When Can (and Can’t) Dogs Fly on Planes?

Written by Katelynn Sobus
Published: December 9, 2022
© Annette Shaff/Shutterstock.com
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We never want to leave our furry friends behind when we go on a trip, but when can dogs fly on planes—and when can’t they?

In order to travel in-cabin with you, your dog must be able to fit beneath the airplane seats and can’t exceed the weight limit set by the airline. They must be kept in an airline-approved carrier at all times. Puppies cannot travel until eight weeks of age.

For in-cargo flights, dogs must be in a carrier that meets International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines. Dogs with certain medical conditions and brachycephalic breeds should not be flown in cargo and are typically banned by the airline.

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In this article, we’ll discuss when your dog can (and can’t!) fly on a plane. We’ll also talk about things that may not ban them from travel but might be an ethical deal-breaker.

To Fly in-Cabin, Dogs Must Fit Under the Seats

Many people would never take their dog on a plane unless he could fly in the cabin. Unfortunately, only small dogs are allowed in-cabin.

In order to keep your dog with you on your flight, it needs to be small enough to fit beneath the seat in front of you. Even airlines that allow you to keep your dog on your lap during the flight require the carrier to be secured beneath the seat during take-off and landing.

Most airlines will require your pup to stay in the carrier beneath the seat at all times.

Your Dog Must Fall Beneath the Airline’s Weight Limit

Just like your carry-on, your dog can’t exceed the weight limits set by the airline. This includes the weight of the carrier.

Weight limits can vary, but are typically around 20 pounds. United airlines doesn’t have a weight limit, but this doesn’t mean your 50-pound dog can fly in-cabin—your pup’s carrier still has to fit under the seat.

Make sure to weigh your dog inside the carrier before you buy his plane ticket, so that you can be sure he’s under the weight limit. You don’t want to be turned away as you’re trying to check in for your flight!

Dogs Cannot Take Up Plane Seats

Dog in airport terminal with ticket in its mouth, sunglasses, and a little suitcase
Some airlines allow small dogs in carriers to sit beside you.

©iStock.com/damedeeso

Most airlines don’t allow your dog to sit in a seat on the plane, with or without a carrier. While this would be handy for large dogs, it’s unfortunately not a possibility unless you have a trained service dog.

The exception are airlines which allow small dogs inside of carriers to sit beside you if you’ve bought an extra seat for them. You can also sometimes hold your dog in your lap for much of the flight, though they’ll still go beneath the seat during takeoff and landing.

Not every airline allows for this, so be sure to research your airline of choice!

Puppies Can Travel as Soon as 8 Weeks

If you’re wondering when you can fly with your puppy, the soonest any airline will allow is eight weeks. The puppy must also have been weaned for at least five days.

There are also minimum weights for puppies to fly, and small dogs might need to be older in order to meet those.

Most people will be allowed to fly with their puppies in cabin. These rules mostly apply to breeders or those adopting a new pup.

If you are waiting to adopt a new puppy, I highly recommend searching for ethical breeders or rescues in your area rather than having one flown to you via cargo. Reputable breeders won’t put their dogs in the cargo area of a plane—they’ll have a wait list in their own area and have homes lined up before the puppies are even born.

A breeder flying puppies out is quite possibly a backyard breeder, which means they put money before the dogs’ wellbeing. Backyard breeders are unlikely to test their dogs for genetic illnesses, care for their dogs and puppies properly, or know enough to breed responsibly.

Should You Fly with a Puppy?

Now that you know you can fly with your puppy, you might wonder if you should. This is a tricky question since every situation and every puppy is different.

Here are some things to consider:

  • If your puppy hasn’t had all of their vaccines, plane travel may be unsafe.
  • Flying is incredibly stressful for most dogs.
  • Your puppy should see a veterinarian first to ensure they’re healthy enough to fly.
  • Puppies and seniors are more fragile than young adult dogs—flying is an added risk, particularly if they’re to fly in-cargo.
  • Brachycephalic (short-muzzled) breeds make up the highest number of dog deaths on planes. It’s dangerous for them to fly, especially in-cargo.

It May be Too Hot to Fly in May-September

Some airlines won’t allow you to transport your dog in-cargo from May to September. This is because in some places, these months are too hot.

Sadly, one of the most common ways dogs die in-cargo is via heatstroke.

Even if the airline allows your dog to fly in high temperatures, allowing him on the plane is risky for your pup.

Your Dog Must be Kept in an Airline-Approved Carrier

Dog in a carrier
Dog carriers shouldn’t be soft-sided, as hard-sided carriers provide more protection for your dog.

©Masarik/Shutterstock.com

In order to fly, your dog will need a carrier—and not just any will do. Here are some things to look for in a carrier for your dog’s in-cabin flight:

  • It fits beneath the seats (ask the airline for maximum dimensions)
  • Soft-sided carriers may be easier to fit under the seat, as they have some give to them
  • Your dog can stand up straight, turn around, and lay down inside of the carrier
  • The bottom of the carrier is waterproof to prevent messes if your dog has an accident
  • Ventilation on two or more sides of the carrier
  • Sturdy to prevent escape

Guidelines for in-cargo vary slightly. They should never be soft-sided, as hard-sided carriers provide more protection for your dog.

