Flying with Dogs

Flying with a Dog: The Ultimate Guide

Flying with a Dog

When travelling longer distances, whether across a country or across an ocean, often the best transport option is to fly. But what about if you’re travelling with a dog? Can you take dogs on planes? And how do you fly with a dog?

Luckily, dogs are indeed allowed on planes, with a wide variety of airlines that allow dogs onboard. Depending on the size of your dog and your location, your dog might fly in the cabin or in the hold, and it’s not usually too complicated. 

After travelling internationally with my Miniature Dachshund, I’ve had experience with both flying with a dog in the cabin, mainly in Europe and the USA, and across the Atlantic. Plus my dog has also flown in the hold as cargo, when flying to and from Australia and domestically in Australia. 

I’ll take you through everything you need to know about how to fly with a dog, from the various rules that apply to the cost of flying a dog to tips to prepare your dog for their first flight. 

Flying with Pets in the Cabin

The easiest way to fly with a dog is in the cabin. Unfortunately, this option is limited to smaller dogs, and other small pets such as cats, and only in certain regions of the world.  

The two main regions of the world where pets are allowed to fly in the cabin are Europe and the USA. Often this is due to government regulation. For instance, it is not allowed in Australia and the UK. 

Additionally, it’s also up to the individual airline. For instance only some budget airlines in Europe permit dogs to fly in the cabin. Luckily though, sometimes these airlines also accept pets in the cabin on their longer haul flights to other regions of the world, where permitted. 

When your pet flies in the cabin, they need to fit in a small dog carrier bag underneath the seat in front of you. Be prepared to have no leg room! Due to this, only small dogs are able to fly in the cabin. Sometimes just the maximum dimensions of the bag are specified, but often there is also a weight limit, most commonly 8kg (17.5 pounds). 

Flying with a dog
When pets fly in the cabin, they fly underneath the seat in front of you

The process to fly with your dog in the cabin is quite straightforward. The trickiest part is often booking the flight. Sometimes this can be done online, as simple as if you were selecting to add a piece of luggage to your booking. Other times it needs to be done via the call centre, in which case you should call up first and confirm your pet can fly on the flight, before booking your own tickets. 

When heading to the airport, take your pet with you in their carrier bag to the check-in counter. (Usually you can’t check-in online if you’re travelling with a pet.) At the counter they might weigh your pet. Then just keep your pet with your when you board the plane. 

For more details on the process of flying with your dog in the cabin, check out my guide for Europe

Can I Buy a Seat for My Dog on an Airplane?

Often people who have larger dogs that aren’t small enough to fit in the plane carrier bags ask whether they can buy a seat for their dog on the flight. Surely if their dog can take up the space of a seat or in front of a seat they can fly in the cabin? 

Unfortunately though, generally airlines don’t permit you to buy a seat for your dog on an airplane. There may be a small number of exceptions. When investigating options for pets to fly in Hawaii, I discovered that Mokulele Airline, who fly small 9-seater planes, allows seats to be purchased for medium sized dogs.  

However, I have never heard of a major airline flying wide-body aircraft who permits seats to be bought for dogs. 

What About Emotional Support Animals?

If you live in the USA and have an emotional support animal, they will generally be allowed to fly in the cabin with you, at no additional charge. This is regardless of the size of the pet; i.e. they are not limited to fitting in the standard size carrier bag. 

This is usually only applicable on US airlines, both on flights within the US and on flights to or from the US. Additionally, some other airlines might permit this on flights to and from the US. However, generally this is not permitted on overseas flights, for example flights within Europe. 

If you have an emotional support animal, you should find out the paperwork requirements of your airline well ahead of time. The requirements imposed by airlines have recently been increasing, due to misuse. 

In the rest of the world, only recognised service animals, such as guide dogs and hearing dogs, are permitted to travel in the cabin. Check with your airline for their paperwork requirements. In particular, different countries have slightly different definitions of what is a service animal. 

Flying a Pet in the Hold

Generally, if your dog is too small to fly in the cabin of a plane, dogs on planes are required to fly in the plane hold.  

This isn’t as scary as it sounds. Reputable airlines for transporting animals have a special hold area for animals, that is temperature and pressure controlled, maintaining a similar temperature and pressure as for the passenger cabin. The lights are usually dimmed. And the crate sizes required for pets to fly in ensure there’s plenty of room for them to stretch out and have a sleep.  

Unfortunately, there is no access from the passenger cabin of the plane to this hold area during the flight, so you can’t check up on their journey, but on the other hand they have minimal disturbances. 

