Flying with a Dog: What to Expect and How to Prepare

Patrick MacFarland Patrick MacFarland · Updated April 17, 2024

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What’s your reason for needing to fly with your dog? Are you moving? Did you get a job in another state? Maybe you’re going to Europe for three months. Or maybe you want to spend time with your parents for an extended period of time. Whatever the reason, soon you will be transporting a pet.

You’ve done a lot of research and by now you have figured out that transporting a dog can be overwhelming and tedious. The easy way is traveling by airplane. You can travel with them in the main cabin or you can have them as a checked pet (provided you go with an airline that allows that).

Traveling by airplane is the fastest way. Make sure you arrive at the airport early and everything after that will be smooth sailing. There are logistical matters to take care of and we’ll explain them below. We’ll go through everything that encompasses transporting a dog via airplane and how much it will cost, too.

What are the Health Requirements for Flying with a Dog?

Health requirements for animal transportation is the number one thing you should have ready on you when flying with a dog. Make an appointment to visit your pet’s veterinarian. Ensure the veterinarian is accredited by the USDA. Since they will certify the health certificate and vaccines, they will not be allowed travel if they are not registered with the USDA.

Veterinarians will provide you with a CVI (Certificate of Veterinary Inspection). The health certificate must be completed with the veterinarian 10 days before travel in order for them to be up-to-date. You will be asked at the gate for this health certificate and the immunization paperwork.

When it comes to animal transportation, all pets have to have the required vaccinations in order to be allowed to travel to another state. There is a list of vaccines your pet should be immunized with no more than 21 days before travel.

Vaccinations for Dogs

The list of required vaccinations for dogs:

  • Canine parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Canine hepatitis
  • Rabies

The list of recommended vaccinations for dogs:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Borrelia burgdorferi
  • Influenza
  • Leptospira bacteria

Most states require the Certificate of Veterinary Inspection and an up-to-date list of vaccines, but sometimes there may be states that require more paperwork. You can find a list of states’ Department of Agriculture pages on the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture website. You can also find a list of requirements for animal transportation from each state on the USDA’s page for interstate pet travel.

What are the Dog Size and Breed Requirements?

Airlines have size and breed requirements that may impact your pet travel.

Breed

When it comes to breed, about 99% of breeds are accepted by all airlines, but if you are the unlucky 1% that have brachycephalic (or snub-nosed) dogs, like boxers, bulldogs or pugs, they are not allowed on flights at all. The flight poses a significant health risk to your dog.

Weight and Size

The weight and size of your dog (or pet in general) will determine whether they can go in the cabin. If you have a small dog that can fit inside a carrier under the seat in front of you, then you are in luck. The fee is usually between $90 and $125 for a one-way ticket.

If the dog cannot fit under the seat in front of you — for example, large dogs like golden retrievers or Doberman pinschers — it is seen as a checked pet and will be required to go in the cargo hold. This will increase the cost substantially. Keep in mind only a few airlines allow pets in the cargo hold for domestic flights and they are: Hawaiian and Alaska.

Can I Buy My Dog a Seat on an Airplane?

Although this sounds like a silly question, it is still a valid thought that many people have. Because airlines require dogs and cats to be in a carrier at all times during the flight and be stowed underneath the seat in front of you, you won’t be able to buy a seat for your dog. The cost of transporting your dog is roughly, on average, $125 one way.

Can a Dog Sit on My Lap During a Flight?

Airline pet policy states that your pet must be in a carrier underneath the seat in front of you at all times. So the simple answer to this question is no.

Is Pet Food Allowed in the Cabin?

Because most domestic airlines only allow dogs in the main cabin, it is imperative that you do bring pet food. If it’s a long flight, your dog will get hungry. Good thing for you, airlines do allow pet food in the main cabin, as long as your dog stays in its carrier underneath your seat.

How Stressful is Flying for Dogs?

Let’s face it. Whether they’re flying in the main cabin or in the cargo hold, flying can be stressful for dogs. Some will experience more stress than others, and dogs in the cargo hold will experience stress that is ten times more than those in the cargo hold.

It’s always best to have chew toys, a security blanket, food, and water so your dog can feel more comfortable. For those dogs in the main cabin, if you see your dog looking or feeling uncomfortable, attend to them quickly. Even though it may go against airline rules, calming your dog by taking them out of the carrier is smart and life saving.

Flying with a Service Dog

All airlines accept trained service dogs and service animals on flights. If you have the proper documentation to prove that your dog is a trained service dog, then all is good to go. The fees are also waived for service animals on flights, too, which means you don’t have to worry about paying for your dog to be on the flight.

Ensure you have your Certificate of Veterinary Inspection and all vaccination documents with you, because that is a requirement for your dog to be on board.

Do Dogs Used as Emotional Support Animals Have Different Requirements?

