Flying Your Dog in Cargo: Is It Safe?

Patrick MacFarland Patrick MacFarland · Updated February 12, 2024

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For many pet owners, the thought of putting their beloved dog in an airplane cargo hold can be daunting. With the thought of their playful pup in a strange place, pet parents may worry about the safety of flying a dog in the cargo area.

The short answer is that while few dogs that fly in the cargo area are injured or killed, simply not the most humane solution. There’s no way to explain to a dog what is going on — imagine being stuck in a crate, separated from your family, placed in a strange compartment that suddenly starts shaking and jostling for hours? For almost all dogs, flying in the cargo area of the plane can be a traumatic experience.

The good news is that there are other options for transporting your dog long distance — and you don’t have to be the one driving! Using a pet transportation marketplace like CitizenShipper, you can help your dog avoid the emotional and psychological trauma of flying in the cargo area. Instead, your pet will be accompanied by an animal-loving transporter for the entire journey! 

From climate limitations, breed restrictions and the high levels of stress from an unknown situation, flying in the cargo is not a good choice for many dogs. Below we’ll explain in detail the risks of flying in cargo.

The Risk Factors of Flying with Your Dog

The risks associated with flying with your dog are mainly related to comfort. Most airlines will require that your dog fly in a carrier that is approved by the airline and that meets certain size requirements.

Another risk factor is that of high altitude pressure changes. When a plane takes off, the air pressure outside the plane drops significantly, which can cause discomfort to animals in the cargo hold. To reduce the risk of injury, airlines must ensure that the cargo hold is pressurized and that the air is constantly monitored. Airlines restrict snub-nosed dogs and cats on planes because of high health risks they may have.

Temperature can also be a risk factor when flying with your dog. Most airlines will require that your dog has adequate ventilation in the carrier and that the temperature in the cargo hold does not exceed certain limits. If the temperature is too hot or too cold, it can cause discomfort to your pet and can even lead to illness.

Finally, there is the risk of mishandling. Airlines must ensure that all pets are handled properly and with care. If a pet is dropped or mishandled, it can result in injury or even death. To reduce the risk of mishandling, airlines must have trained staff and clear guidelines for how to handle pets properly.

Airlines’ Safety Protocols

The safety protocols for flying with your dog vary from airline to airline, so it’s important to research the requirements of the airline you’re flying with. All airlines require a health certificate, so make sure you have that handy. For the airlines that do allow dogs in the cargo hold, like Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines, they will require that your dog is in a pet carrier that meets their size and ventilation requirements, and that the crate is clearly labeled with your contact information.

Pet Crate Cargo Requirements

  • The crate should be big enough for your dog to stand and turn without touching the top of the carrier.
  • The crate should have secure locks all around with hardware pins and fasteners that extend past the extrusions above and below the door.
  • The kennel should be ventilated on all sides.
  • The kennel must have your dog’s name and your contact information visible.
  • A water and food bowl should be attached to the door and be accessible from outside the carrier.

Pet Travel Safety Tips

Even if you’ve done your research and followed the safety protocols, there are still a few things you can do to ensure the safety of your pet. You should always provide your pet with a comfortable blanket or bedding to keep your pet from being stressed and instead have them comfortable during the flight. Here are a few more tips that will help with your pet transport.

  • Traveling in the off-season can help reduce costs.
  • Consider the time of year before booking — airlines will cancel pet tickets if the temperature isn’t between 45°F to 85°F.
  • Take direct flights with no layovers because layovers will stress your dog more when they are in the cargo hold.
  • Freeze water in a large crate bowl, so your dog has enough water for the entire flight.
  • Get to the airport at least half an hour earlier to check in early and don’t let airline attendants take your dog until 30 minutes before departure.
  • Don’t board until you see that airline baggage handlers have loaded your dog onto the plane. This is important to ensure your dog is safe in the cargo hold.
  • Don’t give your dog any sedatives. It makes it difficult for your dog to adjust to the cargo hold temperatures and turbulence during the flight.

The Benefits of Flying with Your Dog

Flying with your dog can provide many benefits. Because most airlines don’t allow dogs in the cargo hold, this is really for those that have small dogs or cats that can fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you. Flying with your pup can help reduce stress because they will be with you during the flight — whether it is long or short. It also saves you money because the cost is usually as low as $90 and as high as $125.

Bottom Line

Flying with your dog can be a safe and enjoyable experience. However, it’s important to do your research and be aware of the safety protocols that airlines must follow. Make sure to research the airline’s requirements and provide your pet with a comfortable and safe crate. Additionally, follow our pet transport safety tips to ensure your pet has a safe and stress-free flight .