In-cargo carriers must also have handles on the sides, along with secure latches on the door, as it’s extra-important for them to be inescapable. In-cargo flying is very stressful and there’s a chance your dog will try to escape.

There must also be bowls attached to the crate’s door that can be filled without opening the door. The carrier cannot be collapsible or have wheels.

Lastly, the carrier must be labelled with your pet’s name, your contact information, “live animal” stickers, and arrows indicating which side of the crate is the top.

Some Laws Ban Dog Travel to Certain Areas

Please see your local laws as well as those for your destination. Some countries don’t allow pets to be imported or require quarantine periods (which may take up your entire stay, making it useless to bring your pup along for the trip).

The United States bans dogs flying in from countries it deems to have a high risk of rabies, and Canada has similar measurements in place.

If you’re travelling within the United States, your dog will likely be allowed, but there are exceptions to this, such as if you’re travelling to Hawaii.

Unvaccinated Dogs Shouldn’t Fly

A rabies vaccine will often be required to fly your dog, as it’s mandated by law in most US states that all dogs be vaccinated for rabies whether they’re flying or not.

Other vaccines may also be required by the airline.

It is safest if your dog is vaccinated for all common ailments in your area and the area you’re travelling to before boarding the plane.

If you have a puppy, its best to wait until it’s gotten all puppy vaccines before traveling.

After all, you don’t want your dog to get sick!

Short-Snouted Breeds Can’t Fly in Cargo

French bulldog puppy
Unregulated temperatures or lack of hydration may adversely affect short-snouted dogs.

©iStock.com/Lisa Covalero

Most airlines ban short-snouted, or brachycephalic, breeds from flying in-cargo. This is because in-cargo flight comes with added risks, including an increased risk of heat stroke.

Brachycephalic breeds like pugs, shih tzus, and boxers already struggle to breathe due to poor breeding. Stress exacerbates this, and any poor care on the trip such as unregulated temperatures or lack of hydration may affect them more than other dogs, since they’re already at a disadvantage.

Is Your Dog Healthy Enough to Fly?

Before your trip, you’ll need to bring your dog to the veterinarian. Your airline may require a certificate of health stating that your dog is healthy enough to fly. Even if they don’t, it’s irresponsible to bring your dog on the plane without the vet’s permission.

Mental health is another consideration—while dogs with anxiety might not be banned from flying, it may not be ethical to put them on a plane.

Flying is stressful for well-adapted dogs in the best of circumstances. For dogs with anxiety, consider if their distress is worth bringing them along. How will this trip benefit them?

Are you moving to another state, and want to bring your precious pup with you? Can you or someone else drive your dog instead?

Is this a vacation? Will your dog actually enjoy being away from home? Will you be able to spend adequate time together, rather than leaving him alone while you sight-see?

Can you bring your anxious dog in-cabin, or would he have to endure the extra stress of being kept in-cargo?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but it’s worth considering all of your options before putting an anxious dog through unnecessary stress.

Is It Okay to Transport a Dog in-Cargo?

In-cargo flying comes with extra stress and added risks to your dog, and most dog-enthusiasts would not recommend it.

Though most dogs are physically healthy after being transported in-cargo, that doesn’t mean the pups had a good experience!

Flying is stressful for dogs, and it will only become more so if they’re left alone with strangers caring for them.

There are also the following risks to your dog’s physical wellbeing to consider:

  • Your dog might suffer from heat stroke, lack of ventilation, or heart failure. Sometimes, the temperatures aren’t monitored as they should be, and pets pay the price. Flying is also incredibly stressful, and stress can worsen all of the conditions above.
  • Rough handling. If your pet is treated as luggage and handled roughly, they can be injured. This might also happen if something accidentally falls on their carrier during the trip.
  • No one is monitoring your dog full-time. At home, you can see if your dog is acting odd or showing symptoms of illness. On a flight, the airline staff don’t know your dog or what to watch for and caring for your dog is only a small part of their job. This can mean that medical conditions are missed.
  • Your pet can be lost. On rare occasions, airlines might misplace your pet as they would baggage.

It’s also worth noting that some airlines are riskier than others. For instance, United Airlines had the most animal deaths on their flights of any airline from 2012-2017.

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The Featured Image

Hound goes flying
This hound dog, with his extra-large ears, is adorable.
© Annette Shaff/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm an animal writer of four years with a primary focus on educational pet content. I want our furry, feathery, and scaley friends to receive the best care possible! In my free time, I'm usually outdoors gardening or spending time with my nine rescue pets.

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Sources
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  7. Iata.org, Available here: https://www.iata.org/contentassets/b0016da92c86449f850fe9560827bbea/pet-container-requirements.pdf