Are you planning on bringing your pets along on your next vacation? Here are some tips to keep your pet safe, save some money, and stay within the guidelines of airlines. Use the Table of Contents below to skip to a specific section.
Table of Contents
Flying with Pets
- Can Pets Fly During COVID-19?
- In-Cabin Pets
- Prohibited Dogs
- Prohibited Cats
- Flying with Multiple Pets
- Carry-On Pet Fees
- Pet Carrier Restrictions
- Pet Documents and Vaccination Records
- Service Animals
- Emotional Support Animals
- Airline Pet Travel Policies
- Airport Amenities
- Checked Pets
- Restricted Dogs and Cats (For Checked Pets)
- Age Restrictions
- Temperature Restrictions
- Flight Itinerary Restrictions
- Location Restrictions
- Kennel Requirements
- Maximum Number of Kennels per Passenger
- Kennel Drop-Off Requirements
- How Much Does Flying a Checked Pet Cost?
- Pet Sedation
- Required Documents
- Does Travel Insurance Cover Pets?
- Renting a Pet Friendly Car
- Can I Take My Dog On a Road Trip?
- Check Pet Policies at These Tourist Destinations
- How to Prepare Your Pet For a Road Trip
- Planning Short and Frequent Stops
- Obeying Pet Guidelines
- Pet Insurance for Road Trips
- Pet-Friendly Car Insurance
Flying with Pets
Flying with pets is possible with most airlines. However, there are plenty of guidelines you need to know about before you go.
For instance, can your pet fly in the cabin or must they fly in cargo? Will the airline even accept your pet? If so, how much does it cost?
As you can see, there’s plenty to ponder. This guide can help you prepare your flight for your next trip.
Can Pets Fly During COVID-19?
Flying with your pets looks a little different as the airlines adapt to the COVID-19 health situation. It’s possible to bring qualifying cats and dogs as a carry-on. However, the airlines are temporarily suspending checked pet services due to service cuts.
You can still bring qualifying small dogs and cats to fly in-cabin as a carry-on. However, most airlines limit the number of carry-on pets that can fly on one flight. Airlines may fill these slots on a “first-come, first-serve basis.”
Service animals and emotional support animals can continue to fly in the cabin. Check with your airline for the proper procedures to book your ticket. The policies for service and emotional support animals are similar to the pre-pandemic policy.
Dogs and cats are most likely to fly carry-on with any airline but there are size and breed restrictions. In general, pit bull-type dogs will not be able to fly with you on any airline. Depending on the airline, a pet bird or rabbit might qualify.
Checked Pet Travel Suspensions
The following domestic airlines are currently not offering checked pet service:
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- United Airlines
- Southwest Airlines (No in-cabin pets for international flights or to/from Hawaii)
- JetBlue (Only dogs and cats can fly in-cabin)
Note: Neither JetBlue nor Southwest Airlines offer checked pet service. But their current pet travel policies are above so you can easily see what their carry-on pet policies are.
These cargo restrictions went into effect in late March and early April for personal pets. Military animals are unlikely to fly in cargo either.
We don’t know when pets can fly in cargo again. It may not be until airlines offer more service when planes have more space for checked animals.
If you have a large pet, you will need to keep them at home or, if you don’t want to drive your own car, you can rent a car to travel.
The rules for flying with pets in the cabin or checking into the cargo hold can be different. This section focuses on which animals you can carry-on.
Your carry-on pet will need to remain in its carrier under the seat in front of you for the entire flight.
Keep in mind that if you have a service animal, the carry-on policy is more lenient. For instance, the animal might be able to sit in your lap and you won’t pay the carry-on pet fee.
What Pets Can Fly in the Cabin?
Most small dogs and cats can fly in the cabin for most airlines. Delta Airlines even lets you bring select household birds.
Each airline can have a slightly different policy, but there are several common tendencies:
- Pets must typically weigh less than 20 pounds and shorter than 11 inches.
