Author’s Note: This post is limited to flying with pets (not service or assistance animals).
This GUIDE examines the narrow question:
Can I Take My Pet On A Plane?
Most likely. The key factors are the rules of the airline carrier on which you are traveling. Two key planning elements:
- Determine if and how your airline allows traveling with your pet.
- Determine how you should prepare your pet for travel, and execute that plan for its best health and safety.
Here are links below to various U.S. airlines’ policies regarding flying with pets. Various factors and restrictions apply, such as the type, size, and quantity of pet animals that may be carried on, checked in kennels, or shipped as cargo.
- American Airlines – Allowed
- Delta – Allowed
- Frontier – Allowed
- JetBlue – Allowed
- Southwest – Allowed
- Spirit – Allowed
- United – Allowed
- US Airways – Allowed (yes, different than AA)
- X-Ray – Your pet does NOT need to be x-rayed (including advanced scanning (AIT) machines). So do not assume such and place it through the machine.
- Leash – TSA will very likely require your pet be removed from its carrier (so carrier may be x-rayed) to be carried or walked through the metal detector with you. Best to plan ahead with an pre-attached leash, or at least have a leash out and ready.
- Otherwise, you may request a special secondary screening for your pet that won’t require you to take it out of its carrier.
The Humane Society recommends that you “do not transport your pet by airplane unless absolutely necessary.” So if you must, get down to their level. The health and safety of your pet requires you to think like your pet (easier for some than others).
- Research the Airline – Follow the links above to determine your pet’s travel options and the airline’s requirements well before reaching the check-in counter, e.g. any special pet health and immunization requirements and documentation for such?
- Proper Collar – Fit your pet with a collar that can’t get caught in carrier or kennel doors.
- Label your Pet with 2 IDs – One with its permanent information and one with your travel information and any temporary contact information.
- Inexpensive travel kits like Dry Fur Deluxe Pet Airline Travel Kit with Pad make it easy.
- Pre-Flight Food & Drink – Do not give your pet solid food within 6 hours prior to the flight, although a moderate amount of water and a walk before and after the flight are advised.
- Kennels & Carriers – Know the airline’s requirements for what type of kennel is allowed or required. Familiarize your pet with the kennel, e.g. leave the kennel door open at home snacks and a familiar object inside. (See products below)
- Size: Large enough for your pet to stand, turn around, sit, and lie down in a natural position.
- Vents: Proper ventilation on two sides in addition to the door.
- Food/Water: Separate food and water containers securely attached inside the kennel so that if necessary, your pet can be fed and watered without opening the kennel.
- WARNING: Read your airline’s regulations very carefully! For example, here is a “travel approved” Petmate kennel (label says carrier meets international and domestic air travel requirements) that is NOT allowed to be used with Delta due to having a door on top (“Prohibited kennels…Kennels with opening doors on top“).
- Health Certificate – Airlines generally require “valid” health certificates for checked and cargo shipped pets. Valid likely means you obtained the health certificate from a vet:
- within 10 days of originating travel.
- within 60 days of return travel on the same ticket.
- within 10 day when return travel is on a separate ticket.
- Allow extra travel time!
- Bring Extras – Travel delays are inevidable! Be prepared with backup food and cups for easy serving. I recommend Travel-tainer.
- Cabin is Best – If possible, your pet’s safety, comfort, and companionship can best be attended to in the cabin with you, even if it must stay in its carrier.
- Boarding – When you board the plane, notify the crew that your pet is traveling in the cargo hold. If the captain knows that pets are on board, he or she may take special precautions. They should know already, but it cannot hurt to emphasize it.
- Medications – Consult with your vet. Do not administer sedation to your pet without the approval of a veterinarian, and provide a test dose before the trip to gauge how the pet will react.
- Temperature – Check the weather if you must check your pet! Airlines will properly restrict flying checked pets in times of extreme heat (>85F) and cold (<45F)… it’s the law (see below).
