Whether you’re bringing your pet on a vacation, relocating outside of the U.S. or making a cross-country move, it’s important to take the proper precautions before transporting your pet on a flight.
We researched the best airlines for flying with pets, any policies they may have, pre-travel preparations you should consider and more so that you and your pet can enjoy a stress-free flight.
Pre-travel prep for flying with pets
Do your research
The first step in ensuring a safe and easy flight with your pet is taking the time to properly research pet-related travel rules of whichever airline you’re looking to fly with — prior to purchasing a ticket. This ensures the safety of your pet and will hopefully save you from any misunderstandings with the airline.
We’ve outlined a few of the most common restrictions and requirements when it comes to traveling with a pet.
Species and breed restrictions
If you’re traveling with a more exotic pet, it may not qualify to fly in the main cabin — or at all — depending on the airline. For example, Delta does not allow pets such as hamsters and rabbits in the cabin, though these animals may fly as cargo.
Dog and cat breeds can be restricted, as well. American Airlines won’t fly brachycephalic dogs or cats (for example, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Persians and Exotic Shorthairs) for the sake of the animal’s safety. These breeds may have trouble breathing on the flight due to their short snouts, the cabin/cargo environment and more.
If your pet or breed doesn’t qualify for the airline of your choice, we suggest you look into other airline options or consider ground transportation methods.
In addition to restrictions on species and breeds, some airlines have restrictions on transporting pets if they are too young or too old.
According to the Animal Welfare Act, dogs and cats traveling via airplane must be at least eight weeks old. Additional age restrictions will vary from airline to airline.
Some airlines may have temperature restrictions when it comes to flying your pet. Should the ground temperature be hotter or colder than that advised by the airline, your pet will not be able to fly. A signed acclimation certificate from your veterinarian may allow you to bypass this restriction in some cases.
Not all flight destinations have the same rules. Before making any decisions, make sure to visit your airline’s respective pet travel information page to ensure your pet is able to travel with you.
The Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, for example, currently does not accept import applications for service animals other than dogs. These restrictions will vary based on the destination and may be rooted in species population issues.
Most airlines require a health certificate in order to fly a pet. A Certificate of Veterinary Inspection shows that your pet has the required vaccinations prior to the flight, and these certificates are usually only considered valid for a small range of dates.
American Airlines, for example, states that your certificate (provided by a vet) should be issued no more than 10 days before your flight and within 60 days of your return flight.
If you’re making a long journey, such as relocating to a new country, it may be more comfortable for your pet if you use a pet relocation company.
The IPATA (International Pet and Animal Transportation Association) can help you find the proper pet shipper for ground or air travel, all while ensuring the safety of your pet.
Service animals, or emotional support animals, can also be restricted. Service animals flying Delta, for example, may only make trips of eight hours or less.
Additionally, it’s not uncommon to be asked for a certificate or signed letter confirming your pet is indeed a service animal, so be prepared with any certified documentation prior to your flight.
What to pack
When packing for a trip with your pet, the most important factor is crate sizing. Airlines may have slightly different crate requirements, but most tend to include the following: your pet must be able to stand up and turn around within the crate, and the crate must be ventilated.
If your pet isn’t used to being crated, spend a few days introducing them to it with treats and positive reinforcement. Additionally, as an added precaution, line the bottom of your pet’s crate with some sort of absorbent material.
Other items you’ll want to pack are a leash or harness, food, water, toys and any medications your pet might be on.
You’ll also want to consider whether or not the animal will qualify as a carry-on. If so, your own belongings will need to be consolidated to account for your pet.
Before the flight
Before you even take off, make sure your pet has had time to relieve itself. To further prevent any accidents mid-flight, stray away from feeding your pet any meals within an hour or two of departure time.
Make sure your pet has had plenty of time to exhaust its energy supply. If you have a dog, take it on a walk prior to boarding the flight — whether that’s the morning before or outside of the terminal.
On the plane
Our number one tip for pet owners traveling with their pet in-cabin? If you remain calm, your pet is more likely to stay calm, too.
As an added precaution, it wouldn’t hurt to keep treats on hand. Some animals may experience anxiety on flights due to the new environment.
One option for calming for your pet that we do NOT support is sedation. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, tranquilizing your pet can increase the risk their risk for heart and respiratory problems.
Airlines and protocols
As we discussed above, each airline has a distinct set of protocols when it comes to flying with pets.
At $95 a pet, you can bring your furry friend (either a dog or cat) on a Southwest flight. Keep in mind pets are only allowed to travel in-cabin and cannot be transported via cargo.
For $125 per pet, you can fly your cat or dog as a carry on or transport in cargo — that is unless your pet is brachycephalic (see: pugs).
Delta Airlines offers tickets for your dog, cat or bird starting at $125 per pet traveling through the U.S. to Canada or Puerto Rico and $200 per pet for flights to the Virgin Islands and outside of the United States. (Note: Delta follows the same rule as American Airlines when it comes to brachycephalic pets.)
JetBlue’s pet policy includes a $125 fee per pet each way. Your pet may travel as a carry on but may not be stored in cargo.
To see specific pet travel requirements for your next trip, you can visit the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Pet Travel page or visit some of the most common airline pages in the links below.
Travel rewards programs for pets
Yes, you read that right — there are travel rewards programs that reward you for continually flying the same airline with your pet. Here are a few high-profile programs that we find most valuable:
JetBlue’s pet travel program, JetPaws, earns passengers 300 TrueBlue points for every flight they take with a pet, but you must be a TrueBlue member yourself to qualify. Your pet will count as a personal carry-on and you’ll still pay a $125 fee per pet each way. Additionally, your pet and pet carrier may not exceed 20 pounds. For more information on JetBlue’s rewards, read our guide to JetBlue TrueBlue.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Paws
With the Virgin Atlantic Flying Paws program, you’ll receive 1,000 or 2,000 Flying Club miles for trips with your cat or dog, depending on the length of the flight. The catch? All pets must travel in cargo.
United Airlines PetSafe Program
The PetSafe program offers 500 United MileagePlus miles for each pet flying cargo within the United States and 1,000 miles for international destinations. Pets flying within the cabin do not apply. For more information on how you and your pet can earn rewards for travel, read our guide to the United MileagePlus program.
The bottom line
Flying with pets can be a tricky process, but if you follow the tips outlined above, you and your pet will be better prepared for your flight. Here’s a recap:
- Do your research on the specific airline you’re looking to fly your pet on. Each airline has different rules — from restrictions on species and destinations to health certificate requirements.
- Ensure you have the correct crate size for your animal and prepare for any accidents or anxiety your pets may experience.
- Consider a travel rewards program for your pet that will allow you to earn points or miles for flying with them.
As long as you do your research and prepare as best you can beforehand, you and your pet can enjoy a smooth flight.