Do Pets Fly Free? What You Need to Know About Bringing Pets on Planes in 2020

by Shelli

Thinking about flying with your pet? Airlines have recognized that we love our pets, and more and more we love traveling with pets too. Some general airline rules about pets on planes and pet traveling protocols apply across the airline industry. However, each carrier has its own specific rules and regulations when it comes to bringing pets on a plane. This information applies to regular pets — not service animals or emotional support animals.

This guide provides you a carrier-by-carrier list of six airlines and their pet rules in the US. The answers are all listed below to questions such as, “Can I fly with my dog?” and “Can you bring a pet on a plane?”

Are Reservations Required For Pets on Planes?

Taking pets on a plane does require some action steps. To start, reserve your pet’s space on the flight. Reservations are required. Some airlines offer refundable pet tickets if you have a change of plans. All airlines have specific seat restrictions about where you can and cannot sit with your pet carrier, so be sure to check with the specific airline info below. Most airlines don’t allow passengers with pets to sit in the emergency row or in the bulkhead.

When you’re taking pets on a plane, some general good advice is to arrive at the airport early. Most airlines require that you complete their live animal checklist. This confirms that pets have been offered food and water within four hours of check-in.

For pets on planes traveling in the cargo hold, airlines also request food and water directions. If your pet needs to fly on a connection to another flight, you will also need to provide food.

Security and Boarding Process With Pets

When passing through security, you’ll be asked to hold your pet and walk through the screening device while the carrier is x-rayed.

Ready to board? Don’t expect special treatment — you board according to your assignment boarding group like everyone else.

Wait, what if Fido needs to relieve himself before boarding? Most airports have “relief stations,” and you can check for locations online in advance or ask an airport employee for the nearest relief station.

For more specific travel requirements when bringing pets on planes, here are the rules for six popular airlines. Make sure that you check the airline’s website or call if you have additional questions. Note that information applies to US domestic travel only.

Alaska Airlines Pets On Planes Rules

  • Maximum number of pets: 1 carrier in the first class cabin, 5 carriers in the main cabin; 1 per passenger unless an adjacent seat is purchased, then a passenger may have 2.
  • Price: $100 each way (cabin or baggage).
  • Advance reservations: Recommended (holiday travel restrictions apply)
  • Allowed animals: Dogs, cats, rabbits and household birds are allowed in the cabin. Cats, dogs, ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters, household birds, nonpoisonous reptiles, rabbits and tropical fish are allowed in cargo/baggage. Other pets must receive advance approval. Note that only dogs and cats are permitted to be flown to Hawaii. Brachycephalic dogs and cats are not accepted for travel in the cargo compartment on Alaska Airlines flights.
  • Carrier maximum size: 7.5″H x 17″L x 11″W; up to 150 pounds.
  • Phone Number & Pet Landing Page: 1-800-252-7522 | Website

Tip: Keep in mind that a pet kennel (carrier) counts towards your carry-on limit.

Alaska Airlines allows pets to travel as carry-on for a fee of $100 each way. Unlike some airlines, brachycephalic (“short-nosed”) dogs and cats can travel in the cabin, although for health and safety reasons they are restricted from being checked as cargo.

Alaska Pet Age Restrictions & More

Dogs and cats (the most common pet travelers) must be at least 8 weeks old. Be sure to use a kennel that fits securely under your seat. There are two types of acceptable pet kennels: hard-sided and soft-sided. Dimensions for hard-sided kennels are 17” x 11” x 7.5” or 17” x 11” x 9.5” for soft-sided.

Alaska specifies that kennels should be leak-proof and clean, well-ventilated, and they recommend lining the kennel with absorbent bedding for your pet’s comfort.

Up to two pets (of similar size) can travel in the same kennel. Pets must remain in their kennels (all parts of the pet—no head or tail sticking out!) for take-off, landing, and deplaning.

For those who need to check their pets in the cargo hold, the fee is also $100 each way. A veterinarian’s health certificate (dated within 10 days of travel) is required. Some destinations in Alaska require proof of additional parvovirus and rabies vaccinations.