- Snub-nosed Pets – Certain brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs and cats may be allowed only in carry-on carriers or not at all.
- Age – Dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old and must have been weaned for at least 5 days. Airlines may have more strict age limitations (see below).
- Special Directions? – Obtain written direction from a veterinarian should your pet need special attention or considerations. Bring multiple copies with you.
- A Few Recommended Products (click to check prices and reviews):
High-end, carry-on travel carrier (various colors)
Going with an airline branded carrier may increase your ease with the crew!
Explore which checked/cargo carrier is best for your pet
Extra food is always important!
More travel guides!
Animal Welfare Act:
- 7 USC §2132(j): The term “carrier” means the operator of any airline, railroad, motor carrier, shipping line, or other enterprise, which is engaged in the business of transporting any animals for hire.
- 7 USC §2143(a)(4): The Secretary shall also promulgate standards to govern the transportation in commerce, and the handling, care, and treatment in connection therewith, by intermediate handlers, air carriers, or other carriers, of animals … for transportation in commerce. The Secretary shall have authority to promulgate such rules and regulations as he determines necessary to assure humane treatment of animals in the course of their transportation in commerce including requirements such as those with respect to containers, feed, water, rest, ventilation, temperature, and handling.
- 7 USC §2145(a): … Before promulgating any standard governing the air transportation and handling in connection therewith, of animals, the Secretary shall consult with the Secretary of Transportation who shall have the authority to disapprove any such standard if he notifies the Secretary, within 30 days after such consultation, that changes in its provisions are necessary in the interest of flight safety. …
Select Standards from the Code of Federal Regulations
(search the entire “animal welfare” subchapter here)
- 9 CFR 3.14(f): Primary enclosures used to transport live dogs and cats. Transportation by air.
(1) No more than one live dog or cat, 6 months of age or older, may be transported in the same primary enclosure when shipped via air carrier.
(2) No more than one live puppy, 8 weeks to 6 months of age, and weighing over 20 lbs (9 kg), may be transported in a primary enclosure when shipped via air carrier.
(3) No more than two live puppies or kittens, 8 weeks to 6 months of age, that are of comparable size, and weighing 20 lbs (9 kg) or less each, may be transported in the same primary enclosure when shipped via air carrier.
(4) Weaned live puppies or kittens less than 8 weeks of age and of comparable size, or puppies or kittens that are less than 8 weeks of age that are littermates and are accompanied by their dam, may be transported in the same primary enclosure when shipped to research facilities, including Federal research facilities.
- 9 CFR 3.15: Primary conveyances (motor vehicle, rail, air, and marine).
(a) The animal cargo space of primary conveyances used to transport dogs and cats must be designed, constructed, and maintained in a manner that at all times protects the health and well-being of the animals transported in them, ensures their safety and comfort, and prevents the entry of engine exhaust from the primary conveyance during transportation.
(b) The animal cargo space must have a supply of air that is sufficient for the normal breathing of all the animals being transported in it.
(c) Each primary enclosure containing dogs or cats must be positioned in the animal cargo space in a manner that provides protection from the elements and that allows each dog or cat enough air for normal breathing.
(d) During air transportation, dogs and cats must be held in cargo areas that are heated or cooled as necessary to maintain an ambient temperature and humidity that ensures the health and well-being of the dogs or cats. The cargo areas must be pressurized when the primary conveyance used for air transportation is not on the ground, unless flying under 8,000 ft. Dogs and cats must have adequate air for breathing at all times when being transported.
(e) During surface transportation, auxiliary ventilation, such as fans, blowers or air conditioning, must be used in any animal cargo space containing live dogs or cats when the ambient temperature within the animal cargo space reaches 85 °F (29.5 °C). Moreover, the ambient temperature may not exceed 85 °F (29.5 °C) for a period of more than 4 hours; nor fall below 45 °F (7.2 °C) for a period of more than 4 hours. The preceding requirements are in addition to, not in place of, all other requirements pertaining to climatic conditions in parts 2 and 3 of this chapter.
