Airlines That Ship a Dog Alone: The Ultimate Guide For Pet Owners

Patrick MacFarland Patrick MacFarland · Updated April 13, 2024

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A dog adhering to airline pet policies relaxes in a crate during a plane journey.

Transporting a pet can be a stressful experience, especially if you can’t be with your furry friend during the trip. Some airlines allow you to fly your dog alone in the cargo area, so it’s a possibility. It’s important, however, to remember that for a stressed-out animal, there’s no alternative to the human touch.

With the summer months approaching, many airlines have a heat embargo that restricts you from shipping your pet in cargo. If the ground temperature is more than 85 degrees Fahrenheit or less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit, you won’t be able to transport a large pet in cargo.

This means you’re in a quagmire, but a solvable one. By choosing ground transportation, you can avoid those problems. Plus, it’s safer and more humane to transport your pet on the ground than via a plane in the cargo hold. It’s also more reliable because you won’t be dependent on weather conditions to transport your pet.

If you can’t fly with your pet or it’s too large to fly in the cabin, the most humane solution is to hire a professional. Pet transporters have the experience and compassion to make your pet’s journey safe and stress-free, and even an enjoyable experience!

However, air travel isn’t the most ideal option for the animal itself. There’s no way to explain to a pet that they’re about to go on an airplane or prepare them for the experience. Your pet will have to remain in its carrier for the duration of the flight, only able to eat and drink what you provide in the carrier. The cargo areas are unmanned, meaning there won’t be anyone there to comfort your pet if it’s stressed. Even worse, if your pet does have a medical emergency, nobody will know until the plane has landed.

You wouldn’t put your kids in the cargo area of a plane, so why put your beloved pet through that experience? Instead, choose ground transportation for humane pet travel. You can find a reliable, vetted, animal-loving driver using a pet transportation marketplace like CitizenShipper. That way you’ll know your pet is being cared for at all times.

What to Consider Before Booking a Flight for Your Pet

According to IPATA, over 4 million pets are transported via plane. Before booking a flight for your beloved companion, it’s important to research the various regulations and requirements of each airline.

Before booking a flight for your pet, it’s important to consider a few things. You should first research each airline’s regulations, rules, and requirements. Every airline has different sets of rules that can make it confusing for the average person. When it comes to shipping your pet, it’s important to read up on the specifics before making any commitments.

You also want to consider your pet’s size and breed. Some airlines only allow certain size and breed restrictions when it comes to flying pets. Be sure to double check with the airline before booking a flight for your pet.

Furthermore, you should make sure you have all the necessary paperwork — like the health certificate required for pet travel and your pet’s vaccinations. You should get this from a veterinarian that is accredited by the USDA, or else your pet won’t be allowed to fly. Depending on where you’re traveling to and from, you may also need to provide more paperwork, so make sure you read the rules and regulations of your destination.

Below are the required vaccinations for cats and dogs:

Vaccinations for dogs:

  • Canine parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Canine hepatitis
  • Rabies

Vaccinations for cats:

  • panleukopenia (feline distemper)
  • Feline calicivirus
  • Feline herpesvirus type I (rhinotracheitis)
  • Rabies

Shipping an Animal by Plane: Can You Send Your Pet on a Plane Without You?

There’s good news on the horizon. The simple answer is yes, you can send your pet on a plane without you. But the more detailed answer is a bit more complicated. When it comes to transporting a pet internationally, most airlines let you send them in the cargo hold. For domestic flights, there are only a handful of airlines that allow pets in the cargo hold and, therefore, alone.

The cost of a pet in the cabin is between $90-$125. For the cargo hold, the cost can range from as low as $100 to $1,000.

So now you know you can send a pet on a plane without you. You know there are certain airlines that allow that and some that do not. But which ones are the ones that do and don’t? Let’s take a look below.

Choosing an Airline That Specializes in Pet Transportation

Choosing the best airline for pet transportation is essential for your pet’s safety and comfort. You don’t want to choose an airline just because it’s cheap. You have to choose an airline that specializes in pet transportation and one that is pet friendly. Let’s take a look at the best pet-friendly airlines.

United Airlines PetSafe Program

The United Airlines PetSafe program is a program that provides pet transportation where your pet goes as a checked item in the cargo hold. Unfortunately, as of 2023, that program is no longer available to anyone. There are exceptions to this, however. If you are a member of the military on current military orders or an employee of the State Department on current relocation orders, then you can transport your pet (cats and dogs) from Guam to Honolulu only. Unfortunately, if you are not connecting between those two cities, the program is not available anymore. Service animals are still permitted for any route, though.

JetBlue Jetpaws Program

Unfortunately, JetBlue discontinued this program. The current Jetblue pet transportation program that is running is one that allows small dogs and cats in the main cabin. A total of six pets are allowed in the cabin, so make sure you secure your spot before it’s too late. You need to have the proper health paperwork, and Jetblue recommends bringing food, water, chews, and toys along for ease and comfort. On its pet transportation page, JetBlue outlines all its requirements and regulations for pets including the rules for pet carriers that you must follow. They have some good tips to make the flight as stress-free as possible.

