U.S. Airline Pet Policies: A Complete List of Travel Requirements

Planning to fly with your pet soon? Read our expert guide to airline pet policies for travel within the United States. Fully updated for 2019.

airline pet policies
Different airlines have different pet travel policies. Photo: nadisja

Editor’s Note (June 1, 2020): Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some airlines (for example, American Airlines) have temporarily suspended checked pet service. Please check with your airline in advance for the most up-to-date information relevant to your circumstances. Even if your airline is currently not taking pets, they still must allow service and emotional support animals.

* * *

Flying with a pet can be a stressful experience, particularly if it isn’t something you do often.

Each airport has its own policies and quirks. And on top of that, each individual airline enforces different procedures.

In an effort to streamline the information, we’ve create this updated list of the airline pet policies for all major U.S. airlines, as well as some helpful general knowledge, so flying with your pet isn’t such a headache.

Humane Travel

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has compiled a list of requirements to ensure humane travel conditions for pets on all flights, regardless of the airline.

These requirements address food, water, crate or carrier size and condition, ventilation, temperature and more. Airlines will refuse to allow your pet to fly if they feel the pet will be in unsafe conditions.

Most airlines will not allow your pet to fly if they are in a kennel that is too small or the pet is obviously sick or injured.

Plan in advance to comply with airline pet policies. Photo: shardsofblue

Airline Pet Policies

Alaska Air Group

1-800-252-7522  |  Website

  • Maximum number of pets: 1 carrier in the First-Class cabin, 5 carriers in the main cabin; 1 per passenger unless an adjacent seat is purchased, then a passenger may have 2.
  • Price: $100 each way (cabin or baggage).
  • Advance reservations: Recommended (holiday travel restrictions apply).
  • Temperature restrictions: Pets may be refused if temperatures at any location on your itinerary “exceed certain limits,” which Alaskan Airlines does not specify. Other airlines have set limits of no hotter than 85 F (29.4 C) and no colder than 45 F (7.2 C).
  • Allowed animals: Dogs, cats, rabbits and household birds are allowed in the cabin. Cats, dogs, ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters, household birds, nonpoisonous reptiles, pot-bellied pigs, rabbits and tropical fish are allowed in cargo/baggage. Other pets must receive advance approval. Only dogs and cats are permitted to be flown to Hawaii. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs and cats are not accepted for travel in the cargo compartment on Alaska Airlines flights, but they may travel with you in the cabin as long as you have a carrier that fits under your seat.
  • Carrier maximum size: 7.5″H x 17″L x 11″W (hard-sided); 9.5″H x 17″L x 11″W (soft-sided); up to 150 pounds. Full list of kennel requirements for cargo here.

Pets are not permitted in the First-Class cabin or baggage compartment on Alaska Air’s Airbus planes.

Also, Alaska Airlines does not transfer pets to other airlines. You will need to pick up your pet after deplaning and recheck your pet on the new flight.

Fur-st Class Care is an animal flight program with this airline that offers free pet health examinations and discounted health certificates at Banfield Pet Hospitals located in PetSmart stores.

American Airlines

1-800-433-7300 |  Website

  • Maximum number of pets: 5–7 carriers per flight (depending on plane), 1 per person.
  • Price: $125 each way (cabin); $200 each way (baggage).
  • Advance reservations: Required.
  • Destination restrictions: Domestic travel may not include Phoenix (PHX), Tucson (TUS), Las Vegas (LAS) or Palm Springs (PSP) during the period of May 1–Sept. 30.
  • Temperature restrictions: No hotter than 85 F (29.4 C) at any location on your itinerary; no colder than 45 F (7.2 C). The cold-weather restriction may be waived at temperatures as low as 20 F (-6.6 C) if you bring a signed note from your veterinarian. Talk to the airline about this possibility.
  • Allowed animals: Cats and dogs. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs and cats are not accepted for the cargo compartment (checked pets).
  • Carrier maximum size: Depends on the plane, so contact the airline in advance. The usual dimensions seem to be 9″H x 19″L x 13″W (with larger carriers allowed in cargo).