Being the bearer of bad news is always a Debbie Downer, but unfortunately it has to be stated. Emotional Support Animals have been banned by most airlines. You can still bring them in the cabin if they are a small dog that fits in a carrier underneath your seat. You’ll have to pay the pet fee. If you have a large dog, you may need to look for other options for animal transportation.

Airline Approved Pet Carriers

There are two types of carriers that you must consider when buying them. American Airlines, for example, does not allow dogs in cargo, and so the pet carrier that you must buy must be small enough that it will fit under the seat in front of you. American Airlines mandates that the pet carrier should be ventilated on all sides, as well. These carriers usually cost around $100.

Unlike American Airlines, Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines do allow domestic checked pets in their flights. These larger crates can run up to about $200 and there are pet carrier size requirements that you must follow. (It should be noted that American Airlines does allow pets in cargo for international flights)

Pet Cargo Crate Requirements

  • Your pet should be able to stand up, turn around in the crate and ensure they do not touch the top.
  • The crate should have secure locking with pins that extend past the extrusions above and below the door. The pins should be hardware instead of plastic fasteners.
  • The crate should be ventilated on all sides.
  • The crate should have your pet’s name and your contact information.
  • Water and food bowls need to be attached to the door and accessible from outside the crate.

Are Dogs Allowed in Cargo?

Many people have this notion that airlines do in fact allow pets and dogs in the cargo hold. That notion is somewhat true. When it comes to international flights, a majority of airlines do allow dogs to be checked into the cargo hold of the airplane. When it comes to domestic flights, unfortunately flying as cargo isn’t an option. Unless you’re in the military or work for the State Department, if you have a large dog you will have to find some alternative.

The following airlines do not allow pets in the cargo hold for domestic flights:

But there is good news on the horizon. There are three airlines that do allow dogs in the cargo hold for domestic flights.

American Airlines Pet Policy

Checked pets aren’t allowed on American Airlines flights unless you’re active-military or work for the U.S. State Department traveling on official orders. Don’t despair! You can use American Airlines Cargo to transport your pet by plane. Check out the video below for more details about the program!

Hawaiian Airlines Pet Policy

Hawaiian Airlines allows dogs, cats, and household birds inside the cabin and also in the cargo hold. The fees traveling within Hawaii are quite low — ranging from $35 one way in the cabin for small pets and $60 one way in the cargo hold. If you’re flying to North America, the fees are $125 one way in the cabin and $225 one way in the cargo hold.

Alaska Airlines Pet Policy

Alaska Airlines allows dogs, cats, household birds, and rabbits to travel with you in the cabin. The cost is $100 one way (and $105 if flying from Canada). Alaska Airlines is the only airline that allows a more diverse selection of pets in the cargo hold. It also costs $100 for each pet one way. Alaska Airlines allows dogs, cats, household birds, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, non-poisonous reptiles, tropical fish, and even pot-bellied pigs.

What is the Cost of Flying with a Dog?

We’ve come to the juicy part of the article. The cost of flying with a dog is fairly simple. Most airlines, if you are traveling in the main cabin, usually have a pet fee of $125 one way domestically. Internationally the fee goes up slightly.

For airlines that do allow checked pets (or for international flights), cargo hold tickets usually range from $500 to $1000. As mentioned above, Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines are much more affordable with $225 and $100 pet fee, respectively. You will also have to invest in a durable, long lasting carrier that airlines require.

If you’re hiring an air nanny, you’ll have to pay for her roundtrip ticket. And if you have the means to do it and want to charter your own private flight, the cost of that will be between $5,600 to $11,000 per hour!

Bottom Line

The pet transport process can be overwhelming. Flying with a dog requires a lot of patience, but also a lot of work to jump through all the required hoops. You may find yourself so overwhelmed that you just want to slip into bed and sleep for twenty-seven hours. If you do find yourself super stressed, you should consider an alternative.

Using a two-way marketplace like CitizenShipper for your pet transport needs is to find the answer you’ve been looking for. It’s trustworthy, safe and affordable. And because drivers bid for your business, you can save a whopping 60%-70% compared to a traditional pet transportation company.

We truly work hard to ensure your peace and tranquility throughout the entire process. CitizenShipper also provides added benefits for you so you’re even calmer — up to $1,000 Pet Protection, Booking Assurance Guarantee, a messaging system where you can communicate directly with the driver and 24/7 TeleVet access through our partner FirstVet.

Shipping your dog to another destination should be a wonderful experience; not something that makes you want to scream into the abyss. By trusting drivers on CitizenShipper to transport your beloved pup, you will be able to focus on other important matters.

As the #1 pet transportation marketplace in the nation, CitizenShipper ensures you will save money, time and hassle. The drivers on our network are dedicated to you and could even save the day! Don’t hesitate, be your pet’s Superman, post your pet’s transport to get free quotes now!