- Cats and dogs must be several weeks old (varies by airline)
- Your pet must remain in an approved pet carrier for the entire flight
- The pet carrier must fit in the seat in front of you
- Pets with disruptive or aggressive behavior can be denied boarding
- Only one per carrier is allowed per passenger
Airlines also limit the number of carry-on pets per flight and cabin class. Even if your pet is eligible, the flight limit may already be maxed out when you book your ticket.
Southwest Airlines allows up to six carry-on pets for most flights. United Airlines allows up to four carry-on pets in the economy cabin for all flights but between zero and two per flight in premium cabins.
If you’re flying on a codeshare partner, you will also need to verify their pet carry-on policy. You are likely to run into an issue if you use another airline for international travel.
Even if your dog is well-behaved, it’s possible the airline may not let it fly.
Brachycephalic, snub-nosed dogs, are likely not allowed to fly in the cabin or in the cargo. These breeds are more likely to be prohibited because of potential respiratory problems.
Examples of brachycephalic and snub-nosed dogs include:
- Boston Terrier
- Chow Chow
- Pit Bull
- Shih Tzu
If your dog has one of these lineages, you should contact the airline to verify they can fly. The airline might be more flexible for carry-on animals versus checking them.
A few cat breeds can also be restricted:
- Exotic Shorthair
As you might guess, these breeds are brachycephalic.
Flying with Multiple Pets
You might be able to bring two pets inside one carrier. However, both pets must be the same breed and be able to freely move inside the carrier.
Consult with your airline to see if two pets can fly in one carrier.
Carry-On Pet Fees
You will also need to pay an add-on fee for your pet to fly in-cabin or in the cargo hold. This fee can be $125 each way on American, United, and Delta. Southwest Airlines charges $95 each way for domestic flights.
The fee can vary when traveling internationally.
Expect your pet to count as your carry-on item. This means you can only bring one more personal item onboard.
Pet Carrier Restrictions
Here are some general guidelines for soft-sided and hard-sided pet carriers:
- Soft-sided carriers: 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high
- Hard-sided carriers: 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high
The soft-sided carriers can be larger because of their adjustable size. Some airlines sell authorized pet carriers so you don’t need to worry about buying one that’s too large.
Your pet must be able to sit, stand, lay down, and turn around in a normal manner. If not, you will need to check your dog or cat.
Because your pet must sit under the sit in front of you, you won’t be able to get a bulkhead or exit row seat. No airline lets you place a carrier in the overhead bin.
Pet Documents and Vaccination Records
Make sure you have a current health certificate from a certified veterinarian to fly. You may also need to show proof of a rabies vaccine within 30 days of your travel dates.
The documentation is less stringent when you fly within the United States. If going to Hawaii or traveling abroad, you will need more documentation.
To research the latest national and state requirements, visit this USDA website.
The carry-on pet rules can be more flexible when you travel with disabilities.
Task-trained service animals are allowed on flights and can fly free of charge. You will need to bring proper documentation and airlines greatly appreciate the advance notice.
Service animals don’t count toward the maximum carry-on pet limit per flight or cabin class.
Cats and dogs are the most common service animals. Although you may also be able to bring a trained miniature horse (depending on the airline). Service animals may also be able to sit on your lap.
Certified task-trained animals assist travelers with these disabilities:
- Visual impairments
- Disabilities that impair movement
Emotional Support Animals
It’s also possible to fly if you have an emotional support animal. You will need to notify the airline in advance to make sure your pet qualifies. If so, plan on submitting all required forms at least 48 hours before departure.
Unlike service animals, airlines tend to charge the standard carry-on pet fee for emotional support animals.
Airline Pet Travel Policies
For a more in-depth look at specific airline policies, visit their traveling with pets page.
Here are the in-cabin pet travel pages for the large domestic carriers:
While you can bring some pet necessities on board like snacks, collapsible water dishes, and wet pads, you will need to find a pet relief area at your airport.