Delta Air Lines

1-800-221-1212  |  Website

  • Maximum number of pets: 2 pets in the First-Class cabin, 4 pets in the main cabin, 1 per person. Space is limited.
  • Price: $125 each way (cabin). Cargo price is determined by the size of the carrier. Animals are not included in the free baggage allowance.
  • Advance reservations: Required but cannot be booked before 14 days before departure.
  • Allowed animals: Small dogs, cats and household birds (no birds allowed to Hawaii). No pit bull–type dogs in the cabin.
  • Carrier maximum size: Determined by flight/type of plane. Contact the airline to determine cabin carrier size requirement. Baggage allows carriers of the dimensions 40″L x 28″W x 30″H, and cargo up to 32″L x 35″W x 48″H and 51 pounds.

Frontier Airlines

1-800-432-1359  |  Website

  • Price: $75 each way (cabin only).
  • Advance reservations: Recommended.
  • Allowed animals: Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and small household birds.
  • Carrier maximum size: 18″L x 14″W x 8″H

Hawaiian Airlines

1-800-367-5320  |  Website

  • Prices: Cabin inter-island travel: $35. Cabin departing Hawaii travel: $175. No pets are allowed to travel in the cabin when arriving in Hawaii. Checked baggage: $60 (within Hawaii), $225 (when arriving or departing from North America). Cargo: Varies depending on weight of animal(s) + carriers. Call 1-800-367-5320 to discuss your specific needs.
  • Advance reservations: Strongly recommended. For cargo, advance reservations are required.
  • Allowed animals: Dogs, cats and household birds.
  • Carrier maximum sizes: Cabin: 16”L x 10”W x 9.5”H; animal and carrier combined cannot exceed 25 pounds. Checked baggage: From 21”L x 16”W x 15”H and 18 pounds to 36”L x 24”W x 26”H and 70 pounds. Cargo: From 21”L x 15”W x 16”H and 26 pounds to 48”L x 32”W x 35”H and 277 pounds.

Note: We strongly recommend that you call Hawaiian Airlines directly to discuss your specific animal. Some animals cannot be shipped as cargo; others are prohibited from entering Hawaii.

You may need to show vaccination records to the airline so your pet can fly with you. Photo: morton

JetBlue Airlines

1-800-538-2583  |  Website

  • Maximum number of pets: 4 per flight.
  • Price: $125 each way (cabin only).
  • Advance reservations: Recommended.
  • Allowed animals: Dogs and cats.
  • Carrier maximum size: 17″L x 12.5″W x 8.5″H, and the combined weight of pet and carrier must not exceed 20 pounds.

Note: Currently, JetBlue does not ship pets as cargo.

Southwest Airlines

1-800-435-9792  |  Website

  • Maximum number of pets: 6 carriers per flight; 1 per person (carrier may contain 2 pets of the same species provided they both have room to comfortably turn around).
  • Price: $95 each way (cabin only).
  • Advance reservations: Required with an in-person payment at the ticket counter.
  • Allowed animals: Dogs and cats.
  • Carrier maximum size: 18.5”L x 13.5”W x 8.5”H.

Spirit Airlines

801-401-2222  |  Website

  • Maximum number of pets: 4 carriers per flight.
  • Price: $110 each way (cabin only).
  • Advance reservations: Recommended.
  • Allowed animals: Dogs, cats and household birds (no farm poultry, waterfowl, game birds, birds of prey or flightless birds).
  • Carrier maximum size: 18″L x 14″W x 9″H and cannot exceed 40 pounds.

United Airlines

1-800-864-8331  |  Website

  • Maximum number of pets: 2–4 per flight, depending on aircraft, and 1 carrier per person.
  • Price: $125 each way (cabin); baggage and cargo rates are determined by size and weight of the carrier. Call United to discuss your pet’s needs before booking your trip.
  • Advance reservations: Required.
  • Allowed animals: Cats, dogs, rabbits and household birds (excluding cockatoos) are allowed in the cabin. Some breed restrictions apply to baggage/cargo animals for safety reasons.
  • Carrier maximum size: 17.5”L x 12”W x 7.5”H (hard carriers), or 18”L x 11”W x 11”H (soft carriers).

Note: See United’s PetSafe Program for shipping animals as cargo.

Service animals are often allowed to fly for free. Photo: Can Do Canines

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

Almost all airlines allow properly documented service animals and emotional support animals (ESAs) to fly for free.

