

  • June 14, 2018
    reply
  • June 17, 2018
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    Adi

    Hi Emily,
    The article was really informative. We live in Singapore and my hubby might have an opportunity to be post to Virginia for a couple of years. We have 4 dogs: 2 mini dachshunds, 1 mini pom and a shetland that weighs abt 21lbs height from shoulder is 12″ length ard 23″. Do you think he can fit into the cabin or the Herpa large carrier?
    Im also keen to know more about how to become a working dog. My boy (sheltie) does go to oldfolks home to spend time with them. And some volunteering work. Does tat make him a working dog? Appreciate for your kind advise.
    THANK YOU!

    Love from Singapore
    Adi

  • June 18, 2018
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    Stephanie

    Thanks for writing this! It’s possibly the few I’ve found that mentions Spirit. I’m trying to make plans to fly with my corgi on Spirit but a little nervous as to whether he’ll fit or not. I know Spirt is a bit more relaxed about things, but would you say that even though the dimensions of the large Sherpa are bigger than their requirements, it can still fit? I’m wondering if they would let me purchase an extra seat (it’ll be me and my boyfriend) for more leg room… any thoughts? Any insight or help is appreciated. Thank you again! This post is amazing. :)

    • June 18, 2018
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      Fabby

      Stephanie,

      My name is Fabby and last week my husband and was struggling to which size carrier my Jack Russell will fit in. We went to pet co and we tried the medium sherpa carrier and he didn’t fit. My dog is 20 in length and 11 wide and 14 in height. Weighing 17lbs. So we had no choice but to buy the large and which fit comfortably. Spirit Airlines says the dog has to fit the required measurements so we thought how can that be??? So we went to the airport with the dog and carrier ask if the carrier will fit under the seat. The customer service rep said yes and we bought our tickets with our dogs ticket too. I did ask if i buy the big front seats will my dog have more room as opposed to the economy seats. She said all the seats on the airplane are the same. Difference is comfort for the passengers.
      In the end, go to the airport with your dog and carrier. Make sure a customer service rep gives you the ok he/she can fly in the cabin with you. Also I recommend to get health certificate with a record of the dog shots even if its not required. TSA may ask rather the airline. Last tip, buy your tickets at the counter too we were lucky that day my husband amd my ticket was $80 round trip each. So we saved as opposed to $143 round trip.
      Good luck and reach out to this forum again with feedback. I will do the same when I fly out with my dog in September.

  • June 28, 2018
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    Stephanie

    Thanks, Fabby! That’s great advice. Did your pup fit okay under the seat? We were thinking about the big front seats just so that we wouldn’t inconvenience anyone sitting next to us but they’re currently at $90 each way, each person. My boyfriend and I just decided that we would take the window and middle seat and leave the aisle open. That way, no one will have to worry about crossing over us to use the restroom or walk around the cabin. Our flight isn’t until August so I’m wondering if those prices will go down the closer we get. I had asked about paying for an extra seat to get the whole row, but you have to buy an additional ticket plus the seat which makes sense but doesn’t seem worth it, haha.

    I actually already bought the tickets but my guess is that since the weight limit is 40 lbs, including the carrier, then our corgi should be okay. He’s about 25 lbs and I ordered the large Sherpa for him. Ultimately, I think it’ll be okay. Just need to make sure our pup is comfortable. If anything, we’ll get the big seats on our way back rather than both ways. Thanks again for your response, Fabby! Hope you and your family have safe travels!

  • September 18, 2018
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    It’s important that ESA letter you possess should be issued and signed by a reputed medical health specialist like ESA Steady Care Medical Clinic. If your ESA letter is fake, then you can’t get any assistance.

  • January 15, 2019
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    Trevor

    We want to travel with our corgi and, of course, are concerned. What happens if Southwest for some reason stops you at boarding and doesn’t let your dog onto the plane? Just trying to have all my bases and expectations covered.

  • January 15, 2019
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    Stephaie

    Hey guys! Just wanted to give you an update on my previous post. I flew with Spirit with my Corgi (2 years old, 25-30~ lbs) using the Sherpa Large carrier and we got the “extra big seats” and went by just fine! It was so concerned, as I’m sure many dog owners are, but everything was fairly smooth.

