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  • Post published:29/10/2021
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Traveling with Dogs on Planes

Before the Covid 19 pandemic hit, more than 400,000 animals in 2019 flew on domestic airlines in the United States. The bulk of those animals were dogs.

Covid has changed some the rules of flying with animals, mostly in connection with international flights. You can read about that here in the New York Times. Because of the Covid dog-adoption boom, the federal government tightened up travel rules this year to help forestall the spread of rabies.

Check with each airline’s website for Covid-related rules and restrictions concerning international flights. Some have more restrictive rules than the government.

In addition to these new Covid-related rules, the Department of Transportation issued new regulations about flying with service and emotional support animals in 2021.

In this comprehensive post, Urban Dog will outline general guidelines for flying with dogs, discuss the new Department of Transportation rules about flying with service dogs and emotional support dogs, and then, outline each airlines’ policies regarding flying (in alphabetical order) including updated fees.

Scroll down to get started!

Flying with your dog
Mila Eyes the Tarmac

 Recommendations for Flying with Dogs

Here are Urban Dog’s “universal rules” regarding flying with your dog. These are our recommendations that we feel you should follow no matter what a particular airline’s policies are.

Health Certificates: Take your dog in for a check-up. Get paperwork from your vet certifying that your pet is healthy and is up-to-date on all her shots. Even if your airline doesn’t have specific requirements about health paperwork, your destination may require certificates of health. It is worth it to be prepared for any eventuality.

PLEASE NOTE: Hawai’i, as the only rabies-free state in the United States, has very strict requirements about bringing animals into the state. Click here for the full set of rules.

Sedation: Do not sedate your dog for the duration of the flight. You can find any number of sources, including some airlines, saying they “don’t recommend it” or “you should avoid it.” Urban Dog’s veterinary experts all say “absolutely not!” Bodhi’s vet Dr. Dion Osborne and others say that flying with your dog under sedation, even if they are very healthy, could result in any number of serious, unforeseen outcomes.

Crates and Carriers: Get a USDA-approved shipping crate for flying in cargo and an airline-approved carrier for flying in the cabin. The requirements vary from airline to airline.

Food and Water: Feed your dog and give your dog water well in advance of flying. Dogs should fast for at least six hours before lifting off.

Pooping and Peeing: Walk your dog before flying, making sure your dog has one last pit stop as close to travel time as possible.

Identification: Properly label your dog and your dog’s carrier with names and contact info. Crates should have “Live Animal” plastered all over them. You should also carry a picture of your pet with you in case he somehow gets away from you or gets loose.

Connecting Flights: Book direct flights. This avoids any time spent on the tarmac between flights and reduces the chances of your pet being mishandled by baggage personnel.

Communicating with Airline Staff: Make sure every airline employee you encounter knows you are flying with your dog checked in the cargo hold. In a worst-case scenario you will want airline staff to know that your pet needs to be removed from the cargo.

Age: Fly with dogs that are eight weeks old and weaned. Most airlines have this requirement. Delta is the exception; they say that dogs need to be ten weeks old and weaned.

New Federal Rules Regarding Flying with Service and Emotional Support Animals

For years now people have taken advantage of vague rules regarding service animals and emotional support animals and have brought a wide variety of animals into the cabin free of charge (emotional support kangaroo!?!) That has now changed. In January 2021, as part of the Air Carrier Access Act, the Department of Transportation issued a new rule regarding flying with service and emotional support animal.

Airlines will now accept only service dogs (dogs only!) that are trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability. One of the best known examples of service dogs are guide dogs who assist blind or sight-impaired people.

I think it’s appropriate to list the new DOT rules here in full. This final ruling:

  • Defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability;
  • No longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal;
  • Requires airlines to treat psychiatric service animals the same as other service animals;
  • Allows airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s health, behavior and training, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal can either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;
  • Allows airlines to require individuals traveling with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) up to 48 hours in advance of the date of travel if the passenger’s reservation was made prior to that time;
  • Prohibits airlines from requiring passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to physically check-in at the airport instead of using the online check-in process;  
  • Allows airlines to require a person with a disability seeking to travel with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) at the passenger’s departure gate on the date of travel;
  • Allows airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals; 
  • Allows airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft;
  • Allows airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times in the airport and on the aircraft;
  • Continues to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and
  • Continues to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely based on breed.

Psychiatric service dogs are still protected under the Air Carrier Access Act; but emotional support animals — which are certified by a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other licensed mental health care provider for a person with an emotional or mental disability — are not.

The bottom line is travelers can no longer slap a vest on their pet that says “emotional support animal” and bring it in to the cabin free of charge. Airlines now require proof that your dog is a certified service animal.

For more on service dogs and emotional support animals, read this article from the American Kennel Club.

And here’s a link to a DOT PDF outlining the final ruling.

If you want to learn more go to the Department of Transportation’s consumer reports pages to

Airline Pet Policies

Here are some details about flying with your dog on each of the major carriers. They are listed in alphabetical order. You should definitely check with each airline’s website for details and to make sure none of the info I’ve included below has changed.

