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.
As of 2021, 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 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!
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.
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 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!