This is usually the only area where your pet can be outside their carrier while traveling. Pets must remain inside their carrier in the general terminal and airport lounges. Take this time to exercise your pet so they are calm for the connecting flight.
Thankfully, more airports are opening relief areas as flying with pets becomes more common. You can try traveling through these pet-friendly airports to find some of the best spots.
Try downloading an airport map and finding the terminal’s pet relief areas in advance. Knowing where to go can give your pet a few extra minutes outside the carrier.
Larger cats and dogs that don’t comfortably fit inside a carry-on carrier will need to be checked. Other animals including birds may also need to fly in the cargo hold.
Checking a pet can seem a bit confusing at times because each airline has different policies. For example, the maximum kennel size can depend on the plane you will fly. You will also need to wait until 14 days before departure to reserve cargo space for your pet.
Depending on how you check your pet, their kennel may be treated as checked baggage. This means you will see your pet at the normal baggage claim. But if your pet flies in the airline’s cargo service, you will need to pick them up in the airline’s cargo area which is separate from the passenger terminal.
You will receive instructions on where to go when you contact the airline to say you are checking a pet.
Restricted Dogs and Cats (For Checked Pets)
Not all dog and cat breeds can fly as a checked pet. Brachycephalic and snub-nosed breeds will most likely be refused. This can be especially true with a pitbull breed.
Mixed breed pets are also unlikely to qualify if they have a brachycephalic or snub-nosed heritage.
Here are some of the dog breeds that airlines are likely to restrict travel:
- Chow Chow
- Lhasa Apso
- Pit Bull
A few cat breeds can also be restricted:
- Exotic Shorthair
Pets must usually be at least eight weeks old before they can fly in-cabin or as cargo. The airline may not have a maximum age restriction but the pet must be in good health.
If the animal has a disability, visual impairment, or respiratory or circulatory issues, the pet may not be able to fly.
Also, if your pet shows aggressive or unusual behavior, regardless of age, the pet may not be able to fly in cargo either.
Airlines won’t fly checked pets during extreme cold or hot temperatures. If the temperature is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit during you likely won’t be able to fly your pet in the cargo section.
That means you will need to either leave them at home if you fly or drive instead.
For example, American Airlines doesn’t fly checked pets from, through, or to Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, or Palm Springs from May 1 until September 30.
It’s not that the cargo hold is unsafe. Contrary to popular belief, the hold is pressurized like the main cabin.
These restrictions are in place because of the ambient temperature on the tarmac when your pet transports between the terminal and airplane.
The airline may waive the cold weather restriction. Although you will need to get specific documentation from your pet’s veterinarian.
Flight Itinerary Restrictions
Airlines may only let you check a pet when your total scheduled flight itinerary is shorter than 11 hours and 30 minutes. One reason for this restriction is to ensure your pet has enough food and water. Plus, what animal wants to be stuck in a kennel for half a day at one time?
Airlines may not accept checked pets when you fly to or from select countries.
Depending on the cargo service policy, the airline may offer kennel service if you and your pet are separated for a long-time.
One example is your pet arrives at your destination on an earlier flight than you. The airline may keep them in either an on-site or off-site kennel. You might be responsible for paying the additional kenneling charges.
Airlines only offer checked pet service to select destinations. You shouldn’t have a problem when flying within the United States and Canada.
It’s also possible to fly with checked pets to Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. However, each airline may have restrictions on certain nations.
It’s unlikely you will be able to check pets when flying across the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. One exception is flying dogs and cats to the United Kingdom. Although you won’t be able to check a kennel to the European Union from the United States.
Some airlines don’t offer any checked pet services. The most notable is Southwest Airlines which only accepts carry-on pets.
Depending on which aircraft type you fly, the maximum kennel height can be between 22 inches and 46 inches. On most flights, you can get a 500 series kennel or smaller and be okay. The kennel also needs to be hard-sided and well-ventilated.
Like the carry-on kennels, your pet will need to be able to stand up and move around freely.
