Flying with a dog? Here’s how to do it

flying with your dog

It can be hard to go on vacation and leave your animal behind with a pet sitter. But can it be harder than to take it with you on vacation? Not sure about that.
Flying with your dog can be quite a challenge; it can quickly become overwhelming and expensive. Many things need to be taken care of ahead of time.

So how does one travel with their beloved pet? What are the things to plan ahead of time, and what are the requirements?

Hopefully, this article will help you and guide you through the process, from booking to landing.


Each airline has different rules and requirements, so the first thing that you need to do is to check the individual requirements for the airline you’ll be using.
Generally, you are required to get your dog examined by a vet. He can then give you a health certificate for your dog; this usually needs to be done in between 7 to 10 days before the flight. Your vet will also be able to tell you if your dog’s breed is at risk of asphyxiation during the trip (see below).

The cost

The cost will vary depending on the airline and the size of your dog. Typically for bringing your pet on board the flight as a carry-on, you should expect to pay somewhere around $100-$125 each way and is usually paid in the airport on the day of the flight, not when booking the trip.

For the dogs traveling cargo, it’s more expensive; you should expect to pay anywhere between $200-$500 each way depending on the weight of your dog, the airline, and even the layover time if it’s a long layover there will be additional charges for that.

The Carrier

There are two ways of flying with your dog, smaller dogs (and cats) can travel as a carry-on. The general rule of thumb is, if your pet carrier is small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, then you can bring it as a carry-on.

Flying with a dog in Carry-on

The onboard (or carry-on) carrier needs to be big enough for your pet to be able to stand up and move around. The exact dimensions of the carrier itself vary depending on the specific airline regulations, typically it’s about 19 inches (50 cm) by 10 inches (25 cm) by 12 inches (30 cm). It also counts as a carry-on item, so be aware if you’re relying on bringing another carry -on bag, you’ll have to pay extra fees for it. You’re not allowed to let your pet out during the flight; it needs to remain inside the carrier.

The apparent advantages of bringing your pet as a carry on are that it will provide you with peace of mind knowing the whereabouts of your pet and it’s well-being at all times. However, it could also bring an added amount of stress, as you might be worried about your dog barking or having an accident that might (most certainly) disturb the other passengers.

Flying with a dog in Cargo

dog flying cargo
Tikva, our dog, on her first trip. She didn’t like it very much

The alternative and only option for most dogs bigger than a shoe-box are to travel in Cargo. Don’t worry; they travel in a pressurized and temperature-controlled compartment. Typically, you’ll check-in your dog similarly to how you would check-in your luggage.

The day before the trip, you would want to freeze your pets filled water bowl. It would prevent the water from spilling during loading and take off. The water will then melt over time and allow your dog to drink it during the flight.
Sedating your pet is not recommended, it exposes your pet to additional dangers, it can cause heart or respiratory issues in combination with the change in altitude and atmospheric pressures.

  • Attach a picture of your dog, including its name and your contact information on top of its carrier, in case it will escape its enclosure. It will help people identify it.
  • Attach a sign saying LIVE ANIMAL on the carrier on the sides and the top, have arrows pointing upwards, and write this side up.
  • Place some sheets or bedding inside the carrier, anything that could absorb any potential liquids.
  • Do not feed your pet in the hours leading to the flight; a full stomach can lead to discomfort during the trip.

Call the airline

Usually, the airline will only allow an absolute (few) numbers of pets on board each flight as carry-on or Cargo. Booking an extra ticket exclusively for your pet won’t work. Therefore, we recommend you call the airline and book the trip with them by phone after making sure they have room for your dog. You might also try to avoid traveling with your pet during the holiday season when it’s more crowded, and the flights are all fuller.

Ideally, buy the carrier for your dog ahead of time and try to get your pet familiar with it, leave it open for him to wonder, and inspect when he wants so it would get used to it.

Note: Certain airlines won’t authorize the flight for your pet in Cargo in case of bad weather conditions. Most airlines have different weather restrictions; for example

  • Alaska Airlines might refuse an animal aboard the flight in case “temperatures at the origin, destination, or connecting airports exceed certain limits,” though precisely what temperature is not specified.
  • Delta Airlines will not ship your pet if the ground temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit or above 80 degrees.


fly with dog

When you need to check-in, the desk agent will examine your dog’s health certificate afterward and then determine if your pet needs to travel Cargo or carry-on.
If your dog is small enough to be in a carry-on, it needs to be screened by security just like you would; you might want to remove your dog’s collar at this point to avoid setting off the metal detector that could add an extra layer of stress for your dog.

The risks of certain dogs

Some short-snouted dogs, such as boxers, that travel in Cargo or pugs in a carry-on, can have trouble breathing due to the low air pressure. Many airlines have banned most short-snouted dog breeds from traveling with their airlines because of that.

It is relatively safe for your pet to fly, except for the previously mentioned species.
Airlines are supposed to report to the government any incident, including animal injuries, incidents, and deaths.

In 2018 the total amount of pets flown was at 506’000; out of them, there were a total of 40 incidents (death, loss, injury), the total number of deaths being 24 (source).
The majority of the casualties were Brachycephalic breeds (Boxers, Boston Terrier, Valley Bulldog…). Those are breeds that have a short snout and smaller openings in their nose.
Thus why many airlines tend to ban most Brachycephalic breeds.

Flying with a Service dog or support animals

Individuals, such as blind people, with service animals, can bring their service animal aboard the plane. They also usually won’t be charged extra for it, since their dog is performing a life-saving function.
The same goes for Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s). For an ESA you usually would need a document from a mental health professional saying that you need the pet because it is performing a necessary function for you.

Unfortunately, it is being abused, many companies selling fake ESA letters online have emerged recently. Passengers would then just buy an ESA document online, avoid having to go through the trouble of getting the pet medically examined, ultimately avoiding the additional fees.

With the rise in ESA’s, more and more behavioral issues have occurred. Previously for an ESA, no specialized training was required. So people could pretty much bring any kind of animal they liked with them on the flight (pigs and birds, for example). In some cases, they have caused disruptions.
Because of that many airlines are now forced to ban many ESA’s onboard the flight and ultimately making it harder for actual people in need to bring aboard an ESA

Flying with a dog internationally

Flying internationally with your dog is a bit more complicated. Each country has its own rules and requirements for bringing in pets. Some airlines won’t even allow pets on international flights.

If you are allowed to bring your pet abroad then you need to obtain an international health certificate. It is suggested that you contact the appropriate embassy, or consulate in advance before your trip. To check on the requirements for bringing your pet inside the country.

The medical certificate is only valid for 30 days, and you need it for both ways of the flight. So if you’re planning on going away for more than said period, you’ll need to obtain another certificate during your vacation.

If you’re trying to import your dog into the country, you might look into the local laws before booking the ticket. It can quickly become very complicated. You might consider hiring a specialized agency to handle the logistics instead of doing it yourself.

Traveling with a pet is not an easy task, there’re a lot of obstacles and complications in the way. Fortunately, some services exist to take care of that for you, such as the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA), a pet shipping organization.

However, it is a beautiful thing to know, no matter how much struggle it is to bring your pet on the plane. Once you make it to your destination, you will realize that it was all worth it.

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