Cat and Dog Airplane Rules Checklist Tips for Flying with Your Pet

Cat and Dog Airplane Rules Checklist

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Airports can be tricky. Especially if you plan on taking a pet along for the ride. To help you better avoid the pitfalls of traveling with a pet, here is a checklist of airplane rules in regards to cats and dogs.

Itching to use your vacation time? Ready for a change of scenery? Everybody loves time off in an exotic location, including cats and dogs, but getting them there can be a whole new barrel of monkeys.

We are all well aware of how tedious and draining it can be to move through airport security. Are you ready to drag your pet through that process? Are you sure of all that entails? Chances are, there is more to airline pet policies than you probably thought. Here is a helpful checklist of the cat and dog airplane rules you'll have to know.


Check the Airline’s Pet Policy

If you plan on flying with a pet, this should be the first thing you do, since every airline has its own policy regarding flying with pets. Some won’t allow you to check your pet, meaning the only pets allowed must be small enough to carry on. Make sure you know who you are flying with and where they stand on pet passage. Here are some of the most popular US airlines and their pet policies.




 Delta  Yes  Yes
 United  Yes  Yes
 Southwest   Yes  No
 American  Yes  Yes
 US Airways   Yes  No
 JetBlue  Yes  No

Check Seasonal Restrictions (If Planning to Check)

Certain times of the year may be too hot or cold for it to be safe to keep pets in the cargo hold, thereby making it impossible to check your pet. An airline that allows pets should still allow you to take your pet on the plane with you, but only as carry on. This effectively limits the time span in which you can travel with your medium to large size dog.

Check Your Destinations Laws

While flying with a pet may be difficult, it doesn’t always end there. Certain destinations have very rigorous laws in place that make it especially time-consuming, and possibly expensive, to bring a pet with you. For example, bringing a pet to Hawaii might be tough due to the anti-rabies regulations they have in place; they can hold your pet for up to four months for rabies screenings.

Check With Your Hotel

Many hotels are not pet friendly. Make sure the one you are staying is alright with your furry compatriot. No sense taking your pet hundreds of miles from home just to have to find them other accommodations at a kennel.

Call the Airline

Next, make sure the airline you are traveling with knows that you to have a pet in tow. Most airlines have a cap as to how many pets they will allow on each flight, so get in there first.  You certainly don’t want to arrive at the airport with a pet that is not welcome on the plane.

Go to the Vet

Since flying can take a lot out of your pet (especially if they are being checked), make sure a professional thinks that they are fit enough to fly. Also, most airlines require documentation, some written no more than 10 days before the date of travel, from a licensed veterinarian that verifies your cat or dog as safe to fly. So remember: lways vet before you jet with your pet.

Feed Your Pet

A few hours before you leave for the airport (no more than 4) you should give your pet a full meal. The flight staff will give your pet some food during the flight, but only if the flight is long enough to warrant it and only if you provide them with food. On the other hand, flying with a full stomach can sometimes make for an uncomfortable ride for your pet, so don’t load them up with kibble right before the flight. The ideal feeding time is roughly 3 to 4 hours before takeoff.

Make Sure You Have Everything They’ll Need

When you are doing your final once-over of your luggage, don’t forget to think about things your pet is going to need too. There are probably things you can get once you reach your destination, but things like a leash, medication, a litter box, etc., you might be better off bringing your own.


If you plan on flying with your pet, make sure you know what to expect. Here are a few snares in the pet checking process you would do best to avoid.

Check Airline Restrictions

Every airline has to abide by the USDA requirements for safe pet travel, but they are also allowed to implement their own restrictions on top of them. Make sure you know what they are by checking with your airline before the day of travel.

Can your pet be checked?

Certain breeds are not allowed to be checked underneath the plane due to certain traits like brachycephaly (snub nosed dogs). Dogs and cats with these traits will find it difficult to breathe at high altitudes and they are also not very adept at cooling off, making the cargo hold of an airplane a veritable death trap. Breeds that are commonly banned include:



Is Your Kennel Up to Code?

If you plan on checking your pet, make sure their kennel is up to code. You may think that your fancy new travel crate is top-of-the-line, but check it against this list of criteria and see if it will pass muster with the USDA.

  • Made out of sturdy material (metal, wood, or plastic; no wicker or cardboard).
  • If your kennel has wheels, make sure they are either removable or stopped up with tape or a lever.
  • Ventilated on at least three sides (including the gate).
  • Must be able to close securly without being locked since it is illegal to lock the kennel before flight (incase the dog needs to be quickly evacuated off the plane).
  • Absorbent material lining the bottom of the crate (newspaper, bedding).
  • Bowls for both food and water.
  • Food and feeding instructions if the flight is so long that the pet will need to be fed.
  • Big enough for the pet to stand upright without having their head touch the roof. It should also be big enough that the pet can fully turn around and lay down.
  • The crate should be marked with “Live Animal” in one inch, bold lettering, along with an arrow to let people know which end should be up.


If you can manage it, a carry-on situation is definitely better for everyone involved. You don’t have to worry about how your pet is faring underneath the plane, and your pet gets to be near you during this turbulent process (pun very much intended). Now, while cats are rarely a problem in this regard, the carry-on option is only viable for small dogs up to a certain size. Check with your airline and find out what the maximum dimensions of a carry on kennel are to see if you can keep your pup with you.

Again, the same basic rules apply to the kennel as before (ventilated sides, big enough to move around, etc.), the only difference being that the carry on case does not necessarily have to be made of a hard material.


By now it should be apparent that there is a fair amount of red tape involved with traveling with a pet. Consider how long you are going to be away. Think about how much undue stress you are going to be putting your pet under -- the airport, the flight, the foreign destination -- and ask yourself “is this worth it?” It may seem like fun to take Fido or Fluffy with you to Florida, but despite what you think, the time apart may not be as rough for them as the stresses of travel. Consider putting your pet in a kennel for the duration of your trip, or just find a friend or family member that is willing to help out. In many cases, this can be the best option.

More On Pet Travel

What Are the Best Dogs to Travel With?
Best Pet Carriers for Traveling
Road Trip With a Dog Checklist

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Brachycephalic Syndrome

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