Flying with your pet is a furry luxury that requires its share of homework. Regulations on bringing your pooch or feline aboard an airplane include providing updated paperwork as well as adhering to baggage requirements. What type of pet carrier you need depends on if your animal companion is traveling with you in the cabin of the plane or in the cargo hold – unfortunately only dogs that can fit under the seat in front of you are allowed in the plane cabin. This policy excludes service animals.
Other safety rules dictate that your pet must able to fully stand up in the carrier and fit comfortably inside. The size of your pet carrier is ultimately dependent on your airline, so check the dimension requirements with your specific airline prior to purchasing. (Note: Prices were accurate at the time of publication; they may fluctuate due to supply chain issues.)
Review your airline’s pet policy
Depending which airline you fly with, the pet policy may vary. Use the links below to find more information on the specific pet policies for the following U.S.-based airlines:
Bringing your cat or dog with you on your next flight, but not sure which pet carrier is best – or allowed? Start with this list of the top airline-approved pet carriers for your jet-setting four-legged friends.
Choosing an airline-approved pet carrier
There are a few major points to consider when choosing a carrier that will serve as your pet’s safe space during a flight. These factors primarily concern size, and whether the pet will be traveling with you under your seat or in the section of the plane designated for cargo rather than passengers. Check for the quality of the zippers and materials − you want this to be an escape-proof carrier.
Also keep in mind that the best way to select the right carrier size for your pet is to take measurements including from the top of their head to the floor, then from the tip of their nose to the base of their tail. The height of the kennel should generally be about 3 to 4 inches taller and longer than your pet, but to be precise as possible you can use the International Air Transport Association’s formula to determine the minimum carrier size.
Large dog breeds will likely be camping out in the cargo hold
Dogs flying in cargo are required to be kept in a dog crate. Since travel crates are not the same as training or sleeping crates, airlines recommend that you obtain the travel-specific dog crate a few weeks before taking off, so your pup has time to acclimate. Each airline has its own limitations on the sizes of pet carriers, but most follow the IATA guidelines. United Airlines, for example, allows dog crates at a maximum height of 34 inches with the crate weighing just under 50 pounds.
Additionally, rigid materials including a solid roof (with three other ventilated sides), well-maintained hardware, working handles and the words “Live Animal” – indicating which side of the crate is up – are required of the crate to keep your pet safe. Food and water dishes must be affixed to the inside of the door, preferably with instructions and extra dry food on the top of the crate. If your plastic crate bends when pressure is applied, your dog might be denied boarding.
Like carry-on luggage, in-cabin pet carriers must follow size requirements
The maximum dimensions for hard-sided pet kennels are generally 17.5 inches long, 12 inches wide and 7.5 inches high. The recommended maximum dimensions for soft-sided kennels are 18 x 11 x 11 inches. Sizes do, however, vary by airline. As with any carry-on baggage, the main concern of the Federal Aviation Administration is correctly storing any loose items during takeoff and landing to avoid injury.
Consider a soft-sided pet carrier for more flexibility
According to airlines, soft-sided pet carriers may slightly exceed the maximum dimensions for in-cabin travel because they are collapsible and able to fit underneath the seat without blocking the aisle of the airplane. Another bonus: Soft pet carriers are typically machine-washable.
Bags lined with sherpa fabric are especially fluffy and soft for your pet; this fleece bedding is usually removable and can be purchased to insert into soft-sided carriers – as well as hard pet crates and carriers.
Also important to know when flying with your pet:
Certain age requirements apply for both the pet and the person flying
Puppies and kittens must be at least 2 months old for domestic travel and at least 4 months old for international flights due to rabies vaccine requirements. Pets are typically not allowed with a child who is traveling alone – the age range for unaccompanied minors depends on the airline but often falls between 5 and 14 years old.
Make sure your trip itinerary allows pets in the cabin if that’s your plan
If you’re saying “Aloha” to Hawaii, your cat or dog will not be allowed on board the cabin of the plane and will have to travel cargo-style instead. Other destinations that don’t allow under-seat animal companions − excluding service animals − include Barbados, Guam, Ireland and the U.K. Check with your airline prior to booking your pet.