American Airlines Pet Rules

  • Maximum number of pets: 5–7 carriers per flight (depending on plane), 1 per person.
  • Price: $125 each way (cabin); $200 each way (baggage).
  • Advance reservations: Required.
  • Allowed animals: Cats and dogs. As of December 2018, Chow Chows are no longer allowed to travel as checked pets.
  • Carrier maximum size: 9″H x 19″L x 13″W (larger carriers allowed in cargo).
  • Phone Number & Pet Landing Page: 1-800-433-7300 | Website

American Pet Age Restrictions & More

American Airlines allows pets to travel as a carry-on (one per passenger), but there are restrictions depending on breed and size. All dogs (carry-on and checked) must be at least 16 weeks old, and must meet vaccination regulations. Cats must be at least 8 weeks old.

American does not allow takings pets on a plane who are brachycephalic (snub-nosed) dogs, or even snub-nosed canine mutts/mixes. Sorry, pugs! Click here to see a full list of breed restrictions for dogs and cats.

How big should the kennel be? A pet has to have enough room to stand up, turn around, and lie down in their kennel. Soft-sided collapsible kennels are also permitted, and can be slightly larger. They most be water-repellant and have ventilated nylon mesh on at least two sides. Your pet’s kennel must be able to fit securely under your seat.

Check your pets in the cargo hold is the only option for traveling with animals that don’t fit under your seat. A checked kennel is more expensive ($200), but can carry up to two pets.

Checking your pets on a plane, requires a few extra steps, such as providing a veterinarian’s health certificate (within 10 days of your trip), and the kennel must be made of hard material (wood, metal, or plastic) and meet aircraft size specifications.

What if you’re traveling on a flight with connections? American lists 10 airports where checked pets can connect. Otherwise, you need to claim and re-check your pet, so be sure to leave yourself enough time. Click here for information about connecting flights.

Delta Air Lines Pets On Planes Rules

  • Maximum number of pets: Delta does not specify a number of pets allowed per flight. But the airline does state that space is limited.
  • Price: $125 each way (cabin). Cargo price is determined by the size of the carrier. Note that animals are not included in Delta’s free baggage allowance.
  • Advance reservations: Required but cannot be booked before 14 days prior to departure.
  • Carrier maximum size: Determined by flight/type of plane. Call Delta at 1-800-221-1212 to determine cabin carrier size requirement. Baggage allows carriers of the dimensions 40″L x 28″W x 30″H, and cargo up to 32”L x 35”W x 48”H and 51 pounds.
  • Phone number & pet landing page: 1-800-221-1212 | Website

Delta allows pets to travel as a carry-on, but there are restrictions depending on breed and size. Delta does not allow traveling with snub-nosed dogs or cats.

Remember that your kennel/carrier counts as part of your carry-on luggage. Delta charges $125 (each way) for you to travel with your pet.

Delta Pet Age Restrictions & More

All pets must be at least 10 weeks old for domestic travel. One pet is allowed per kennel, though the Delta website lists several exceptions for small animals of similar breeds. You must keep your pet inside its kennel during take-off, landing, and while onboard the plane.

For those who need to check their pets in the cargo hold, the fee depends on the size of the kennel. A veterinarian’s health certificate (dated within 10 days of travel) is required.

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JetBlue Pet Rules

  • Maximum number of pets: 4 per flight.
  • Price: $125 each way (cabin only).
  • Advance reservations: Recommended.
  • Allowed animals: Dogs and cats.
  • Carrier maximum size: 17″L x 12.5″W x 8.5″H, and the combined weight of pet and carrier must not exceed 20 pounds.
  • Phone number and pet landing page: 1-800-538-2583 | Website

Note: Currently, JetBlue does not ship pets as cargo.

JetBlue offers JetPaws, a special program for traveling with pets on planes. The free program provides a special bag-tag and a guide for “Petiquette” (“a handy list of all the social graces for pet travel”). Frequent travelers can also sign up for TrueBlue points where they can earn 300 points per flight using the program. JetBlue also sells handsome carriers with the company’s logo ($32).

