How to Fly with Your Dog in the Cabin

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Last Updated on: 16th April 2021, 09:39 pm

My dog Lucy is now an expert flyer, and she’s flown with me a dozen times or so (she’s also survived multiple cross-country road trips, but that’s for another day). She’s such an expert that she’s kindly sitting in my lap trying to take over my keyboard herself.  I try to bring her with me when I can if only to give my ex-husband a break from dog sitting (that’s also for another day).  Here are some basics for keeping a pup happy and healthy during a long day of travel.

My dog Lucy on a trip to Oklahoma in January
My dog Lucy on a trip to Oklahoma in January

Before You Go

  • Check your airline’s rules and regulations before booking your ticket!  Back in the day, pets couldn’t fly on Southwest Airlines at all.  Now they accept a number of animals in the cabins each flight.  However, airlines typically have fees, carrier specifications, reservation requirements, and a maximum number of pets they can accept.  Know the rules before you get your ticket!
  • Check the rules and regulations for BOTH your destination and where you’ll be returning to! A good rule of thumb is, if you’re crossing a national border or an ocean, there may be special rules.  And you may see a different set of rules when trying to return home.  Is there a fee, a special form, or (worst-case) a quarantine period? Pet Travel is a great resource to start your search.
  • There is a Goldilocks Size for the Kennel.  If your pet can’t stand up and turn around naturally, it’s too small.  But if it can’t fit under the seat in front of you, it’s too big.  Erring in either direction can get your booted from your flight.  And unless you have a service animal, there’s no way you can get on without a kennel.
  • Have Your Paperwork Handy.  You will need a health certificate from your vet.  I like to keep a folder that has Lucy’s vaccination records so it’s handy when it’s time to go on a trip.  Check that the date of vaccinations meets your airline’s guidelines.  I haven’t gotten any hassle when I’ve brought just her vaccine records and not a specific certificate, but call your airline if you have questions.
  • Your Pet Counts as One of Your Carry-ons (Sometimes).  If your flight is on the fuller side, a flight attendant may not let you on with a carry-on, your pet, and a personal item like a purse (even if you paid a pet fee).  Avoid having three separate bags.
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By the second day of the trip, Lucy fit right in with the locals...
By the second day of the trip, Lucy fit right in with the locals…

What to Pack for Your Pup

  • Food for the day plus an emergency day (delays happen, but you can put the rest in your checked luggage).
  • Name tag with your contact information on the kennel in case of emergency
  • Puppy Pads
  • Water and Food Bowl (I like these because they aren’t expensive and travel easy)
  • Treats
  • A leash
  • A toy or two
  • Any necessary medication
  • Health Records
  • Anything your dog can’t live for 48 hours without.
Lucy loves her Pink Pillow.  We never leave Philly without it!
Lucy loves her Pink Pillow.  We never leave Philly without it!

At the Airport

  • Get There Early. You will need to check your pet in, which may mean an ill-staffed, single-file line (even if you overslept and your flight leaves in 40 minutes and your gate is on the other side of the airport, and the woman at the checkout counter thinks your dog papers aren’t up to code…).
  • You’ll Walk Your Dog Through The Metal Detector.  Don’t put them through the X-ray machine, for the love of everything.
  • Keep Your Dog in It’s Kennel…Most of the Time.  You’re supposed to keep them in their kennel 100% of the time.  However, anyone with a discerning eye will see dogs out all over the place.  Just know some airport employee may come along and yell at you for letting your pup stretch it’s legs.  If that happens, be polite and do what they say.
  • Be Polite and Mindful of Those Around You.  I think my dog is the best dog that’s ever lived, and lots of people love petting her when she travels.  But not everyone is a dog person.  If your dog is out, keep it away from people who don’t show any interest.  Only you know if you want other people petting your dog.  Just keep in mind that your pup may be feeling more stress than normal, so feel free to keep other people away if Fido needs space.
  • If Your Pup Needs to Go to the Bathroom…take him or her to the bathroom!  As in, the actual bathroom.  That’s why you brought puppy pads.
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Checking out the Ground Crew
Checking out the Ground Crew

During Your Flight

  • They Don’t Get a Window Seat.  Unless your dog is a service animal, they’ll have to stay under the seat in front of you during the flight.  Only you know if your dog can handle being in their kennel for the duration of your travel.  Familiarize them with it before you go.  Lucy is super chill as long as I’m close enough for her to smell, she doesn’t make noise or cause a fuss.
  • Let the Folks in Your Row Know. You don’t want them kicking the kennel thinking it’s just a typical carry-on.  Plus, if you get up to go to the restroom, you’ll want them to be aware in case a problem arises.  I also like to let the flight attendant know when I am boarding.
  • If There’s a Problem, Ask for Help.  If an emergency happens, alert your flight attendant.
Lucy checking out room service in Memphis
Lucy checking out room service in Memphis

When You Get To Your Destination

  • Make sure your accommodations are pet-friendly.  I use AirBnB because their website has a filter for “pets allowed,” which you can’t do on Hostelworld or Kayak.
  • Make sure your transportation is pet-friendly.  I’ve only ever had one cab turn me down when traveling with Lucy, but it can happen.
  • Give your pet time to adjust.  Just like after a visit to the vet or getting home from being boarded, flying can be stressful.  Get your pet unpacked and give them some space to recuperate.
Lucy loves a good Pet-Friendly Hotel Room
Lucy loves a good Pet-Friendly Hotel Room

Flying with pets takes a lot more planning, but it’s worth it if it means not having to choose between an awesome trip and time with your pet.  

Do you travel with pets?  Share your tips below!


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How to Fly with Your Dog in the Cabin


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3 thoughts on “How to Fly with Your Dog in the Cabin”

  1. I just landed on your post and found it very interesting. I am glad I found your post it has helped me as I was worried about my pet while traveling.

    Thanks for sharing the information. 🙂


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