In addition to having the right-size kennel, you will also need to provide a few necessary items for your pet and the baggage items:
- Separate food and water dishes inside the kennel.
- One bag of food sufficient for a 24-hour period attached to the top of the kennel
- Absorbent material or litter to collect waste
You will also need to provide written certification your pet was fed and watered within four hours of drop-off. This note should also provide food and watering instructions for the next 24 hours.
Maximum Number of Kennels per Passenger
It’s possible to check up to two kennels. Once again, the policy depends on the airline and space availability on the airplane.
You might be able to put two pets of the same breed in one kennel if each animal is less than six months old. For adult animals, you will most likely have to put one animal in each kennel.
Kennel Drop-Off Requirements
Most airlines begin accepting checked pets within four hours of the scheduled departure. Drop-off requirements might be different depending on where you and your pet are flying.
How Much Does Flying a Checked Pet Cost?
Costs can vary by the airline depending on the destination and the size of your animal. You might easily pay between $200 and $300 to fly a 30-pound dog across the United States. Because of the relatively high costs, it can be worth your time estimating prices from several airlines if you have the choice of several different airlines.
American Airlines charges $200 per kennel but only $150 to or from Brazil.
United Airlines PetSafe lets you estimate prices for the cargo service you need to check your pet.
Airlines strongly recommend that you don’t sedate your pet. Sedating them actually puts your animal at a higher risk of having respiratory and cardiovascular failure.
If you must sedate your pet, leave veterinarian-provided instructions with the kennel. The airline staff can check these instructions, if necessary.
Make sure you bring these documents along with you when you travel:
- Veterinarian-provided health certificate
- Vaccination record
- Pet license
- Ownership tag with your contact information
- Feeding and watering instructions for the next 24 months
The airline or your destination’s customs department may require further documentation.
Does Travel Insurance Cover Pets?
The travel insurance you buy to protect your travel purchases and medical expenses most likely won’t insure your pet.
Instead, you will need to buy pet insurance. Your coverage amounts depend on which plan you choose. While these policies are designed for ongoing coverage, injuries and sickness can happen even when you travel.
Make sure you read the terms and conditions to determine if your potential expenses are covered when you travel outside the country.
Summary on Flying with Pets
Flying with pets requires extra preparation. Carrying on your pet is the least stressful option. If checking your pet, contact the airline in advance to make sure you complete the correct paperwork at least 48 hours before departure so they can catch the same flight as you.
Road Trips with Pets
Pet-friendly road trips are becoming more common and easier to plan than you think. While more places are welcoming pets, you will need to carefully plan your route.
Renting a Pet-Friendly Car
If renting a car, review the car rental agency pet policy. Most rental agencies let you bring pets along but you will need to keep the cabin free of hair and smells to avoid extra cleaning fees.
Non-service animals may need to stay in the crate at all times in the rental vehicle. Certified service animals can most likely remain outside the crate while you drive.
Contact the rental agency before booking your car to make a pet-friendly reservation. You won’t have a problem in most cases. But it’s good practice to call ahead as if you’re flying with a pet to avoid potential fees and travel setbacks.
Can I Take My Dog on a Road Trip?
Yes, it’s possible to bring dogs on a road trip. This can be a good option to prevent kenneling your dog and to have a travel companion. Small dogs that are well-behaved in public are the best travel mates.
You might keep your dog at home in these instances:
- Becomes nervous or aggressive in public places
- Is an “aggressive” breed such as a pitbull
- Is too large to safely fit into your car
- Your planned activities prohibit pets
For instance, most large national parks do not allow pets on hiking trails to prevent spreading diseases to wildlife or becoming prey for predator wildlife.
Check Pet Policies at These Tourist Destinations
Before hopping into the car, plan ahead and see which activities and stops accept pets.
Some potential places on your road trip itinerary include:
- Vacation rentals
- Activities (i.e., national parks, hiking trails, beaches, tours, and experiences)
If renting a car, make sure the car rental agency accepts pets.