JetBlue allows pets to travel as carry-on for a fee of $125 each way. The kennel counts toward your carry-on allotment. The airline limits passengers to one pet per customer. They also limit the number of pets per flight (4), so reservations are suggested well in advance of your trip. The weight limit for the carrier and the pet must be under 20 pounds.

JetBlue only accepts dogs and cats as carry-on travel animals. Breed restrictions and pet age limits are not listed by JetBlue.

Be sure to use a kennel that fits securely under your seat. Pet carriers (either hard-sided or soft-sided) must meet the approved dimensions of no larger than 17” x 12/5” x 8.5”. Your pet must remain inside its kennel/carrier throughout the flight.

Southwest Airlines Pets On Planes Rules

  • Maximum number of pets: 6 carriers per flight; 1 per person (carrier may contain 2 pets of the same species provided they both have room to comfortably turn around).
  • Price: $95 each way (cabin only).
  • Advance reservations: Required with an in-person payment at the ticket counter.
  • Allowed animals: Dogs and cats.
  • Carrier maximum size: 18.5”L x 13.5”W x 8.5”H.
  • Phone number & pet landing page: 1-800-435-9792 | Website

Southwest Airlines allows pets (small cats or dogs) to travel as carry-on for a fee of $95 each way. The pet kennel counts towards your carry-on allotment. Pets must be at least 8 weeks old.

Southwest sells its own pet carrier (17” x 9.5” high x 10” wide) for $58, but other hard or soft-sided kennels are acceptable as long as they are leak-proof, well-ventilated, and fit securely beneath your seat (maximum dimensions are 18.5” x 8.5” x 13.5).

Passengers may only carry on one kennel/carrier, though it may contain two pets (of the same species). Southwest does not require a health certificate for taking pets on a plane. They also do not limit by type of breed. Pets must remain in their kennel throughout the flight. Southwest does not ship pets as cargo.

  • Click here for more information about the best way to save money on your hotel stays with or without your pet.

United Airlines Pet Rules

  • Maximum number of pets: 2–4 per flight, depending on aircraft, and 1 carrier per person.
  • Price: $125 each way (cabin); baggage and cargo rates are determined by size and weight of the carrier. Call United to discuss your pet’s needs before booking your trip.
  • Advance reservations: Required.
  • Allowed animals: Cats, dogs, rabbits and household birds (excluding cockatoos) are allowed in the cabin. Some breed restrictions apply to baggage/cargo animals for safety reasons.
  • Carrier maximum size: 17.5”L x 12”W x 7.5”H (hard carriers), or 18”L x 11”W x 11”H (soft carriers).
  • Phone number and pet landing page: 1-800-864-8331 | Website

United Airlines allows pets to travel as carry-on for a fee of $125 each way. There are some restrictions depending on breed and size. United prohibits flying with brachycephalic dogs and cats (in the cabin or as checked cargo). Click here to learn more about breed restrictions.

Dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old. United has additional restrictions, such as not flying with pregnant cats and dogs.

Be sure to use a kennel that fits securely under your seat. Maximum dimensions for kennels must not exceed 17.5” x 12 (wide) x 7.5” high. Soft and hard-sided carriers are acceptable. Only one pet is allowed per kennel (two birds are allowed in one kennel).

Animals must be able to stand up and turn around comfortably in their kennels. Pets must remain in their kennels at all times. United no longer carries pets as cargo. They offer a special service, the PetSafe program, exclusively for shipping pets. Click here to learn more about PetSafe.

Final Thoughts

Can you bring a pet on a plane? It depends. To help you decide, here is everything you need to know about flying with pets on planes. Yes, Fluffy, Fido, or Fifi can be your travel buddy. Airline pet rules can be confusing. It’s not only important to understand “Petiquette.” It’s important to shop around to see which airline offers you the best situation for both you and your pet.

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