Of course, it’s always best to go with an airline with a good reputation for transporting pets, that can provide your with details of their animal transport, and that you can trust for loading and unloading your pet safely. They will also not accept pets on flights with suitable aircraft. 

Most of the time when pets travel in the hold of a plane they simply travel as “checked baggage”. In this case their treatment is handled similar to your suitcase. You check-in your pet at the check-in counter in their crate, and in the baggage collection area at the other end you head to the special baggage collection area.  

Flying a Pet as Cargo

There’s one final way that pets fly on planes: as cargo. Pets most commonly fly as cargo when this is a government requirement for the transport of pets.  

For instance, pets flying into the UK are required to travel as cargo; they are not permitted to fly in the cabin or simply as checked baggage, so that the necessary custom checks can be done. Another country that requires pets to travel as cargo is Australia. 

The other situation where a pet might be required to travel as cargo is in the case of flying with a large dog. The weight limit for pets to travel as checked baggage differs between airlines, but can be as low as 32kg (70 pounds). Considering that this also needs to include the pet’s crate, this is quite low indeed. 

For pets flying as cargo, the conditions during the flight are the same as for pets flying as checked baggage. Both fly in a special hold of the plane. 

The main difference is that pets flying as cargo need to be booked through the cargo or freight division of the airline, generally over the phone. You will also need to drop off your dog and pick them up from the freight facility, which can be a long way from the passenger terminal.  

For a description of what it’s like to fly dogs in cargo, check out my post about flying dogs in Australia

Flying a dog in cargo
Dropping off Schnitzel at a freight terminal for his flight

Should I Use a Pet Transport Company? 

If you are flying with pets in cargo, you may be required to use a pet transport company. This is a company specialised in the transport of animals, who looks after booking your pet’s flight, delivering them to the freight terminal and picking them up after the flight. They can usually look after veterinary appointments and government paperwork for your pet, too. 

You may also consider using a pet transport company even if you are not required to, particularly on flights with stopover or to countries with complex entry requirements. A pet transport company should know the rules, so you don’t need to stress about them. They might be able to help with logistics, such as picking up and dropping off your pet. They can also help out in scenarios such as a flight being cancelled. 

In different scenarios, I have both used a pet transport company and looked after everything myself. For instance, when I firstly flew overseas with my dog to Europe, I used a pet transport company. But when I undertook the difficult process of returning home to Australia, I looked after everything myself (a very stressful experience!) 

For more details, checking out my guide on using a pet transport company

Key Questions

How Much Does it Cost to Fly a Pet?

The cost to fly a pet greatly varies depending on the size of the pet (or more actually, their crate), the flight route (longer routes are naturally more expensive), and whether they’re flying in the cabin, the hold or as cargo. 

Generally, I’ve found the cheapest rates for pets are charged by European budget airlines flying pets in the cabin on short-haul flights. For instance, Pegasus Airlines in Turkey charges about €9 ($10.50 USD) for pets in the cabin on domestic flights, while rates of €25-40 ($29-$47 USD) are typical for eastern European airlines. For other European airlines, pets flying in the cabin are typically charged about €50 ($59 USD) for short-haul flights, and around €100 ($117 USD) on long-haul flights. 

Pets flying on domestic flights in the United States are typically charged higher rates than in Europe, reflecting the longer distances involved, plus the lower number of airlines. Rates of $100-125 USD (about €85-105) for pets flying in the cabin on domestic flights is more typical. 

The rates for pets flying in the hold are usually always higher than for pets flying in the cabin. This reflects the larger size of pets travelling in the hold, especially once you include the hefty crates used to transport pets in the hold. Often there are stepped rates for different size crates. 

The most expensive option for flying pets is generally to fly them in cargo. When flying my 5kg (11 pounds) dog from Los Angeles to Melbourne in cargo, his flight cost $1314 AUD (over $900 USD), more than either of our expensive one-way tickets. When flying cargo, there’s also sometimes other costs involved, such as customs charges or using a pet transport company.  

Are All Dog Breeds Allowed to Fly?

Before booking a flight for your pup, you also need to take into considerations breed restrictions.  

The most common restrictions are for snub-nosed or brachycephalic breeds travelling in the hold, as these breeds are more likely to experience breathing difficulties and heat stress in this environment. 

Some airlines flat out refuse to fly these dogs in the hold, while other airlines may have additional requirements, such as flying in a larger crate or signing a waiver. Always consult with your veterinarian about the health of your individual pet, as well. These restrictions don’t apply in the cabin, but it’s tough if your dog is just over the size limit to fly in the cabin.

