Airlines Pet Policies: Flying With Your Dog

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Before a recent trip, I wasn’t aware of United Airlines pet policies. However, on my flight from Portland, Maine to Newark, New Jersey, there were two families with pets in the boarding area. One had a Maine coon cat in a carrier. The other family had two white pups that looked like cockapoos. They were on a leash but their owners had two hard-side carriers for them.

All the animals were flying in a carrier that fit under the seat because United Airlines no longer transports pets in the cargo hold. The airline suspended that program, called PetSafe, in 2018. This was after several mishaps that included the death of a dog and dogs going to the wrong cities.

airlines pet policy dog with traveling owner
Photo credit: Standret // Shutterstock.

Airlines pet policies

Airlines typically allow small pets in carriers in the passenger cabin for an additional fee. Some large dog owners test those limits.

In 2023, traveler Gabriel Bogner bought two extra seats for his Great Dane to travel with him on a cross-country flight. However, that strategy may not work for everyone.

The International Air Transport Association has guidelines for how large pet carriers must be to ensure your pet’s comfort, yet fit underneath the seat or in the cargo hold. Many airlines consider pets to be a passenger’s carry-on item. This means that you’ll only be able to bring a personal item on board in addition to your furry companion.

Some dogs need a little more TLC before they fly. The American Veterinary Medical Association notes that short-nosed dogs like pugs, boxers, and bulldogs can have more problems with breathing or overheating and may have a hard time staying cool.

This is particularly true when they’re stressed or experience temperature fluctuations, which can happen in a cargo hold. Some airlines, like Delta, restrict the breeds it will fly.

Finally, Hawaii requires a quarantine period for incoming pets, other than service dogs, to maintain its rabies-free environment. So, if you’re flying on any of these airlines to Hawaii, your dog may not be able to go with you on the same flight.

Traveling with service animals

Service animals have fewer restrictions and no fees, but don’t expect to bring just any animal on board with that classification. In 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration put an end to flying with emotional support animals that could range from ducks to pigs by ruling that only dogs trained specifically to assist with their human’s disability can be called service animals.

If you’re flying with a service dog, you may need to show the airline a special form for them to fly. Also, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with which airports are pet-friendly, including pet relief areas inside the terminals.

pet relief area philadelphia international airport
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Flying with your dog

To help travelers and their furry family members prepare for their flight, CitizenShipper explored the pet policies of the five largest U.S. airlines. The largest U.S. airlines were defined as those with the highest passenger-mile volume from July 2022 to June 2023 according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Pet owners should always double-check with airlines well before flying to ensure the airline’s pet policies haven’t changed.

Alaska Airlines pet policies

On Alaska Airlines, trained service animals fly free. Here is a link to the Alaska Airlines service dog policy page.

Currently, you’ll pay $100 to have your dog (or cat, rabbit or household bird) fly with you in the cabin. You’ll pay $150 for the dog to travel in the cargo hold. However, it is Alaska Airlines’ policy that if you are flying to Hawaii or an international destination, your dog must travel in the cabin with you. That means they must fit in a carrier that you can stow under the seat.

Owners must reserve a spot for their pet before the day of travel, and space is limited. The first-class cabin has space for three pet carriers per flight. On the other hand, the main cabin has room for eight carriers.

Please refer to this page “Traveling with pets in the cabin” on the Alaska Airlines website.

United Airlines pet policy

pomeranian in travel bag that fits under seat according to airlines pet policy
Photo credit: nadisja // Shutterstock.

As I mentioned earlier, United no longer transports pets in cargo holds. All dogs (and cats) must travel with you in the cabin.

While the airline doesn’t have restrictions on breeds or weights, the pet must be able to stand up and turn around in a carrier that can fit under the seat in front of you, which does limit the size of pet you can bring on (unless it’s a service dog).

United’s fees for pets are currently $125 each way. You can bring up to two dogs with you on a flight. Keep in mind that it is United Airlines policy that pets cannot travel to Hawaii along with a number of countries, including Australia, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates.

Southwest Airlines

You’re allowed to bring small domestic cats and dogs on Southwest flights. These pets require reservations, just like humans do. You’ll pay $125 each way per pet carrier. Flights have a limited number of spaces available for pets, and they’re offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cats and dogs need to stay in carriers from the time they arrive at the gate until they deplane at their destination. Each passenger can bring one pet carrier, but up to two pets of the same species can be in a carrier, provided they can stand and move around in that space.

During the flight, pets stay under the seat in front of their owner, which eliminates the opportunity to sit in the exit row or bulkhead. If you’re worried about the size of your carrier, Southwest does sell an approved version. However, it’s for animals weighing 15 pounds or less.

southwest airlines brand pet carrier

Delta Airlines pet policy

Delta allows pet owners to take small dogs, cats, and household birds as carry-on luggage. It’s allowed provided they stay in a ventilated pet carrier that will fit under a seat.

With your pet as a carry-on that you take in the cabin, expect to pay $95 for each one you bring with you. That’s for flights within the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Canada. You’ll pay significantly more for international destinations.

Speaking of which, certain countries do not allow you to travel with a dog in the cabin. They must go in the cargo hold. This pet travel page on the Delta Airlines website explains all of the policies about that.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, Delta has identified certain dog breeds that may have trouble breathing when stressed. Therefore, Delta will not fly the following dog breeds in the cargo hold.

  • Affenpinscher
  • American Bully (all breeds)
  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • American Staffordshire Terrier Pit Bull
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer (all breeds)
  • Bull Terrier (all breeds)
  • Brussels Griffon (Petit Brabancon)
  • Bulldog (all breeds)
  • Chow Chow
  • English Toy Spaniel
  • Japanese Chin (Japanese Spaniel)
  • King Charles Spaniel (Cavalier King)
  • Lhasa Apso British Shorthair
  • Mastiff (all breeds)
  • Pekingese
  • Pug (all breeds)
  • Shar Pei
  • Shih Tzu
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Tibetan Spaniel

Delta says that this list is examples of brachycephalic breeds. The list is not all inclusive.

That being said, I didn’t find any restrictions for taking these breeds (or ones like them) in the cabin with you. That is assuming they fit under the seat in a carrier.

American Airlines

American Airlines only allows small cats and dogs that can fit in under-seat carriers in the aircraft cabin. The airline recommends using a soft-sided carrier. With a hard-sided one, you may have issues fitting it under the seat on American Eagle’s regional airplanes.

The airline only allows seven carriers on American flights and five on American Eagle planes. Spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis. You’ll have to have your flight reservation first, then you can add a carry-on pet to it. The fee for carry-on pets is $125 each way.

Larger breeds must fly via American Airlines Cargo’s PetEmbark service. You can estimate the cost using their rate calculator. More planning may be necessary to ship larger animals—American Airlines won’t allow pets to travel in cargo in extreme heat or cold.

Here are pet policies at major hotel brands. And a few more tips about flying with a dog.

Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Tim Bruns. Jill Jaracz contributed.

This story originally appeared on CitizenShipper and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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