How to fly with your dog in cabin – Top tips for 2024

A small white french bulldog in a harness walking through an airport

More than a third of pet owners say they would never travel without their pets, and almost 2 million pets will fly on a commercial airline this year! This article will tell you all you need to know about how to fly with your dog in cabin! We’ll focus on US and European travel, but these tips will help no matter where your adventures with your dog lead you.

Why Travel with Your Dog?

There are many reasons you might want to travel with your dog – relocation, worries about separation anxiety (yours or theirs!), lack of a reliable and responsible pet sitter or kennel, or simply to share fun and adventure. Watching my Alaska pup frolic on the warm Hawaiian sand playing with a coconut just about made my heart explode. Traveling with your dog can be safe and rewarding. But you must pay attention to rules and guidelines, and know some good dog travel hacks!

A french bulldog in a Hawaiian dress traveling in a car
Tuckered out after a day at the beach. Don’t worry, we put her in a safe carrier before we drove!

Most people say that they find travel with pets difficult. That’s probably because they haven’t planned it out, and don’t know the tips and tricks that make traveling with your pet easy and enjoyable.

So, if you don’t want your love for your pet to keep you from traveling, or to reduce the frequency or duration of your travel, we got you. Here are our top tips for flying with a small dog in cabin!

[Heads up! This post may contain ‘affiliate links’, meaning I get a small commission and you pay nothing exttra if you decide to make a purchase through those links. It’s like leaving a tip that doesn’t cost you anything! And also, it will make me really happy and motivated to keep providing you with useful and entertaining content!]

WHEN SHOULD YOU NOT TRAVEL WITH YOUR DOG?

If your dog is sick, elderly, has serious medical issues, is pregnant, or likely to have extreme anxiety or reactivity issues, it may be best to leave them with a trusted friend or pet sitter when you fly. Your dog shouldn’t be miserable, or at risk. Also, consider if your dog is a compulsive barker. You don’t want your airline or hotel to ask you to leave because your dog is a disturbance to others.

If your dog is reactive, consider a plan to postpone travel and do some behavioral training with a qualified professional first. It will be good for you and your dog in many ways. It’s great to expand your dog’s horizons, but be smart and don’t stress your dog out or put them at unnecessary risk!

VETERINARY REQUIREMENTS FOR FLIGHTS TO THE EU

For travel from the US to the EU, your dog will need to be microchipped, vaccinated for rabies, and obtain an EU health certificate. Depending on the country, a rabies titre test may be required, or your dog may need a deworming treatment. Be sure to check directly with the country you’re traveling to, and directly with your airline. Lots of people write blog posts with current information that unfortunately doesn’t stay current, so go to the source.

Here are the 2 most important links to understand the requirements of traveling internationally with your US dog. Both are official sites from the USDA:

✈️ Taking Your Pet From the US to Another Country

✈️ Pet Travel Guidance for Pets Traveling to Another Country From the United States

You will need to get an EU Animal Health Certificate for your dog. The certificate must be issued by a veterinarian who is accredited for this particular purpose. Ask your vet whether they are accredited to issue an EU Animal Health Certificate. If they are not, you can search for an accredited veterinarian on this website.

✈️ USDA Accredited Veterinarian Search

This health certificate is valid for 30 days after it is issued. But after you get the certificate from the vet, you have to physically send it to a USDA office. Then you have to physically get it back from them, certified, within 10 days of your arrival in Europe! That means you will have to time things out so you meet the valid window for travel.

Here’s the link that describes the current US regulations about what you need to have done, who needs to do it, and when it needs to be completed.

✈️ USDA Endorsement Offices by State

There’s no way around doing your homework and getting everything planned out well in advance. Stay in close contact with the accredited vet you choose, and make sure you know when they will issue the certificate, and make plans to get it certified by the USDA Endorsement Office within that 10 day window before your flight.

Our certificate didn’t arrive in the mail from the USDA Endorsement office until two days before we moved to Germany! Needless to say, we stared out the window biting our nails and trying not to have a heart attack until the mail truck arrived. We had extra logistical details to deal with for our move, so your experience probably won’t be as hair-raising.

Pain in the butt? Totally. Worth it to explore Europe with your dog? Also totally.

Travel Within the EU

Once you arrive in Europe, if you want to travel to other countries within the EU, you will need to carry all your dog’s medical and vaccination paperwork with you. Proof of rabies vaccination is the main concern, and if you are planning to enter the Great Britain, your dog will also require a worming treatment.

The EU health certificate is good for four months.

