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Pets on a Plane – How to Fly with Pets like a Pro

As far as we’re concerned, Life Out Here is about as good as it gets. But the simple fact is, sometimes it’s necessary to travel beyond our own little slice of the countryside. And as much as we’d like to have our pets simply hop in the truck and ride along to our destination, air travel is sometimes required. And that raises a number of potential issues. 

As hard as it can be to think of a much loved pet as “cargo,” that precisely what they’re considered by most airlines. And there’s a long list of rules and regulations that applies to them – both from the USDA and the International Air Transportation Association. (IATA). And that doesn’t include whatever restrictions and guidelines the individual airlines require.

But below we list a few helpful tips for properly preparing to take your four-legged traveling companions along for the ride.

(Please note that these rules don’t apply to pets that are taken in the cabin with you, or to international travel. This is specific to what airlines consider “Checked Pets” or “Cargo.”)

Contact Your Airline
First, you have to secure a reservation for your pet to travel. (You can’t just show up at the airport!) Every airline has their own pet travel requirements, beyond what the USDA and IATA dictate. For instance, not all aircraft can accommodate the same size kennel. And each airline’s internal policies are different. So it’s important to know the details. (That’s why – no matter what you may read on their packaging – there’s no such thing as a universally “airline approved” crate.)


Domestic USA Plastic Kennel
Once again, you should speak to your airline to determine the exact sizing requirements for their cargo hold. But below are some helpful sizing tips.

Your pet should not touch the top of the crate.
Your pet must be able to sit and stand comfortably in the crate, with 2 to 3 inches of clearance above their head and ears.

 Your pet should be able to lay down with their front legs extended.
The crate length must equal that of the pet plus the length of the front legs.

Plastic or mesh doors are prohibited.
Only metal doors are allowed. Also, top-loading crates, or kennels with a door on the top are not allowed.

Provide an absorbent interior.
Both for comfort and for safety, the bottom of the kennel must be lined with something absorbent, such as:

  • Towels
  • Small blanket
  • Kennel pad
  • Potty pads
  • Even clothing…like a cotton t-shirt 

Items that are NOT allowed inside the kennel include:

  • Toys
  • Wood / hay / straw bedding
  • Overly fluffy blankets, comforters, pillows, or beds.

A few other crate requirements:
It’s recommended that snub nosed dogs travel in a crate that’s one size larger than normal, to allow for greater airflow.

US Domestic travel requires that there be ventilation on the top half – and on both sides – of the crate.

 Wheels are not allowed on kennels. If yours does have wheels, they must either be removed or disabled before traveling.

Secure Food & Water
To ensure that your pet has access to food and water both in-flight and during any layovers, it’s mandatory to have either a separate food and water dish or a single “double dish.” 

Loose bowls are not allowed. Instead, they should be attached to the front door, so that in case of emergency, both food and water could be provided without it being necessary to open the crate. They must also be attached low enough that the pet can easily access them.

Vet Documentation
You’ll need an up-to-date copy of all vaccination records. Beyond that, please check with your airline to learn their exact Health Certificate requirements, as they may vary from one airline to the next.

Labeling On the Kennel
Generally, the airline will provide the labels you need. But you should contact them to determine just which ones are required. Among the most common are:

Food & Water Instructions
(Which should be placed, unobstructed, on top of the kennel)

Directional (“UP”) Arrows
(Which should be placed on either side of the kennel)

“Live Animal” Labels
(Which should be placed on the top and any other side of the kennel)

IATA Label, indicating the species
(Which should be placed, unobstructed, on top of the kennel)

A few general tips on traveling with your pet:
No matter how often your pet may have traveled before, it’s always a good idea to check out the website for the American Veterinary Medical Association ( for the most up-to-date advice. But a few good tips include:

  • Don’t sedate your pet for air travel.
  • Once you get to the airport, let your pet out to “do their business” one final time before going into the kennel.
  • Take off their collar and leash before closing the kennel. You should place them in a clear plastic bag and attach it to the top of the crate – so they’re ready for use upon arrival at the destination.
  •  Make sure that there are no choking, tangle or poking hazards in the kennel. You should feel all the edges – of the dishes, the bedding, and the inside of the crate itself – to be sure there’s nothing that could cause harm.
  • You should also give your pet some time to become acclimated to the kennel. At least 2 weeks before you plan to travel, have them become familiar with it – gradually spending more and more time inside. The goal is to reduce their stress during travel by having them stay in a kennel that smells like “home” – and which they associate with a safe environment. 

Following these tips will ensure both you and your pet have the best possible experience when you fly.