How to Fly with Your Small Dog In-Cabin

Chihuahua on Plane Looking Out BIG IMAGE

First time flying with your dog?

Follow our step-by-step guide to make sure your flight is a breeze.

Way Before You Fly:

One of the best things you can do to make flying with your dog easier is to master basic obedience. Things will be much smoother if your dog is solid at “stay”, “come,” “go in your bag,” and “go potty.”

While you are practicing these skills, invest in a quality dog bag. Ideally, you’ll want to get this as early as possible. Like right now.

Dog in Dog Carrier on Airplane

To get started looking for a dog bag, measure your dog’s height (to shoulders), their length (shoulders to butt), and their weight.

Look for a bag that will allow your dog to stand up and turn around, which is a requirement of the airlines.

Different airlines have different under seat dimensions, carrier requirements, and weight limits for dogs traveling in-cabin.

Generally though, the maximum size dog that will be “easy” to get on a plane is about 15 lbs, 13” tall, and 14” long.

Whether they can fly in-cabin will become apparent when you are shopping for carriers rated for airplane travel.

Once you have determined that your dog fits, make sure that the bag has a waterproof bottom and adequate ventilation. Other features you might want to look for are an over the shoulder strap, lots of pockets, and wheels.

When you get the bag, gradually get your dog used to being in the bag by giving them treats while they are in the bag. Build up to having them sleeping in the bag and taking them around on errands in the bag.

Basically, you want them to know that being in the bag is no big deal.

Booking a Flight:

The cost per way for your dog in-cabin is usually between $100-125. Airlines have a limit on the amount of dogs that they allow in-cabin (usually 2-5), so, to ensure your dog’s spot is held, you must make a reservation for them. Airlines vary in their policies on this, so it’s very important that you check your specific airline’s pet policy before you book.

Some things to consider before booking:

The middle seat has the most under seat room. A window seat usually has a similar amount of room. Aisle seats are hardly ever large enough to store a dog bag. So yes, you may be stuck with a middle seat.

If you are going on a long flight series, try to keep your dog’s bladder in mind. Book layovers that are at least two hours long so that you can go out through security to use the pet relief area and come back in.

If you have plans for a very long flight, try and schedule a shorter “practice” flight beforehand to see how your dog feels about flying. That way you both learn what works and doesn’t work before you are stuck on a very long flight together.

Perhaps your dog will do better with a calming pill next time, a longer walk, or more practice with the bag. You may need to change your travel plans for your longer flight to allow more time to work with your dog to get them more comfortable with flying.

If you need more help, talk with your veterinarian about possible options.  

Dog in Airport

IMPORTANT: If you are flying with one airline and then transferring to a partner airline, make sure you have the necessary reservations and certificates for both airlines!

Keep in mind that most airlines do not require a health certificate for in-cabin dogs, but this can change.

Some states require a health certificate, so if you are flying to another state, check the USDA APHIS website for these requirements beforehand.

A health certificate can be obtained at your vet and must be dated within 10 days of travel.

Regardless of whether a health certificate is needed, always bring a copy of your dog’s vaccination records and their vet’s name and phone number with you.

I like to keep a digital copy, as well as a copy of these in my luggage and in one of the pockets of my dog’s carrier. It’s a good idea to look up a local emergency vet at your destination and keep that information with you, just in case.

How to make a reservation for you and your dog:

Some airlines will allow you to book your dog’s reservation online, but the majority of them require that you do it over the phone.

The tricky part here is that phone reservations for people tickets incur a fee. To avoid this, find the reservation that you want online for your ticket and write down the details.

Then call the airline to confirm that there is room for your dog. If there is room for your dog, book your reservation online, then immediately call back and add your dog to your reservation.

Wing of a Plane Overlooking Mountains

Day of the Flight:

On the day of the flight, limit food and water. Also make sure to give your dog an extra-long walk to tire them out.

Be sure to arrive two hours early at the airport. Keep in mind that most airports require that your dog remains in the carrier the entire time they are in the airport. (Their head can stick out though!)

Head to the check-in counter to pay your pet fee. Since your dog’s carrier counts as one piece of your carry-on luggage, you are only allowed one more bag in the cabin, which means you might have to check your other bag.

Some airlines will put a tag on your dog’s carrier to show you’ve paid for them and/or give you a receipt. Hold on to this, as you may be asked to show it at the security checkpoint or on the plane.

After you check in, be sure to visit the pet relief area one more time before you go through security.

When you get to security, put all the rest of your luggage on the belt first—your liquids, laptop, shoes, etc. Then take your dog out of their carrier and take their collar off—if it has a large metal buckle on it.

You will be asked to go through the metal detector while holding your dog.

On the other side they will swab your hands. Once you are done, you can go collect all your other luggage and put your dog back in their carrier.

Go to your gate. When you get into your seat on the plane, put your other bag in the overhead bin and put your dog’s bag under your seat.

Depending on the airplane, there may be a metal bar or life vest at the end of the seat. In this case, simply turn your dog bag sideways.

Breathe a sigh of relief.

Dogs are required to stay in their carrier the whole time, but you can definitely put your hand in and give them a pat!

On the Plane:

Here is where your practice with the dog bag will really pay off.

If this is your first time flying with your dog, it may be hard to stay calm, but try and be brave for your dog—they will pick up on your signals and act accordingly.

It helps to pack their favorite plush toy or a sock that smells like you in their bag.

If your dog is the type to want something to do while they fly, bring along a bully stick.

To keep them hydrated, you can feed them carrots or cucumber sticks (not very many!). You can also ask for ice water from the beverage service and give them ice cubes.

If at any point your dog needs to go to the bathroom, take them in their bag to the restroom.

If you pack a pee pad with you, spread this on the floor and encourage them to go.

When you get off the plane*, go collect your luggage and head to the much-deserved pet relief area.

You did it!

*If you are arriving in an international country, make sure you stop by customs before you exit the airport.

Declare your dog, and show your paperwork.

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