(f) Primary enclosures must be positioned in the primary conveyance in a manner that allows the dogs and cats to be quickly and easily removed from the primary conveyance in an emergency.
(g) The interior of the animal cargo space must be kept clean.
(h) Live dogs and cats may not be transported with any material, substance (e.g., dry ice) or device in a manner that may reasonably be expected to harm the dogs and cats or cause inhumane conditions.
- 9 CFR 3.16: Food and water requirements.
(a) Each dog and cat that is 16 weeks of age or more must be offered food at least once every 24 hours. Puppies and kittens less than 16 weeks of age must be offered food at least once every 12 hours. Each dog and cat must be offered potable water at least once every 12 hours. These time periods apply to dealers, exhibitors, research facilities. including Federal research facilities, who transport dogs and cats in their own primary conveyance, starting from the time the dog or cat was last offered food and potable water before transportation was begun. These time periods apply to carriers and intermediate handlers starting from the date and time stated on the certificate provided under § 3.13(c) of this subpart. Each dog and cat must be offered food and potable water within 4 hours before being transported in commerce. Consignors who are subject to the Animal Welfare regulations (9 CFR parts 1, 2, and 3) must certify that each dog and cat was offered food and potable water within the 4 hours preceding delivery of the dog or cat to a carrier or intermediate handler for transportation in commerce, and must certify the date and time the food and potable water was offered, in accordance with § 3.13(c) of this subpart.
(b) Any dealer, research facility, including a Federal research facility, or exhibitor offering any dog or cat to a carrier or intermediate handler for transportation in commerce must securely attach to the outside of the primary enclosure used for transporting the dog or cat, written instructions for the in-transit food and water requirements for a 24-hour period for the dogs and cats contained in the enclosure. The instructions must be attached in a manner that makes them easily noticed and read.
(c) Food and water receptacles must be securely attached inside the primary enclosure and placed so that the receptacles can be filled from outside the enclosure without opening the door. Food and water containers must be designed, constructed, and installed so that a dog or cat cannot leave the primary enclosure through the food or water opening.
- 9 CFR 3.17(b): Air transportation. During air transportation of dogs or cats, it is the responsibility of the carrier to observe the dogs or cats as frequently as circumstances allow, but not less than once every 4 hours if the animal cargo area is accessible during flight. If the animal cargo area is not accessible during flight, the carrier must observe the dogs or cats whenever they are loaded and unloaded and whenever the animal cargo space is otherwise accessible to make sure they have sufficient air for normal breathing, that the animal cargo area meets the heating and cooling requirements of § 3.15(d), and that all other applicable standards of this subpart are being complied with. The carrier must determine whether any of the dogs or cats are in obvious physical distress, and arrange for any needed veterinary care as soon as possible.
Here’s one animal’s journey filmed inside the carrier:
So until Mr. Pickles can travel freely in the cabin (like this 2013 WestJet video), know the rules!
I’ve found most pets to be very quiet while flying, to the point that I many times didn’t even know there was an animal on board until I see it later in the journey or even as we start to deplane. Here are a couple court cases involving animals on planes:
- In Giambattista v. American Airlines, Inc. (E.D.N.Y. 2014), two co-worker flight attendants reported to an ICE agent and their employer, American Airlines, that they believed another FA (plaintiff in this employment discrimination action against AA) had illegally brought her pet rat on board an international flight. See prior post Good Flight? Or Rat-ical Flight!?
- In Richman v. USAir, Inc., 961 F.Supp. 102 (D.N.J. 1997), aka “Marshmellow’s last stand“, plaintiff passenger was not permitted to keep his pet (and comedy routine co-worker) cockatoo (“Marshmellow”) outside its kennel during flight, even with a malfunctioning on-board cooling system.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.