Be aware of the fees for bringing your pet on a plane
Your furry friend will incur certain fees for flying. The cost will vary by airline and by whether the pet travels in cabin or cargo: American Airlines, as an example, charges a $125 service fee for a carry-on pet, plus additional charges for each stopover of more than four hours, while cargo fees depend on trip details, kennel size and more. Service animals fly at no charge as long as they meet the airline’s requirements.
Best Soft-sided Carrier for Small Dogs: X-Zone Collapsible Pet Carrier
Available in a few different colors, this dog carrier has a sturdy metal frame that can collapse flat with a soft fleece pad. The X-Zone bag’s medium size, designed for a pet weighing up to 15 pounds, measures roughly 17 x 11 x 11 inches; there is also a larger size available. Pet owners appreciate the carry handles and adjustable shoulder strap, along with the sleeve to fit over a roller bag or attach to a car seat for easy transport. The inner safety leash, scratch-proof mesh windows and self-lock zippers mean your pup (or cat) will be secure inside.
[X-Zone Collapsible Pet Carrier: $35.99 or less for medium. View deal.]
Best Hard-sided Carrier for Small Dogs: Away The Pet Carrier
(Courtesy of Away)
It’s a splurge, but this dog carrier is made by Away, a popular luggage brand known for its sleek design and functionality. The same applies to this nylon and leather tote, which comes in black or a coast blue. Water-resistant lining is paired with sherpa bedding and nearly invisible pockets that can hold a phone, keys or waste bags. If you already have an Away suitcase, this carrier will fit seamlessly over the handle. Recent travelers like that the bag is roomy, saying their pets seem comfortable inside. This carrier fits pets up to 18 pounds but is a bit on the larger side of an airline-approved carry-on at 18.7 x 10.8 x 10.75 inches.
[Away The Pet Carrier: $225 or less. View deal.]
Best Soft-sided Carrier for Cats: Henkelion Pet Carrier
Designed with airline approval in mind, the medium size of this carrier is 17 x 11 x 11 inches and accommodates cats or small dogs up to 15 pounds with its spacious interior. Mesh panels zip open on the side, front and top, ensuring a well-ventilated bag. The outer material is lightweight and durable, while a removable woolen mat makes the inside comfy for your kitty. There are connectable loop handles and a padded shoulder strap, and this cat carrier bag folds up when you’re ready to store it away. Note that this carrier is not machine-washable. Users appreciate the plush mat, saying it helps felines feel cozy enough to nap inside the bag even when you’re not traveling.
[Henkelion Cat Carrier: $28.99 or less for medium. View deal.]
Best Hard-sided Carrier for Cats: Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed
Less of a traditional travel carrier and more of a pet bed, the Sleepypod employs sturdy luggage-grade ballistic nylon for its base, while its dome top is a breathable mesh. The circular shape will encourage pets to curl up on the removable, ultra-plush bedding, which can help reduce travel-related stress. The round carrier is 17 inches in diameter and 13.5 inches tall and accommodates pets up to 15 pounds. Though it could double as an everyday bed, this cat carrier is well suited to travel and has been crash-tested by the company, which means it can also serve as a safe car seat for your pet. This product is available in 10 color options, including red or silver. Users appreciate the durable construction and how comfortable their pets seem in the bed.
[Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed: $224.99 or less. View deal.]
Best Expandable Pet Carrier: Petsfit Expandable Pet Carrier
This Petsfit carrier’s medium size adheres to airline requirements (at 17 x 11 x 11 inches), but it unzips to expand to 20 x 17 x 11 inches. This product is a great option if you need your carrier to be able to fly but still want your pet to enjoy a bit more space to stretch out at the airport or your final destination. The sturdy solid wire construction ensures the bag won’t collapse but is flexible enough to tuck under a plane seat. There are side pockets for storage, self-lock zippers and a polyester PVC coating on the exterior so the carrier repels moisture. Recent air travelers with pets say this bag has a soft and roomy interior and their pets seemed comfortable while in the carrier.
[Petsfit Expandable Pet Carrier: $49.99 or less for medium. View deal.]
Best Convertible Pet Carrier: Natuvalle 6-in-1 Pet Carrier
(Courtesy of Natuvalle)
For travelers seeking versatility, this Natuvalle cat or dog carrier can be used like a backpack, shoulder bag, tote with carrying handles or, if worn on your front, a baby carrier. With the small size measuring 16.5 x 9 x 11.4 inches, this convertible choice can also be used as a car seat crate with built-in seatbelt loops and as a “two-position carrier.” Other features include zipper locks, four high-ventilation meshes and reinforced stitching. Doors open on either side for easy entry, with reflective strips and a plastic window for ID. Pet owners appreciate the durability and flexibility of this bag, along with the ability to have both ends open for their pet to freely walk in and out while not in motion.