If you are moving to the EU, or planning an extended stay, you should obtain an EU Pet Passport for your dog. This means that your dog will easily be able to cross most borders in Europe, just like you can. They will even be able to go to or through Switzerland (which is not in the EU). It’s an easy routine vet visit. Be sure to email ahead of time for your appointment and have all the relevant paperwork and records they will need. You’ll get the passport right in the vet’s office.

A french bulldog with her European pet passport
Helga has gotten a lot of use out of her European Pet Passport issued in Germany

The bottom line is, if you’ve been dying to plan that cross-European road trip with your dog, it’s totally doable!

*International flights, and flights to Hawaii have additional health and vaccine requirements.

AIRLINES

US AIR CARRIERS:

Always voice verify with a customer service agent that your dog will be flying in the cabin before you fly. Many, but not all airlines, will allow a limited number of cabin dogs if they meet the size, age, health, and vaccine requirements, and if they have an appropriate airline-approved carrier. The airline will tell you the size dimensions of the carriers allowed. Book your flight early so you can be sure your pet gets one of those coveted available spaces, especially if you have specific dates you need to fly.

The good news is that for small dogs in cabin, there are several major US carriers that have great in-cabin policies. They do not have specific weight limits but your dog must be comfortable in their carrier and able to fit under the seat in front of you. Check each airline’s carrier requirements for size limits. Most airlines will require a soft-sided pet carrier which is easier to maneuver in and out of the under-seat area.

Policies can change. Don’t forget to check your airline’s policies before you purchase your tickets!

An Alaska Airlines aircraft on the tarmac

Alaska Airlines – I can highly recommend Alaska Airlines for travel with your pet. My dog has flown in-cabin well over a dozen times with them and I’ve never had a single problem. As a matter of fact, it is the most popular airline for pet transportation for a reason! Click here to verify their current pet policy.

Delta Airlines – Flights to Europe available. I haven’t flown Delta as much as Alaska Airlines, but so far I’ve made 2 trips to and from Europe on Delta, and had no problems at all with my dog in the cabin.

United Airlines – Flights to Europe available, but not all take pets in cabin. Double check your flight before you buy.

Southwest Airlines – Cabin pets only, but no pets on flights to Hawaii or any international flight. Click here to verify their current pet policy.

EUROPEAN AIR CARRIERS:

European airlines are more restrictive in general regarding the weight of in-cabin dogs. Most airlines cut off in-cabin dogs at only 8kg (17.6 pounds). Sometimes you’ll find a 10kg cutoff (22 pounds) or even 12kg (26.5 pounds), but those are rare. These airlines also count the weight to include your dog and the carrier!

An airplane from pet-friendly Volotea Airlines
Volotea is a great pet-friendly European airline, based in Spain, that allows dogs in the cabin.

EUROPEAN AIRLINES THAT ACCEPT DOGS IN CABIN:

12kg+ (26.5 pounds+) for dog and carrier:

  • Air Baltic – 12kg (26.5 pounds for dog and carrier)
  • La Compagnie – The all-business-class airline from New York to Paris, Milan or Nice – 15kg (33 pounds for the animal only, not including the carrier)
  • Villiers – And if you want the ultimate luxury travel-by-air experience with your dog in the cabin, free to roam, no matter their size, just charter a Villiers private jet!

10kg (22pounds) for dog and carrier:

8kg (17 pounds) for dog and carrier:

  • This list is not exhaustive, and you should always be sure to double-check and do your research before you book. Airlines change their pet policies often, and may have other restrictions like age or breed of the animal, whether you are also traveling with a baby, and how many pets are allowed per person and per flight. The links above all go to the pet policy pages of the airlines indicated.
  • If your flight is not direct, make sure that the airline you book with is the same airline for all legs of your flight. If they use a partner airline, verify that your dog will be able to be in the cabin with the same policies as the airline you book with.

SEAT SELECTION FOR A DOG IN CABIN

*Try to book a window seat. There is often more room under the seat in front of you for the carrier than the middle seat. You’ll also avoid having someone walking close by. And your neighbor won’t have to climb over you, inadvertently kicking the carrier or stressing out your dog. The less stimulation for your dog, the better, and window seats are best for that. Occasionally the middle seat will have more room, so ask about your particular aircraft when you book your flight.

Small dog traveling on an airplane in the cabin
Some European airlines don’t have a lot of room but pets are still allowed in the cabin.

Airlines typically will not let you sit in an emergency exit row, or in a seat where there is no stowage in front of you for your pet.