Advance planning lets you know what activities and places are pet-friendly. You can also see if you need to pay extra fees for bringing pets. In some cases, pets might only be able to come on a first-come, first-serve basis due to capacity limitations.
How to Prepare Your Pet for a Road Trip
In addition to packing for yourself and your family, you will need to pack for your pet. Before going, make sure your pet is up-to-date with necessary immunizations. You should also have current identification tags with your phone number in case they separate from you.
You should have ready access to these pet travel essentials:
- Travel kennel
- Food, water, and snacks (don’t forget the travel-friendly food and water bowls)
- Medication and vitamins
- Immunization records
- Doggie cleanup bags and disposable bathroom pads
- Extra paper towels and disinfectant wipes
- Litter box (for cats)
- Pet first aid kit
If you haven’t gone on a long road trip with a pet yet, you might try a short multi-hour drive to see how they behave. You may need to use anti-anxiety medication or discover other tips and tricks to keep your pet calm and comfy.
Plan Short and Frequent Stops
You may find yourself stopping more often when traveling with pets. Your dog may need to run off energy or go to the bathroom frequently.
Stopping every two or three hours is healthy for solo travelers as well to stay limber. When you keep your pets at home, you might keep the same travel routine.
As you will be stopping more often, you should plan ahead to find pet exercise areas.
Obey the Pet Guidelines
Observe the current pet rules when visiting pet-friendly places. For instance, dogs may only be able to access public beaches in the early morning or late afternoon hours. Most places require you to leash your pet at all times and maintain positive control.
Also, don’t go on hiking trails or places that don’t prohibit pets. Not every tourist shares the same love for animals that you do. Be courteous to the other travelers.
Do You Need Pet Insurance for Road Trips?
Standard travel insurance benefits do not cover pets. Buying pet insurance can give you peace of mind if your pet needs emergency treatment or hospitalization. Some pet insurance also covers car-related accidents.
Read the coverage terms to verify a potential road trip incident qualifies.
This insurance product is similar to your medical insurance but for pets. You can have medical coverage at home and on the road.
Buying pet insurance can be worth it for peace of mind and the cost-to-benefit ratio is affordable. Your car insurance policy may not cover pet injuries, so this coverage can be your only safety net.
Pet-Friendly Car Insurance
So you’re likely asking, “Does car insurance cover pets?” The answer depends on what car insurance you have and whether you or another driver is at fault.
Insurance providers consider pets as “personal property.”
Do You Have Comprehensive and Collision Coverage? (You’re At-Fault)
When you’re at fault, your auto insurance policy might reimburse pet-related expenses. Your liability policy only reimburses bodily and property damages for the other party. But you will need comprehensive or collision coverage that might cover your pet.
If you have collision and comprehensive, read the coverage terms to find out. Not every insurance company covers pets but will protect you, your passengers and your vehicle.
Some insurance companies may offer add-on pet insurance for an extra cost. Adding this coverage might be worth it if the cost is reasonable and the coverage terms are realistic.
Three companies currently covering pets:
- Metromile (up to $1,000 in damages and vet bills)
- Progressive (up to $1,000 in damages and vet bills)
- Erie (up to $500 per dog or cat and up to $1,000 in total vet bills and damages)
You can obtain coverage at no extra cost if you have collision coverage. Exact coverage terms and conditions may vary by insurance company.
Property Damage Liability Coverage (You’re Not At-Fault)
When the other driver is at fault for a collision, their property damage liability coverage might cover pet medical expenses. The property damage coverage usually covers damage to other vehicles and structures.
You will need to check your current policy to see if there are any pet provisions. If so, what are the qualifying incidents and coverage amounts?
Car Insurance May Only Cover Cats and Dogs
If your car insurance covers pet injuries, it’s likely to only cover dogs and cats. Even then, the provider may not cover restricted breeds including pit bulls or rottweilers.