American Airlines

American Airlines is one of the only airlines that allows pets to travel in the cargo hold. Like most airlines, they also allow pets to roam (not literally) in the main cabin. The prices for pets to go in the cargo hold varies and will be determined at the time of booking. For pets to be checked, that is unfortunately not available for passengers unless they are in the military under military orders or they work for the State Department and are on relocation orders. However, American offers PetEmbark for animals that must fly in cargo and don’t meet the checked luggage requirements. In its webpage, American Airlines outlines all its rules and regulations on pet transportation for pets in cargo, as checked items, and for those pets going in the main cabin.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines allows a lot of animals on the plane. Only dogs, cats, household birds, and rabbits are allowed in the cabin. The cost is $100 one way (and $105 if flying from Canada). When it comes to flying a cat or dog alone, Alaska Airlines allows a very diverse selection of pets. It also costs $100 for each pet one way, which includes: dogs, cats, household birds, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, non-poisonous reptiles, tropical fish, and even pot-bellied pigs.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines allows pets in the main cabin, in the cargo hold, and unaccompanied. They allow dogs, cats, and household birds. There are several restrictions when it comes to some airports in North America, but for the most part, your pet is allowed to travel anywhere domestically. The fees for traveling within Hawaii are quite low — $60 one way in the cargo hold. If you’re flying to North America, it costs $225 one way in the cargo hold.

And for your information, below are the airlines (and their pet policies) that prohibit pets from flying alone:

A woman with a cat laying on a bed, offering free quotes.

Preparing Your Pet for Travel

Once you’ve chosen an airline, it’s time to start preparing your pet for travel. Make sure your pet has a health checkup and all the necessary paperwork and vaccinations. If your pet is flying in the cargo area, it’s important to make sure they have enough food and water for the duration of the flight.

You’ll also want to make sure your pet is comfortable in their kennel. Familiarize your pet with the carrier. During the flight, they can become restless and anxious, so it’s important for them to be comfortable with the carrier that they will be in for various hours. You should start putting them in the carrier weeks before departure until they get comfortable being in the carrier for long periods of time.

Is it Safe to Fly Pets in Cargo?

Flying your pet in the cargo hold is safe for most breeds and most pets. There are some that may not be able to adjust to the cargo hold area. There are also various dangers to flying your pet in the cargo hold. Your pet can experience discomfort, lack of oxygen, air pressure changes, and respiratory distress. On top of that, because cargo holds are not climate-controlled, there is a huge possibility of heat stroke or hypothermia.

Your pet can also experience extreme stress or trauma that can have long-lasting effects on your dog’s emotional and physical well-being. Some will experience more stress than others. The best thing you can do to ease the stress and anxiety is that you should pack chew toys, a security blanket, food, and water.

Another tip is to provide them with calming chews specifically to help with anxiety and stress. By giving your pet a calming chew, it will get him to be less anxious and less stressed throughout the flight, especially if they are in the cargo hold.

Kennel Cargo Requirements

There are airline requirements for pets if they are going in the cargo hold. Here are the rules you should follow:

  • Your dog should be able to stand up, turn around in the crate and make sure 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 needs to be ventilated on all sides.
  • The crate needs to 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.

When is a Pet Transporter Needed?

There are times when a pet transporter is needed. Even though airlines are definitely the faster mode of transportation, there are some cons to this option.

Here are a few reasons why a pet transporter may be the best choice for transporting your pet:

  • Most airlines have restrictions on pets other than cats and dogs. They also have restrictions on snub-nosed dogs and cats. Most airlines, with the exception of a select few, don’t provide a cargo hold option for domestic flights, which can be difficult to transport a large pet.
  • Flying can have a negative effect on your pet, especially if they are in the cargo hold. Ground transport will be less stressful and your pet will be happier.
  • If there are flight cancellations, you’re out of luck until they can get your pet on another flight. Flying can be unreliable because of weather and other factors. Ground transport does not have that unreliability. Regardless of the weather, your pet will get to its final destination in a matter of hours.
  • Ground travel logistics are easier and can offer door-to-door delivery, which is impossible with air travel. Door-to-door delivery offers you peace of mind.

Alternative Solutions

Traveling with a pet can be a stressful experience, but there are several airlines that allow you to fly your dog alone in the cargo area. Before booking a flight for your pet, it’s important to research the various regulations and requirements of each airline. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure your pet is comfortable and prepared for the journey. With the right preparation and planning, your pet can have a safe and comfortable journey.

Of course, if you feel that your pet may struggle or be super stressed during the flight, there are other alternative solutions. You can opt for ground transportation. If those options are too expensive, you should consider an amazing alternative like CitizenShipper. Because drivers compete for your business, you can be assured you’ll get affordable rates.

The Benefits of CitizenShipper

Let’s take a look at some advantages of CitizenShipper.

  • Drivers are screened, background-checked and registered with the USDA.
  • After posting your pet’s info, you will receive many quotes within minutes where you can chat with drivers before making your decision.
  • There’s an instant messaging system where you can chat with your driver about the entire journey’s details, including getting updates on the journey.
  • You can save up to 60-70% compared to traditional shipping services.
  • There’s an option of doing a “rideshare” (where the driver takes several pets during the journey at the same time). This can save you a lot of dinero (but you can always opt for “solo rides,” too)!
  • You get added benefits like a VIP Service, a $1,000 Pet Protection Guarantee, Booking Assurance Guarantee, direct communication with the driver who provides updates and 24/7 TeleVet access through our partner FirstVet.