Restrictions apply for snub-nosed breeds such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Some airlines also have restrictions for so-called dangerous breeds. Some dog breeds may be forbidden from flying on the airline, while other times special extra-strong crates may be required. 

Other animals that have restrictions on flying include large breed dogs (some airlines cannot handle larger crates, and they might be required to fly as cargo), young puppies and pregnant dogs. 

The list of affected animals differs between airlines, so always look at the rules for the specific airline that you are considering flying with a dog. 

What About Flying in Summer?

If your pet is flying in the cabin in summer, it’s no different to flying at any other time of year. Both yourself and your pet are usually in an air-conditioned terminal until boarding starts, then on an air-conditioned plane. You can monitor their comfort at all times. 

But when your pet is flying in the hold during summer, it’s a different story. The biggest risk isn’t actually when they are up in the air, as the pet hold of the plane should be air-conditioned. The biggest risk is when they are being loaded and unloaded onto the plane, potentially sitting around on the hot tarmac. 

For this reason, many airlines don’t fly pets during the summer months of the year. This most often happens in the USA, with certain cities. In other parts of the world, there are recommendations to fly with your pet outside of the hottest period of the day, and not on especially hot days. Which can be difficult as no-one can perfectly forecast the weather, especially when you’re planning months in advance! 

To find out more, read my tips on flying with your dog in summer, written after I encountered an early heatwave while flying with my dog in Australia. In particular, find a reputable airline that you can trust, but remember the ultimate decision on the day comes down to you. 

Preparations for Flying a Pet

Before flying with your dog for the first time, whether in the cabin or the hold, it is essential that you prepare them for the experience. This will help reduce their anxiety during the unusual experience, plus reduce your own stress levels. 

Familiarising Your Dog with their Crate

The biggest way you can help your pet is by familiarising them with their carrier or crate ahead of time. It helps if they’ve been crate trained from a young age, but if not just start well before their flight.

Purchase their carrier or crate as early as possible, and encourage them to go inside, perhaps feeding them inside. Ideally, they should be comfortable spending time in their carrier or crate, including sleeping in their crate, before the flight. 

preparing a dog to fly
PFamiliarise your dog with their crate as early as possible

Choosing a Dog Carrier Bag for the Cabin

If you plan to fly with your dog in the cabin, they will require a carrier bag to travel in, unless they are a service animal or emotional support animal. Your dog may also need to stay in the carrier bag when inside the airport, depending on the airport. 

Each airline specifies their own guidelines for carrier bags, but generally they are quite similar. Typically the bag will need to be well ventilated, leak-proof and able to be fully zipped up. Soft carrier bags are usually recommended. However, the maximum dimensions often differ from airline to airline. 

In my experience, airlines don’t measure the dimensions of your pet’s carrier bag at check-in, being more likely to just weigh the bag if a maximum weight has been specified. I’ve previously flown with my pet on flights where my carrier bag slightly exceeds the limit, and have had no issues as it is soft and can be slightly squished down if necessary. 

For more details of the requirements of carrier bags and some recommendations, check out my guide to choosing a dog carrier for plane travel

A dog carrier onboard a flight
Our dog in his carrier bag underneath the seat in front

Choosing a Dog Crate for the Hold

The crates used for dogs to fly in the hold of planes are quite different to the carrier bags required in the cabin: large and sturdy rather than small and soft. The guidelines for dog crates in the hold are specified by IATA, the International Air Transport Association, although some airlines might have some extra requirements. 

The size of the crate required for your pet depends on their dimensions. Follow the guidelines specified here, plus keep in mind this is just a minimum. If possible, I recommend personally testing the crate with your dog inside it before buying it, to ensure it is adequate. 

Your pet’s crate also needs a fitted water bowl with a funnel on the outside, and usually two-part plastic containers must have the top and bottom secured by screws or nuts and bolts, rather than plastic clips. Check with your airline for their preferences on including a soft toy or blanket, plus providing food. 

One downside to the crates used to transport dogs in the hold is that they are very bulky. This makes them difficult to transport (and store) before or after the flight. I’ve usually had to take apart the crate I’ve used for my small Miniature Dachshund to fit it into a small car. You might be able to get around this by hiring a crate a pet transport company, if you use one. 

Preparations on the Day of the Flight

On the day of the flight, also make sure you prepare your dog for the flight.

Ideally take them for a walk, to help tire them out and increase the likelihood that they just sleep through the flight. Go light on meals, ideally not feeding them in the few hours before the flight. And always toilet them as close to the flight as possible, either at a pet relief area or before entering the terminal or dropping them off at the freight facility.  