FEES FOR YOUR CARRY-ON PET

Plan on paying an extra fee to bring a dog in the cabin. This usually runs about $50-$150 each way. Also take into consideration whether your dog will have a checked bag too, and if that will cost more.

AIRPORTS

PET RELIEF AREAS

A man and a dog exiting the pet relief area in an airport before flying
Even if your dog is not a registered service animal, you can still let them use the pet relief area

Google ahead of time to see if the airport you are departing from has a pet relief area, and whether it’s located before or after security. Most, but not all major airports do, and provide directions or a map. Sometimes you’ll get a quiet discreet room, and other times (like one of the pet relief areas at SEA-TAC in Seattle) the pee area will be right out in the open. They usually have some kind of astroturf, and sometimes even a fake fire hydrant. The smell of other dogs will be enough for most dogs to realize this is the place to go!

*Make sure you have the information you need to find the pet relief area saved on your phone so you can find it easily. Pull it up while you’re still in the air and have it ready to go.

If your airport has a pet relief area near your departure gate, this is the best-case scenario and you’ll be able to let your pet go right before you board. A flight to Europe is long, so be as kind to their bladder as you can. If there is no nearby pet relief area, you’ll have to use the relief area before security or in the worst case, find an area outside before you enter the airport.

PEE PADS

If you have trained your dog to use a pee pad, you can also find a quiet corner in the airport and let them use a pad. Make sure they feel comfortable doing this at home or elsewhere before you count on that scenario working in the airport! I speak from experience and my super stubborn dog refused to use the pee pad. There are products available you can spray on the pad to encourage your dog to do their business in that spot.

Plan ahead and see whether there is a pet relief area at your airport of arrival as well. See where it is in relation to your arrival gate. If there is no pet relief area (I’m lookin’ at you, Frankfurt!) then you’ll have to do the same drill. Pee pads, or get outside as soon as possible.

You need to be kind of a sleuth about this, and prepare all of it in advance. You don’t want to be juggling your dog and your luggage and finding your way around the airport before boarding all at the same time. Your dog will sense if you are stressed out, so prepare ahead of time and take it slow.

PREPARING FOR ACCIDENTS

It could happen. If your dog is nervous, or refused to go before you got on the plane, or simply couldn’t hold it anymore, they may have an accident in the airport or on the plane. Of course, don’t be mad at them. You wouldn’t want to hold it in for 10 hours either! 

The key is to anticipate, and be prepared to clean up the mess. That means put pee pads at the bottom of the carrier under the pad. If the pad has a removeable cover, also put a pee pad between the cover and the foam pad itself. Have poop bags, Ziplocs, a garbage bag, doggie/baby wipes in a Ziploc, rubber gloves, hand sanitizer and a small pump air freshener. Canned air freshener won’t make it through security.

Hopefully you won’t need any of these things, but you’ll be very glad to have them if you do! All these items should fit in the pouch on the carrier itself. If they won’t fit, or if they push the weight of the carrier over the limit, pack them in your carry-on and not your checked bag!

PACKING LIST FOR YOUR DOG

We joke that Helga has more luggage than we do when we fly. But if you want your dog to be comfortable and have what they need, you’re going to have to bring it. You will be able to find pet stores in an emergency but they are usually not in tourist areas, so you may lose some precious vacation time if you’re chasing all over for an item you forgot.

Here’s how we pack for Helga:

CHECKED LUGGAGE:

A french bulldog and the contents of her luggage preparing for travel
Helga gets excited when we start to get out the travel supplies!

We bring a large hard-sided dog kennel as her one piece of checked luggage. This also doubles as her “comfort cave” if she needs it in the hotel. We also use it to transport her in the rental car so she doesn’t get white hair all over the place, and is safe and secure.

Make sure to mark this large carrier “NO ANIMAL INSIDE” on all sides. If you don’t, the luggage handlers may think there’s a dog in with the luggage! If your carrier is missing when you pick up your luggage, go check for it with the other animals. This happens frequently, because despite your efforts they sometimes don’t read the label anyway.