Alaska Airlines
www.alaskaair.com
1-800-252-7522

Pets Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit entirely inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Passenger may travel with two pets provided an adjacent seat is purchased.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

NOTE: CHECK WITH AIRLINE TO SEE IF ANIMALS CAN FLY IN CARGO UNDER NEW COVID RULES.

Pets Can Fly in Cargo Hold: Yes, subject to availability.
– Travel to certain destinations is restricted due to temperature and weather considerations.
– Travel during certain holiday periods is restricted.
– Certain aircraft do not have climate controlled cargo holds.

Brachycephalic, or short-nosed dogs like Pugs, Frenchies, and Bulldogs, and mixes are not allowed. See airline website for complete list of breeds.
– Dogs must be eight weeks of age and weaned.
– Check in at least one hour and no more than two hours before departure.
USDA-approved crate required.

Cost: $100 each way.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of initial travel and 30 days of return travel. Not required in cabin. Check airline website for health requirements for certain destinations in Alaska.

American Airlines
www.aa.com
1-800-433-7300

American Airlines has very specific restrictions about traveling with pets to various parts of the world. Check their website for details. American allows travel with pets on most flights not longer than 12 hours, including the time it takes to clear customs at arrival cities.  American has some first class little dog cabins.

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Passenger can travel with one pet.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

NOTE: CHECK WITH AIRLINE TO SEE IF ANIMALS CAN FLY IN CARGO UNDER NEW COVID RULES.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: Yes, subject to availability.
– Travel to certain destinations can be restricted due to temperature and weather considerations.
– Brachycephalic dogs and mixes are not allowed. See airline website for complete list of breeds.
– Allow extra time for check in, but no more than four hours before departure.
– USDA-approved crate required.
– Passengers are allowed to check two pets.
– Flights connecting to other American flights are only allowed through ten airports in the US. Check airline website for details.
American also has specific requirements regarding food and water for checked pets; labeling of crates; and medicine. Please consult airline website for details.

Cost: $125 each way for pets traveling in the cabin. $200 for pets traveling in cargo, $150 for pets traveling to Brazil in cargo.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of initial travel and 60 days of return travel on same ticket. Ten days of your return on a separate ticket. Not required in cabin.

Delta Air Lines
www.delta.com
1-800-221-1212

Delta Air Lines has very specific restrictions about traveling with pets to various parts of the world. Check their website for details. Delta allows travel with pets on most flights not longer than 12 hours, including the time it takes to clear customs at arrival cities. Delta ships pets through a service called Delta Cargo. This is different than flying on Delta’s regular commercial passenger flights.

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Passenger may travel with one pet. Delta has some exceptions to this rule. Check airline website for details.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.
– Dogs must be ten weeks of age and weaned for domestic travel. Check airline website for international flight requirements.

NOTE: CHECK WITH AIRLINE TO SEE IF ANIMALS CAN FLY IN CARGO UNDER NEW COVID RULES.

Can Fly in Cargo: Yes, subject to availability. Please note that Delta ships pets through a service called Delta Cargo. This is different than flying on Delta’s regular commercial passenger flights.
– Travel to certain destinations is restricted due to temperature and weather considerations.
– Delta does not guarantee to ship animals on the same flight or flight schedule as passenger.
– Pets must check in a Delta Cargo location at least three hours before departure and separate from regular passenger check in. Picking up the pet at the destination would occur at a Delta Cargo location as well.
– Travel during certain holiday periods is restricted.
– Brachycephalic are not allowed. See site for complete list of breeds.
– Dogs must be ten weeks of age and weaned for domestic travel. Check airline website for international flight requirements.
– USDA-approved crate required.

Cost: $125 each way in cabin for flights in the US, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the USVI. $200 outside the US; $75 to Brazil. $200 for pets flying on Delta Cargo; $150 for Brazil each way.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of initial travel and 30 days of return travel. Not required in cabin.

Frontier Airlines
www.flyfrontier.com
1-801-401-9000

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, on domestic flights and flights to Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: No.

Cost: $99 each way.

Health Certificate:  Not required for domestic travel; required for flights to Puerto Rico and international travel. Certificates must be dated anywhere from within five to 30 days of entry depending on the destination. Check the airline website for details.

Hawaiian Airlines
www.hawaiianairlines.com
1-800-367-5320

Flying with your dog in Hawai’i has special travel considerations. Because it is the only rabies-free state is has a number of strict guidelines you need to follow. Please follow this link for details.

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, permitted only on inter-island flights and certain flights between Hawai’i and North America.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

NOTE: CHECK WITH AIRLINE TO SEE IF ANIMALS CAN FLY IN CARGO UNDER NEW COVID RULES.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: Yes, if pet and crate do not exceed 70 pounds. If they exceed 70 pounds they must be shipped through Hawaiian Airlines’ separate cargo service.
– Travel to certain destinations is restricted due to temperature and weather considerations.
– Travel during certain holiday periods is restricted.
– Brachycephalic are not allowed. See site for complete list of breeds.
– Check in at least one hour and no more than two hours before departure.
– USDA-approved crate required.

Cost: $35 each way within Hawai’i; $125 between Hawai’i and North America.