    If your Corgi is a bit on the heavier side, I would suggest the Sherpa with wheels although I’m not sure how much of a difference it would make seat wise, but it sure would have helped while we were waiting in the long TSA line! Speaking of TSA, you will have to take your pup out of the carrier and walk with them through the metal detector. Most airports have dog relief stations once you pass TSA, so I’d definitely look into that for your airport.

    This blog is an amazing resource, and probably the only one out there with some much information so thank you again for posting it! I’ve been following your pups on IG and have been loving the renovation series! :-D

    • October 21, 2019
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      emma

      Hey Stephanie, sounds like our corgis are a similar age and size, I’m assuming you just put him in the large sherpa carrier and tucked him under the seat as far as possible with his head poking out of the top? Was he able to lay down fully in the bag? I obviously need to trial this.

      • October 29, 2019
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        Stephanie

        Hi, Emma! Yes! Once we were on the plane, he fit perfectly underneath the seat and I just left the zipper open so he could stick his head out during the flight.

        What I did was 2-3 weeks before our trip, I started getting him used to being comfortable with the Sherpa, and of course being inside of it and the zipper closed.

        For the majority of our time in the airport, going through TSA and at the gate, we kept him in the Sherpa with the zipper closed. It wasn’t until we got inside the plane when I opened the zipper a bit so he could stick his head out and be comfortable.

        Hope this helps! The Sherpa is super forgiving and forms to any shape fairly easily so it should be fine for your pup. :-)

    • November 15, 2020
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      Claire

      Hi stephanie, thank you so much for this info.My corgi is 24lbs and I am mostly concerned that the carrier that he fits in won’t fit under the seat well. When you mentioned getting the extra big seats, was that something you you pre-arranged with the airlines when you booked your ticket?

      • November 21, 2020
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        STEPHANIE MESA

        Hi, Clarie! Yes, Spirit (and most airlines) allow you to pay extra for more legroom when you’re selecting your seat. I would suggest picking your seat right when you go to buy your ticket to make sure the extra legroom seats are available in advance. Hope this helps!

  • October 19, 2019
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    Anna

    Have you traveled with your dogs through United Airlines before?
    Xx

  • November 1, 2020
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    Hector

    Hi, my dog gets very anxious when traveling in the car. Is there something that he can take to relax him on flights?If so, are there any product or medication you recommend ?

  • December 28, 2020
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    Jessica

    I will be flying united right after the nee year so i guess ill write this and then update everyone. I got the sturdi xl bag (not airline height approve but supEr bendy top) for my 27lb corgi… she would never fit in the sherpa laRge. I have a 6 month oLd corgi pup, now weighing 18lbs. We originally got her the sherpa large and she fot perfectly when we got the carrier, but Now that shes 18lbs she does not fit very comfy in the sherpa large. I ordered a sturdi xl for her as well. The two carriers look very similar in size, but the sturdi bag is bit taller, but built kind of like a dome. Since i see no one travelled united on here, ill update everyone once we go! Wishing we could fly southwest but covid…

    • February 8, 2021
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      Tiffany

      Hi Jessica! was wondering what your experience was flying with your corgi on united since my corgi is aroudn the same size?

      • February 11, 2021
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        Jessica

        Hi TiffanY!
        So we flew Out of IAD on a united A320. I Used the sturdi XL which tech is not airline app dUe to the height of the bag, however it is a soft carrier so it does compre down. The middle seat it fit perfe under, the window seat (i have teo corGis, ones a pup) it stuck out about an inch or two but the flight atte didnt seem to care. If you are flying, pick the middle seat! They were all super nice, even the tSa agents. Just the Guy at the Ticket counter seemed slightly confused but i quickly redirected the convo and acted as if ive flown a mulli times before. Now that ive traveled, i left the tag on their carriers so thAt way if someone were to give me a hard time, i can easily say ive flown before witH no issues! If you read uniteds pet carrier rules, it says that soft sided carriers may exceed the DIMENSIONS slightLy , which the sturdi XL does about 2 inches in length and about 4 in height, but it compresses down easily. My dog was able to turn around under the seat no p

  • December 28, 2020
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    Jenny

    Do airports allow pets to come out of their carriers to stretch during layovers in the terminal?

    • January 28, 2021
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      Jessica

      Technically no, but i would take them ouT near the relief area just in case someone says anything (most likely Will not but juSt in case).

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