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!
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.
We’ve seen more dogs barking and pulling on leashes in the terminal at Kokoro and Chibi than we’d like! 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 (most of the time)
There are two ways your dog can fly in cabin with you:
- They need to be small enough to fit comfortably inside an airline-approved carrier.
- They need to be a working dog (i.e., service or emotional support animal)
If you have a working dog (service or emotional support animal), there is really no size limit since they don’t have to be inside a carrier.
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. However, we’ve pushed the limit a bit with our pups… 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.
If you have a disability that requires a service or emotional support animal, make sure to contact the airline and double check the required paperwork, usually a form from your physician stating your disability and reason for needing the animal in flight, a form from your veterinarian, and a form filled out by yourself.
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 17 lb and 14.5″ at the shoulders. Chibi is 21 lb and about 8″ at the shoulders. Our absolute favorite carrier to use while traveling is the Sherpa (Large) on Wheels. 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 it wayyyy easier to get them through large airport terminals without breaking your back. The carrier itself is sturdy enough along the edges but pretty flexible to be smushed if needed. We’ve never had issues fitting it under the seats in front of us on plane rides.
Another great brand for smaller dogs is Sleepypod. 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.
The biggest thing I would recommend avoiding is having to carry your dog on your back in a carrier!
Preparing for the flight
Get your dog used to the carrier you will be using! Put treats in it, leave it out for them to climb in and out of, and carry them around in it at home first. That way, when you get to the airport, it’s something they’re already comfortable with.
If you have a nervous dog, 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
Some 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. 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 or emotional support 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, but we’ve only encountered this once on JetBlue.
The best pet-friendly 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. Read more about our experiences flying with them as ESA’s here.
None of these airlines, in my experience, have been extremely strict about making sure the dogs can stand and turn around in a carrier. 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!
Aaaand that’s about it! Thanks for taking the time to read about our experiences. It seems that dogs on planes have made many headlines in the news. Whether it’s emotional support animals biting passengers or flight attendants causing trouble (and sadly, death in some cases) for those traveling with pets, 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!