Inside the hard-sided carrier:

  • Dog bed (on the bottom of the kennel)
  • Shoulder bag for carrying her when we need to
  • Duffel bag/backpack containing:
  • Bowls for food and water
  • Extra leash
  • Coat if needed
  • Cooling vest if needed
  • Empty water bottle
  • Toys
  • Treats
  • Kibble in gallon-sized Ziploc bags – measured out to include 3 extra days, just in case
  • Collapsible litter box and cedar shavings – 1 gallon Ziploc for every two days, and at least 1 gallon bag per hotel. You can also use pee pads if your dog is accustomed to them.
  • Mini dust pan and brush so you can leave the hotel bathroom like you found it
  • Wash cloth (European hotels generally do not provide washcloths!)
  • Meds if applicable
  • Poop bags
  • More Ziplocs
  • Large drawstring garbage bags – 1 per litter change and a few extra. We put the entire litter box inside a big black outdoor garbage bag. Then the litter goes on top of the plastic for super simple cleanup. When you’re done, turn the bag inside out, knot it and voilà! If pee pads work for you, do what works and just put the used ones in the garbage bag.

For a full article of tips, tricks, and travel hacks for staying in a hotel with your dog, click on our article Staying in a Hotel with Your Dog – Top Tips!

CARRY-ON (Including your dog!)

First, remember that your dog is considered a carry-on themselves. So you will have one less carry-on bag you can take on the plane. In addition to that, your dog will need to have certain things on the plane. You can pack these in the compartments of the carrier your dog will be in. If weight is going to be an issue, you might need to pack your dog’s things in your carry-on bag, purse, or backpack.

  • Medical paperwork from vet showing shots and whatever other requirements are needed for your pet to fly
  • European pet passport, if applicable. If you’re flying to Europe, you’ll have to get the EU pet passport from a licensed veterinarian once you arrive. If you are flying within Europe, you’ll need the passport
  • Small collapsible water bowl
  • Leash
  • Harness and tags (you’ll probably want to remove these during flight for your dog’s comfort)
  • Cleanup kit: poop bags, gallon Ziplocs, doggie wipes, small hand sanitizer, rubber gloves, paper napkins
  • A small amount of food in case of flight delays
  • Any important medication your dog needs to take, in case your checked bag gets lost
  • Treats, because they are very good boys and girls!

6 THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU FLY WITH YOUR DOG IN CABIN

Now that you have all the logistics taken care of, there are certain things you can do on the day of your flight to make it more comfortable for your dog.

  • Exercise: Go for a long walk, and/or have a good play session. This will allow your dog to expend energy, and be more relaxed and tired for a long stint in their carrier.
  • Food: Don’t feed your dog in the 4-6 hours before your flight. A full dog can be an uncomfortable dog in an airplane. It’s best if stomach (and bowels) are relatively empty.
  • Water: Don’t let your dog get dehydrated, but also don’t give them a huge drink of water right before you fly, because you may risk accidents or discomfort for your dog. Imagine if you had to hold it for as long as they will and plan accordingly. Some airlines even ask that you stop giving water 4 hours before the flight.
  • Crate training: Make sure your pet has adequate time for crate training with their carrier, if they are not crate trained already. Put the carrier out in the living room, or someplace your pet likes to hang out. Toss treats into the carrier periodically so that your dog associates the carrier with good things! You can add a towel or a sock that smells like you to add to their sense of security. Whatever makes the carrier feel like a safe little cave is good. You don’t want your dog’s first experience in the carrier to be in the airport!
  • Socializing: If your pet doesn’t get out much, give them some good “out in the world” time. Take them on walks where people will be, or to a café that allows dogs, or to doggy daycare in the days and weeks leading up to your flight. That said, if your dog is reactive, do your best to keep them calm on the day of the flight and minimize their exposure to external stimulation. Sometimes a little blanket you can put loosely over the top of the carrier in the airport will help to minimize visual triggers.
  • Keep calm: Your dog is definitely attuned to your emotional state. You’re the most important thing in their world, and if you are nervous, and stressed out, your dog will assume there’s something going on to be afraid of. If you remember to take it slow, prepare everything well in advance, and maintain a calm and happy demeanor, so will your dog.

HAPPY TRAVEL!

A french bulldog in Matera Italy
Helga the frenchie in Matera, Italy – one of the stops on our 16-day Italian road trip

With more families traveling with their dogs than ever before, airlines, airports, and hotels are becoming more dog-friendly. But there are still things you need to prepare for, and responsibilities you have, to make sure traveling with your dog is a pleasurable experience for everyone.

Prepare carefully, and have everything you need packed in the right place. Double check policies before you book. Map out a pee strategy in all airports, and keep your dog away from as much stimulation as you can. A calm, relaxed dog is a happy dog!

Once you and your dog have successfully navigated in-cabin travel together, future trips will fall into place much more easily! We hope these tips and pointers on how to fly with your dog in cabin will help you and your dog have many happy travels in the future!


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