A Guide to Flying With Your Dog from New York City

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By Rainbow Kirby, Contributing Writer

The girl with a suitcase in the airportAre you about to take to the friendly skies and want to bring your pup along? Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as loading Spot into your car or stowing Daisy in the basket of your bicycle. Here’s what you need to know before you fly.

Size Matters

Most airlines have a 20 lb. weight limit for flying in-cabin with your pet, and their carrier must fit underneath the seat in front of you. If you have a larger dog like myself, airlines provide transport via cargo, with your dog referred to as “checked baggage”. You must also provide a crate that is big enough to allow your pet to lie down, turn around and stand up.

The only exception is for trained service dogs. Read more here.

Is it Safe?

If your dog is small enough to travel in the main cabin, then it is typically as safe as it is for you in the cabin. If your dog must be in the cargo hold, there are risks, including death. In 2011, 35 dogs died during or just after air travel on US domestic flights, and in 2012, 29 died according to Smithsonian. com. The US Department of Transportation states that 2 million animals are transported by plane each year, making it statistically fairly safe (.002% chance of death), but even one death is too many. The Humane Society has also commented on the subject, and even states that “The HSUS recommends that you do not transport your pet by air unless absolutely necessary.” But we know sometimes pet air travel is unavoidable.

How to Prepare

  •  Reserve a spot when booking your flight. Most airlines will only allow 4-7 dogs per cabin per flight, so make sure you book far enough in advance of your trip.
  •  Visit the vet.  Make sure your dog is up-to-date on all vaccinations and rabies shots, and bring that documentation with you. Ask your vet about food, water and/or the use of tranquilizers during flight (most airlines advise against sedatives).
  •  Label the carrier.  Make sure your pet’s carrier has a picture of your dog on the outside as well as name, address and destination. A “Live Animal Inside” and “This Way Up” is also helpful for handlers.
  •  Book a direct flight. Luggage isn’t the only thing that can get lost in transport.
  •  Feed your dog a few hours before takeoff and only a little bit of water, so that their stomach doesn’t get upset during flight.
  •  Arrive at the airport two to three hours early, especially if your dog is flying in cargo.

Beware of Restrictions

 Age. Pets younger than eight weeks old are not permitted to fly.

 The weather. If it is below 45 degrees or over 85 degrees, your dog is more likely to go into distress and will not be permitted to travel in cargo. Many airlines such as Delta have blackout periods during the summer.  Some airlines such as Virgin Atlantic have temperature controlled cargo areas to counter this issue.

Breed of dog. Many airlines prohibit particular breeds that may have trouble breathing in high altitudes. This may include Bulldogs, Pugs, Terriers, Rottweilers, and Boxers. Please mention breed when calling the airline. Do not surprise them.

 Flying outside of the Continental U.S.

Requirements vary by destination and if paperwork is not complete there can be a 4-6 month quarantine period, especially for foreign destinations.  Find out exactly what documentation you will need months in advance to avoid unnecessary holdup.

Pet-Friendly Airlines

JetBlue’s JetPaws

JetBlue offers more than blue terra chips and a TV in the back of your seat. They’ve created a special Pet Travel program, JetPaws. Visit their web site to download the JetPaws Travel Guide, which highlights dog-friendly hotels and restaurants in top destination cities such as Fort Lauderdale and San Francisco.

  •  Rules:  Only one pet per flight and the weight of the carrier and pet combined cannot exceed 20 lbs. Currently only accept small pets.
  •  Cost: $100 per flight (non-refundable)
  •  Perks: Earn 300 TrueBlue points for flying with your pet; special bag-tag will be attached to your pet carrier at check-in so everyone knows your pet is flying

Call: 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583)


If you have a small dog, Southwest is another viable option.

  • Rules: One pet carrier per ticketed passenger – which may contain two dogs. Dogs must be kept inside the carrier during in-cabin flight and have enough room to stand up and move within the carrier. Carrier must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.
  • Cost: $75 per flight (non-refundable)
  •  Book: Call 1-800-435-9792

Virgin Atlantic

For large dog owners, Virgin Atlantic is one of the better options. Pets are safely secured in the hold, which is heated and air-conditioned just like the cabin.

Rules: Will not accept any pets under sedation; check your pet in with Virgin Atlantic Cargo four hours before your departure time.

Cost: Depends on the size of travel crate. Call with length, height and width of crate and they will provide an exact quote.

Perks: Your pup will earn you 1,000 bonus Flying Club miles; remember to ask when booking tickets.

Call: 1-800-828-6822 ext. 4, Monday-Friday: 2pm-6pm (UK Time); closed on Saturday and Sunday


In addition to in-cabin travel, United offers PetSafe  for dogs above the size limit. PetSafe services include airport-to-airport delivery for animals and features a 24-hour live animal desk and the ability to track pets from origin to destination.

  • Rules: One pet per flight; carrier must fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times.
  • Cost: $125 each way for in-cabin; PetSafe pricing is based on weight of dog and carrier combined (if your dog is over 100 lbs., it will cost more than $429)
  •  Call: 1-800-864-8331; PetSafe: 1-800-575-3335


American Airlines

No more than seven pets are permitted per flight (in-cabin) and dog show participants are given a special callout on the web site (interesting).

  • Cost: $125 for in-cabin; $175 for cargo kennel each way
  • Call: 1-800-433-7300



Due to seasonal weather conditions, Delta does not accept pets as “checked baggage from May 15 through September 15. You can, however, ship your pet as cargo with the Delta Pet First program.”

  •  Cost: $125 for in-cabin; $200 for cargo kennel each way
  • Call: 1-800-221-1212

Charter Flight

 If the thought of having your canine travel via cargo and in a kennel for many hours makes you shudder, a charter flight may be the best solution.  No need to worry — they’ll be right before your eyes and in your care for the entire flight.

While this option could cost thousands, there are ways to lower the cost. Charter companies often have to fly empty to pick up their passengers or perhaps they will only have a few people on their flight willing to fly with you and your dog, so you can share in the cost. It’s simply a matter of scheduling. Unlike an airline, you cannot choose to fly at a specific time; you will have to be flexible. Here are a few providers:

Magellan Jets

Newport Jets

Pet Travel Transport

Have you flown with your dog? Share your tips and recommendations with us.

A Guide to Flying With Your Dog from New York City, 4.7 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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