The Pet Polices of Top Airlines You Need to Know About

Image Credit: Mandi Meek

Lately, the skies have not been friendly to pets on airlines. There have been dogs dying, hamsters flushed, a dog sent to Japan instead of Kansas and a rejected emotional support peacock. It’s become very clear that humans are responsible for knowing the rules — and protecting their four-legged family members.

Each airline has specific pet policies. If you are planning to take your dog on a plane, you need to research the pet policy well in advance of your departure. The Humane Society notes that air travel is risky for dogs (and cats), especially those with pushed in faces (like pugs and French bulldogs). The organization recommends trying to find an alternative to flying, but if that’s not an option, it’s always safer to fly with your pet in the cabin. And if your dog is too large to fly in the cabin, the HSUS recommends leaving your dog at home.

However, if you must travel with your dog in cargo, there are ways to make it safer. Consider consulting with an expert pet shipper. Be sure to microchip your dog and keep a record of the microchip number. Consider an ID collar with your contact information printed on it. Be sure to get any necessary vaccinations and have the veterinarian certificate with you. Most importantly, get a crate that keeps your dog comfortable and safe. Always check the airline for breed restrictions as some don’t accept brachycephalic (or flat-faced) dogs.

For “carry-on” pets make sure your dog can actually fly with you, as there’s a limit to the number on animals in the cabin per flight. It is best to call the reservation desk to verify. There is a fee for pets traveling in-cabin (and “check-in” cargo traveling pets). Service animals fly for free. For dogs traveling in a carrier, take them out at the security checkpoint and carry them through screening while the bag is X-rayed.

Once you board, make sure your dog is comfortable in the carrier before the flight. The dog carrier will stay under the seat in front of you for the entire flight, so make sure it will fit. Your dog should be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down. Monitor his food and water before flying to avoid accidents, but make sure your dog is adequately hydrated. Try to give your pup some exercise before the flight so he’s ready for a nap, and take him for a potty break at the airport before going through security. Consider putting a light towel or blanket in the carrier that has your scent; sweaters or t-shirt will keep them warm when flying during winter. A ThunderShirt is good for anxiety.

Related: What Owners Need to Do to Keep Their Dog Safe While Flying on an Airplane

Below is the current pet-policy information for five North American airlines.

American Airlines

For carry-on pets, the dog must be at least 8 weeks old. Kennels that don’t collapse can’t be larger than 19in x 13in x 9in. Soft-sided kennels can be larger if they’re padded, constructed of water-repellent material, and have nylon ventilation panels on two or more sides.

The limit for in-cabin animals is seven on American flights (excluding service animals) and five on American Eagle flights with only one in First Class. There are requirement for service or emotional support animals. Contact Reservations at least 48 hours prior to takeoff.

The fee is $125 for each carrier.

Checked pets (in cargo) run $200 per kennel and $150 to/from Brazil. Pets must be at least 8 weeks old, and you can travel with two checked pets. You must provide a health certificate from a veterinarian. Check here for kennel requirements per aircraft. American Airlines does not allow snub-nosed dogs (or mixes) as checked-in luggage. Here is a list of all breeds not allowed. 

Delta Airlines

For carry-on pets, your dog must be at least 10 weeks old for domestic travel, 16 weeks if traveling from the US to other countries and 15 weeks old for European Union travel. Kennel dimensions vary by flight, so contact Reservations (or ask at the time you’re booking your flight).

Pet fees are $125 one way to/from the US to Canada; $200 to/from Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands and outside the US; and $75 to/from Brazil. The limit for pets in-cabin are one in First Class, two in Business, and four in the main cabin. No pets are allowed in International Business. Delta doesn’t accept any pets in-cabin to/from Australia. Barbados, Dakar, Dubai, Hong Kong, Iceland, Jamaica, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United Arab Emirates.

Related: Dog Dies on United Flight After Being Told He Needed to Go in the Overhead Bin, Airline Reportedly Ignored His Yelps

Pets traveling through cargo cannot be booked until 14 days before departure. They are NOT guaranteed to be shipped on your flight or even within your flight schedule. Pets must be dropped off at a Delta Cargo location 3 hours before departure time, and you’ll be picking up from a cargo location at your destination. The fee one way is $200; $150 for Brazil. Delta also does not allow snub-nosed dogs in cargo. Here is a full list of restricted breeds.


Their JetPaws free program includes information, carrier tags and a list of Petiquette.  No animals are shipped as cargo. Pet carrier maximum dimensions are 17″L x 12.5″W x 8.5″H. The airline offers their own JetPaws carrier.

Pet fees are $100 one way. Pets are not accepted on flights going to/from Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia, the Cayman Islands, and Trinidad and Tobago. You must have proof of a pet license, vaccinations, any required documentation, and your dog must wear ID tags.

Southwest Airlines

In-cabin pets must be at least 8 weeks old. Southwest offers its own approved carrier. Other pet carriers have maximum dimensions of 18.5″ long x 8.5″ high x 13.5″ wide. They can be soft- or hard-sided as long as they fit the dimensions and the dog can sit, turn around, and lie down.

Pet fees are $75 one way. There are no pets allowed in-cabin on international flights. Reservations must be booked in advance by calling 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792); dogs are checked-in at the ticket counter. There is a limit of six pets in carriers per flight.

Southwest does not ship animals in cargo.

United Airlines

Be advised that on March 20, 2018, this airline suspended accepting new pet reservations after a dog was erroneously shipped to Japan. Shipping should resume in May, after the company reviews its policies.

Dogs must be 8 weeks to travel. For in-cabin travel, airline approved hard-sided carriers have maximum dimensions of 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high; soft-sided kennels are 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high. First class accepts two pet carriers; main cabin accepts four. There are no pets accepted in First Class on their Boeing 747, 757, 767, 777 or 787 aircrafts, or on flights to/from Australia, Hawaii or Micronesia (including Guam).

The fee is $125 one way, but there is an additional $125 service charge for each stopover exceeding four hours within the U.S. or 24 hours outside of the U.S.

For cargo, crates have to be large enough for your pet to stand up without head or ear tips touching the top; they must be able to turn around and lie down. For brachycephalic or short-nosed dogs, the crate must be one size larger than otherwise necessary. (The airline does have restrictions on some breeds.) The requirements for crates are very specific, so check their website. PetSafe rates are calculated by the total weight of the kennel and the animal inside. They also have detailed pet restrictions, required documents, and drop-off and pick-up information.

Other airlines rated best for pet safety include Alaska Airlines and SkyWest.

Related: Does Your Dog Really Need to Wear a Seat Belt or Be in a Car Seat?








By Jillian Blume

Jillian Blume is a New York City–based writer whose feature articles have appeared in magazines, newspapers, and websites including the New York Observer, Marie Claire, Self, City Realty, the ASPCA,, Best Friends Animal Society, The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, The Pet Gazette, and many others.

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