Required documentation may include:

  • Vaccination records (depending on where you are flying to/from)
  • Letter from a mental health professional (ESAs only)
  • Letter indicating animal’s ability to refrain from “accidents” while in flight
  • Proper harnesses, leashes and restraints
  • Correct visual aids identifying the animal as a service animal or ESA

Check with your airline to see its specific requirements, but be prepared to have the above documents in hand and answer questions at check-in. Most airlines require in-person check-ins at the ticket counter — you can’t use self check-in or curbside services. Also, ask your airline about boarding early.

Be aware that even if your animal is designated a service or emotional support animal, they may not be allowed or may be quarantined immediately upon arrival to your destination.

All airlines warn that if the service animal or ESA acts in an uncontrollable, aggressive or disruptive manner, they reserve the right to remove the animal and their handler from the flight. Be advised that because of the recent uptick in disruptive ESAs and so-called “fake service dogs,” many airlines are taking a tougher stance on these animals.

Most airlines allow passengers to buy an extra seat for their service animal or ESA, but otherwise the animals may not sit in seats.

Exotic Pets

Most airlines do not accept exotic or unusual pets, regardless of their status.

These may include rodents, reptiles, arachnids, hedgehogs and ferrets, but this rule can apply to any animal. Call your airline and check the rules before booking a trip for you and your exotic pet.

Hawaii has restrictions of its own to adhere to because it is a rabies-free state and is stringent about what animals are allowed to enter.

Here are some more travel tips to follow when your pet joins you in the air:

YouTube player

Other Important Information

When transporting pets, there are some rules that are consistent between all airlines:

  • Airlines will not transport pets as baggage or cargo if the temperature drops below or exceeds safe levels. Most list this as below 10 degrees F or above 85 degrees F.
  • Brachycephalic (“short-nosed” or “flat-faced”) breeds of dogs and cats can’t fly as cargo or baggage on most airlines. These breeds tend to have more trouble breathing in high elevations due to their shorter snouts.
  • There are time limits as to how long an airline will allow a pet to be on a plane. If your flight is longer than 8–12 hours or has layovers or transfers, check with your airline to ensure your pet will be allowed to fly.
  • Pets count as your carry-on baggage and are not covered under “free” policies. You will pay the pet fee, regardless of whether or not you have another carry-on item.
  • You should give your pet food or water 4 hours before the flight. Most airlines do not allow you to feed or give water during the flight.
  • We don’t recommend sedating your pet unless absolutely necessary. The elevation and sedation together may create health problems.
  • You will be required to provide veterinary proof that your pet can fly. This can be a letter or certificate from a veterinarian and must be done within 10 days of departure and 30 days of return. If you are staying longer than 30 days, you need to have your pet recertified before boarding. Without this documentation, the airlines will not allow your pet to fly. (Service animals and ESAs are typically exempt from this policy, but check with your airline to be sure.)
  • When traveling as cargo, your pet is not guaranteed to be shipped on your flight, and when traveling as baggage, pets can get lost — just like your suitcase.
  • All your kennels or carriers should be clearly labeled with your name, phone number, address, your pet’s name and their pertinent medical information — and somewhere visible, make sure you write “Live Animal(s)” so airplane personnel know your pet is in there.
  • In the event of an emergency, airlines will not provide oxygen to your pets.
  • Anyone accompanying a pet must be at least 18 years of age.
  • Always prepare to check in early when traveling with a pet. If you have the opportunity to reserve a spot for your pet in advance, take it. Many airlines only allow a few pets in the cabin area, and it’s usually first come, first served.
  • Pets should be at least 8 weeks old and fully weaned.
  • Several airlines have “embargoes” throughout the year in which they will not transport pets as baggage or cargo. This includes when temperatures drop below or exceed safe levels and during the holidays.

Our Final Thoughts on Airline Pet Policies

There are many restrictions and regulations when it comes to transporting our pets by air, but accidents still happen.

The best defense your pet has is you:

  • Educate yourself on what is expected from you, from your pet and from the airline.
  • If text message updates are available, sign up for them.
  • Keep abreast of what’s happening every step of of the way to ensure your pet’s safe journey.