[Natuvalle 6-in-1 Pet Carrier: $109.90 or less for small. View deal.]
Best Backpack-style Pet Carrier: PetAmi Backpack Pet Carrier
Go hands-free with this PetAmi backpack-style carrier. A sturdy frame maintains its shape while you traipse through airport terminals, with chest and waist straps for extra support. Four-sided access makes loading easy, and a rollaway mesh top means your furry friend can stick their head out the top for some air. Five safety buckles will thwart even great escape artists, and a sherpa-lined bed will entice your fur baby to relax. Dimensions are 12.5 x 10.2 x 16.3 inches, and the backpack carrier’s variety of color options include red and purple. Store this bag on its side in the plane cabin. Travelers with pets appreciate the soft fleece lining and the way the backpack retains its shape.
[PetAmi Backpack Pet Carrier: $39.99 or less. View deal.]
Best Pet Carrier on Wheels: Snoozer 4-in-1 Roll Around Pet Carrier
Wheels just make life easier, especially for lugging bags − and animals − through the airport. Protect your back with this pet-carrying roller bag from Snoozer Pet Products. This dog or cat carrier is not a one-trick pony: It also converts into a backpack, car seat, carrier and bed. A bit on the large side, the full dimensions of the medium size are 20 x 14 x 11 inches, which accommodates pets up to 15 pounds. Choose from sleek black or a more visible red. Pet owners say the carrier rolls smoothly, it’s well constructed and their pets love it. Snoozer offers a 30-day return policy and a one-year warranty.
[Snoozer 4-in-1 Roll Around Pet Carrier: $128.95 or less for medium. View deal.]
Best Carrier for Dogs Traveling in Cargo: SportPet Rolling Plastic Kennel
Any furry friends larger than about 20 pounds will likely have to travel in cargo if they’re not a service animal. You’ll want a very sturdy dog crate for the journey that meets every regulation, and SportPet’s kennel passes the test. From durable plastic with metal nuts and bolts to removable wheels and tie holes for bungees, this pet carrier will protect your doggo on their journey. This carrier approved by IATA comes with two snap-on dishes and four stickers that indicate it has a live animal inside; a “floor gutter” contains messes for easy cleanup. The extra-large size measures 35.5 x 23.75 x 26.75 inches. A cushioned bed is not included and costs extra. Owners of this kennel appreciate the sturdy construction, the fact that it meets airline regulations and the easy-to-install wheels.
[SportPet Rolling Plastic Kennel: $129 or less for X-large. View deal.]
Best Carrier for Cats Traveling in Cargo: Petmate 2-Door Kennel
(Courtesy of Petmate)
This hard-plastic and steel wire carrier is tough enough to protect your cargo-contained cat but small enough to make them feel safe and secure. Two doors assist with entering and exiting, and color options like hot pink with black will make them easy to spot. The dimensions of the larger size are 24.05 x 16.75 x 14.5 inches, and assembly is straightforward. This pet carrier is best suited for an animal 5 to 15 pounds. As with most hard-plastic crates, you will have to purchase a plush bed separately. Recent travelers express that they are happy with the quality of the kennel and find it easy to assemble.
[Petmate 2-Door Kennel: $47.99 or less for 24-inch. View deal.]
Best Overall Value Pet Carrier: Sherpa Original Deluxe Pet Carrier
(Courtesy of Sherpa)
This Sherpa carrier is renowned for its reliable functionality and amazing value. Beyond a patented, crash-tested flexible wire frame that keeps your little buddy safe, Sherpa provides a money-back guarantee for getting your pet onto the plane. The program, called Guaranteed on Board, works with a number of airlines to ensure its line of pet travel carriers meets the strictest standards. This 17 x 10.5 x 11 inch mesh-and-polyester bag is an industry standard. Recent travelers say the medium carrier fits well under the seat and keeps their pet comfortable while traveling.
[Sherpa Original Deluxe Pet Carrier: $79.99 or less for medium. View deal.]