Health Certificate: For travel within the State of Hawaii, no animal health certificate is required. For travel between Hawaii and North America a health certificate dated within 14 days prior to arrival is required.

JetBlue
www.JetBlue.com
1-800-538-2583

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pet and carrier cannot exceed 20 pounds.
– Pets must fit entirely inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.
– There is no specific age requirement for pets.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: No.

Cost: $125 each way.

Health Certificate: No specific requirement for health certificate, but vaccinations must be up-to-date.

southwest-flying-with-your-dog

Southwest
www.southwest.com
1-800-435-9792

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you. Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: No.

Cost: $95 each way.

Health Certificate: Not required in cabin, but must be vaccinated.

Spirit Airlines
www.spirit.com
1-855-728-3555

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: No.

Cost: $110 each way.

Health Certificate: Not required in cabin.

United
www.united.com
1-800-864-8331

United Airlines has very specific restrictions about traveling with pets to various parts of the world. Check their website for details. United allows travel with pets on most flights not longer than 12 hours, including the time it takes to clear customs at arrival cities. United has a program called PetSafe, a special service for animals that fly in cargo. The program includes a dedicated 24-hour PetSafe desk, as well as the ability to track pets from point of origin to destination. You have to fill out an application online for your dog to fly in cargo. This is different than booking your flight through United’s regular commercial flights.

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.
– Dogs must be eight weeks of age and weaned.

NOTE: CHECK WITH AIRLINE TO SEE IF ANIMALS CAN FLY IN CARGO UNDER NEW COVID RULES.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: Yes, subject to availability. Please be aware that United ships animals through a service called PetSafe, as noted above. Click here for details. This is different than flying on United’s regular commercial passenger flights.
– Travel to certain destinations is restricted due to temperature and weather considerations.
– United does not guarantee to ship animals on the same flight or flight schedule as passenger.
– Flying with brachycephalic dogs is not recommended. United has concerns with other types of dogs as well. Check the airline’s website for more info.
– For international flights, animals must be four months old and weaned.
– Check in two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight.
– Check in and claim may occur at different location than your commercial flight.
– USDA-approved crate required.

Cost: $125 each way. There is an additional fee of $125 for each stopover of more than four hours within the US or more than 24 hours outside the US.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of both outbound and inbound travel. Not required in cabin.

Research Your Destination

Be thorough when researching your destination!

Different states may have different requirements from what you expect. Sometimes cities and other municipalities may have more stringent rules than the states they are in. For example, Nome, Alaska requires proof of Parvovirus vaccine while the state itself does not.

Also, as noted above, travel to Hawai’i has special considerations because it is the only rabies-free state in the Union. Here’s a link to very thorough FAQ page on the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture’s website. It should answer any questions might have about bringing animals to the Aloha State.

Flying with your dog to international destinations comes with many, many more requirements than does domestic travel. Research your destination very thoroughly. Many countries require you to quarantine your pet upon arrival. That’s definitely something to consider when planning your travel. Also look into the rules regarding what a country can do if your flight is delayed while making a connection. If you are in a country too long, it may become subject to the rules of that country even if it’s not your final destination. You can get in touch with an American consulate in the country you are traveling to get the most up-to-date information. Covid has also changed the rules about flying Internationally with your pet. Here’s a link to a recent New York Times article about that.

Flying with your dog
Miami International Airport

Pet Safety on Flights

I checked with Urban Dog’s resident veterinary expert, Dr. Christina Moore, and she says, given a choice, she wouldn’t put her dogs in the cargo hold. She says it can be very stressful. The Humane Society also recommends against checking your pet in the cargo hold.

However, you may not have a choice. I did a little research and found some relevant statistics in the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report for 2019 (I researched 2019 because it was the last full year of flying before the pandemic hit.)

In 2019, 404,556 animals flew according to the Department of Transportation. There were 19 incidents reported. That is far less than one incident for every 10,000 animals. That means that the vast majority of animals that flew, arrived safely. However 11 of those reported incidents were deaths, and in our book that’s 11 too many. (NOTE: those reports are for all animals, not just dogs.) The airlines with the worst records were American and United, with six incidents each. For more info follow this link to the DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report for 2019. The information about animals is at the end of the report, starting on page 70. You will find links within the report that will take you to the individual incident reports for each airline.

Interestingly, Alaska Airlines transported the most animals, 149,303! That’s three times what the next busiest airlines, American and United flew.

Pet Travel Concierge Services and Charter Flights

If you have the money, you might consider special concierge services or charter flights when flying with your dog. Friends of ours, who moved from New York City to Sao Paolo in Brazil, used a concierge service and were very happy with the result. The service facilitated and monitored the dog’s travel. Most important, they responded to requests from the dog’s owner in Brazil when he started to think that the dog had been in his crate too long before they could claim him. There are also plenty of private charter groups that allow flying with your dog the cabin. There are too many charter groups and concierge services to list here, but a good place to start is IPATA, the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association.

And here’s a recent article from the Robb Report about flying on private charters.

For more information on transportation issues, click here for advice on how to navigate travel in New York City.

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