A 10-month old French bulldog died after his owner was forced to place him in an overhead compartment during a United Airlines flight from Houston to New York. Traveling with pets can be lots of fun, but if proper safety procedures aren’t in place, the results can be tragic. These tips for flying with pets can help keep your dog, cat, guinea pig or other pet safe during a flight.

Something you'll need to book in advance? Boarding for your pet(s) if your pet isn't traveling with you. Photo by Multidimensional TravelingMom, Kristi Mehes.

Photo credit: Kristi Mehes/Multidimensional TravelingMom

Air Travel with Your Pet

Vacations are often focused on family togetherness. And that includes the four legged members of the family. According to the United States Department of Transportation, more than 2 million pets and other live animals are transported by air each year in our country. Many animals are shipped as baggage (if accompanied) or as cargo (if unaccompanied). However, in recent years the number of live animals flying inside the plane’s cabin has grown substantially. This is due to the increasing number of people flying with a pet identified as a service dog or emotional support animal.

Other times, passengers transport smaller pets in carry-on pet carriers that can be placed under the seat in front of them (not the overhead bins).

Flying with a Pet

The rise in the number of people flying with a pet in the cabin presents a twofold challenge for airlines:

  • They are required to keep other passengers safe from the dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs or other animals
  • They are responsible for transporting the animals safely.

In the case of Kokito, the French bulldog traveling from Houston to New York, a flight attendant instructed the owner to place the carry-on bag containing the dog in an overhead compartment. The 10-month-old puppy suffocated during the flight.


United Airlines said it would investigate and that the flight attendant’s instructions were not in line with the carrier’s pet travel policy. However, it should open the dialogue about the best way for people to fly with pets, with an eye on both the other passengers’ concerns and the animal’s safety.

Know Before You Go

Pet owners are responsible for learning the specific requirements of the airline they will fly. Not sure where to start?  Here are five questions to ask to ensure that when you’re flying with a pet, you’ll both arrive safely.

Air travel with pets can be fun, but you need to plan ahead. Make sure you're asking the right questions.

Can My Pet Fly With Me?

According to USA Today, all major U.S. airlines allow pets to fly in cabin for a fee. The type of animal, however, varies. Some allow only dogs and cats. Others also allow birds, guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits. And, of course, policies change all the time. The only way to know for sure is to check with your airline about its pet policy before you leave home. You don’t want to arrive at check-in only to find that Fido isn’t welcome on that flight.

This is true even for emotional support animals. Earlier this year, United Airlines barred a peacock that served as an emotional support animal from flying in the passenger cabin. The bird’s height and weight did meet United‘s accessibility guidelines.

Bring Fido has terrific information on airline pet policies. For example, in early 2018, it said this about Delta Airlines‘ pet policy: “Delta permits passengers to bring small pets in the cabin on most flights for a fee of $125 each way (to be collected at check-in) on flights within the United StatesCanada, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.”

Can my pet go anywhere I want to fly?

Due to different quarantine laws, animals are not as free to fly as humans are. Pets are accepted in cabin on most flights through the contiguous United States and Alaska. However, pets are not accepted in cabin to Hawaii.

Pet policies on travel to international destinations varies. Some countries have strict guidelines about bringing pets. There may be health or quarantine requirements. In the US, the Department of Agriculture sets the rules. These restrictions can take as much as six months of advance planning. If you plan to take your pet along on international travel, make sure you know all the airline regulations as well as those for the destination country.

What are the kennel requirements?

Pets in cabin must be in a carrier that fits under the seat in front of you. Each airline has its own specific dimensions, so make sure your carry-on pet carrier is the proper size. It also has to allow room for the pet to be able to sit, stand and turn around while in the carrier. (Read about how one nervous pet made for a smelly flight for the passengers seated near it.)

Some airlines have proper-sized kennels for sale at the ticket counter. Please call the airline to check availability. Then plan to arrive early enough to secure a kennel before boarding. With most airlines, a pet carrier counts against your checked baggage allotment.

What paperwork do I need for my pet?

Only healthy pets are permitted to fly, so you will need your vet’s okay (in the form of a health certificate) when you’re flying with a pet. For most airlines, the certificate must be dated no more than 10 days before your flight. Count on quite a bit of additional paperwork if you are flying internationally or to certain destinations. Check with the airline to make sure you know what it requires. The USDA has a downloadable form for international travel.

Is there a charge to travel in cabin with my pet?

Of course there’s a fee. When airlines charge for just about everything else, why wouldn’t they charge a fee for Fido and Fluffy to fly? However, the fees for flying with a pet in cabin can vary widely by airline. They range from $50 to $150 or more each way. Call the airline to make arrangements. Don’t expect to walk on with your animal if the airline doesn’t have prior notice.

If your pet doesn’t meet the size and weight requirements to fly in the cabin, you may be able to fly them as cargo or baggage. Once again, specifics vary from airline to airline, so check with your carrier and make arrangements.

For your pet’s protection, make sure you do your homework before flying with a pet. If you know the rules and your rights, you may be able to avert a tragic mistake like the one that killed poor Kokito.

TravelingMom Note: These tips do not apply to service dogs and emotional support animals.

Read More:

We’ve got great general tips for traveling with pets. And we’ve got tips aimed at people who prefer to road trip with pets. Finally, read these tips about deciding whether to leave your pet at home while you travel.

This post is an update using information from a post previously appearing on TravelingMom.com by guest author Connie DeMille.