It also helps to carefully choose the best time of day to fly with your dog. For shorter flights, try to avoid disrupting their usual meal times or walk times, especially if they are sticklers for routine. For longer flights I actually prefer night time flights, as my dog is happier to just sleep through the entire flight and not need to toilet.  

Flying with Pets Around the World

Flying with a Pet in Europe

Flying a dog in Europe

The majority of airlines in Europe permit dogs to fly in the cabin and in the hold as checked baggage. The main exception are some of the budget airlines, with both Ryanair and Easyjet not allowing pets to fly, only service animals. Additionally, some airlines only permit pets to fly in the cabin, not in the hold. 

To find airlines in Europe that will fly your dog in the cabin, check out my listing of European budget airlines that fly dogs in the cabin and European flag-carrier airlines that allow dogs in the cabin. I’ve also put together an extensive guide on flying with a pet in the cabin in Europe, based on my many flights during my travels in Europe. 

Note that in Europe every airline (as far as I’m aware) stipulates a maximum weight for pets flying in the cabin (including their carrier). This is usually 8kg (17.5 pounds), but a handful of airlines restrict it to 6kg (13 pounds) or permit 10kg (22 pounds). 

The main exception to the acceptance of pets flying in Europe is the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, dogs are not allowed to fly in the cabin. When flying into the United Kingdom, pets must also fly as cargo, although this rule is relaxed for pets flying out of the UK, albeit only limited airlines provide the option. If you are flying in the UK, read my article about pets on UK airlines

Unfortunately, one area where Europe lags is in the dog-friendliness of airports. Unlike in the USA, most airports don’t have pet relief facilities. On the other hand, most airports do have nice grassed areas just outside of the terminal, and you don’t need to check in as early when flying within the Schengen zone. Read more in my post about how dog-friendly European airports are, although there are suggestions this situation might improve.  

Flying with a Pet in the USA

Flying pets in the USA

In the United States, all of the major airlines permit dogs on planes. There are some airlines that only permit pets to fly in the cabin, so only small dogs and cats are accepted. But the majority of airlines also allow dogs to fly in the hold. 

For a full overview of the pet policies of the US airlines, check out this excellent overview. Alternatively, if you require information just on flights within Hawaii, check out my guide to inter-island flights in Hawaii, including pet policies.   

When pets fly in the cabin, some of the United States airlines don’t stipulate a maximum weight for your pet, just maximum dimensions. When maximum weights are stipulated, they are often higher, such as 40 pounds (18kg) for Spirit Airlines. However, you should still make sure your pet has sufficient room in the bag, including to sit up, lie down and turn around. 

There’s a higher awareness of the needs and humane treatment of flying animals in the United States. Virtually every airport in the United States, at least the major ones, have pet relief facilities. Check on the airport website if you want to find out the location in advance, with at least one location usually being gate side. 

Additionally, many airports in the hotter regions of the USA ban the transport of animals in the hold, both departures and arrivals, during the warmer months. Investigate this in advance if it might apply to you. 

One other area whether flying dogs in the United States differs to the rest of the world is the recognition of emotional support animals. While most countries only permit recognised service animals to fly in the cabin without size constraints, in the US, this extends to emotional support animals. See above for more details. 

Flying with a Pet in Australia

Flying a dog in Australia

In Australia, pets are not often flown, except for puppies being re-homed or families relocating internationally. This is mainly due to government regulations, with pets not permitted to fly in the cabins of planes, only recognised service animals. 

Pets flying in Australia are required to fly in the hold. When flying into or out of the country, pets are required to fly as cargo, with a long list of additional requirements for pets arriving in the country, including flying into Melbourne to go into quarantine. Within the country pets are usually also flown as cargo. 

Both of the major airlines in Australia, Qantas and Virgin Australia, transport pets with their freight divisions on the majority of their routes. The smaller Regional Express (REX) also transports pets. With REX, within NSW and Victoria pets are flown as checked baggage, while additional arrangements apply in other states. The budget airline Jetstar does not transport pets. 

For more information, see my extensive guide on flying with pets in Australia, or also see my post about importing my dog back into Australia

How to Fly a Dog Around the World

To fly with your pet around the world isn’t that different to flying with them across a country. The main difference is that some airlines have maximum flight durations for pets being allowed in the cabin, in particular some of the US airlines, so pets are more likely to be flown in the hold. Some other countries may also require pets to travel in cargo, often with a booking through a pet transport company. 

To find out more about the options available for flying across the Atlantic, read this post about flying a dog from the USA to Europe. Also check out this post about the experience for one couple flying their dog from Thailand to Europe.  

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