Airline Pet Carriers and Cargo Pet Crates – Choosing the Right One for Your Pet

If you and your pet are planning to ride in a car or fly in the cabin of an aircraft, the first thing you need to do is measure your pet. If your pet is at most 18 inches from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail and between 12 and 14 inches high from the top of the head to the ground, there is a good possibility that your pet can travel in the cabin with you if your airline’s pet policies allow it. If your pet is larger than that, they will have to travel as checked baggage. Very large dogs, unaccompanied pets, or pets flying to the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, or South Africa will need to travel as air cargo.

In Cabin Pet Travel

Unless your pet must fly as air cargo, contact the reservation department of the airline and notify them that you are flying with a pet. Most airlines allow only a limited number of pets in the cabin, so make your reservations early. Ask the airlines the dimensions under the seat in front of you on the plane that services your route so you know what space you have to work with. If you do not have a flexible airline pet carrier, you need to get one. The airlines will require that your pet is able to stand up and turn around in the carrier. Do not stuff your pet into a carrier that is too small. The airlines will not accept your pet on the plane.

Additionally, the carrier must have a waterproof bottom and plenty of ventilation. The fasteners and zippers must close securely. An absorbent pad or two are really a must, especially for long trips. A high-quality, padded shoulder strap is a big help, especially if you have other carry-on items. Your pet carrier will be considered by the agent as a piece of carry-on luggage.

Checked Baggage Pet Travel

If your pet is too large to travel in the cabin but not over about 70 (or so) pounds, your pet can fly as accompanied checked baggage if your airline offers this class of service. You will check them in at the ticket desk, where luggage is checked. Your pet will fly in an area of the airplane that is temperature- and pressure-controlled, just like the cabin. You will need an IPATA-compliant cargo pet crate.

  • Your crate should be made of sturdy plastic and large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around.
  • The fasteners must be secure, and many airlines require steel nuts and bolts instead of plastic fasteners.
  • The crate must have adequate ventilation in the sides, and all four sides must be ventilated on international flights.
  • Live Animal stickers with writing that is at least one inch tall must be present on the sides and top of the crate.
  • Food and water bowls must be attached to the door of the crate and accessible to baggage handlers.
  • The lock on the door of the crate must be a spring lock mechanism that cannot be opened easily. (Many pets are clever escape artists!)
  • No wheels are allowed on any crates.
  • Unless the crate is of a medium size or smaller, handles are not allowed.
  • On international flights, a health certificate must be attached to the outside of the crate for inspection.
  • Pet absorbent pads are a good idea to keep your pet dry and smelling good.

Here is information on how to measure your pet for a pet crate.

Cargo Pet Travel

If your pet is over 70 pounds (for most airlines), you will need to make a reservation with the cargo department of the airline. Ask them the location of the cargo department of the airport you are traveling from because you will need to drop off your pet at that location. Your pet can travel on the same flight as you and will be in the same compartment as if they were traveling as checked baggage. The crate they will travel in will be subject to the same requirements as those above. If a giant airline cargo pet crate does not fit your pet, you need to contact the airline for a carrier or the IPATA regulations for crates for larger pets, or contact us at for custom crates.

Whether your pet travels in an airline pet carrier or a cargo pet crate, be sure to give your pet time to become acclimated to the carrier. Keep the pet carrier out where your pet can become familiar with it. Put a toy or treat inside, and always keep the door open. Don’t forget lots of praise when your pet goes inside. If possible, take your pet for a trip to the dog park or someplace fun in the carrier or crate before your trip. Doing all of these things ahead of time will make the trip far smoother when travel day arrives.

More information on airline pet carriers and cargo pet crates.


Airline Pet Carriers and Cargo Pet Crates – Choosing the Right One for Your Pet — 31 Comments

  1. Cheryl – there are 2 considerations with transporting larger dogs domestically within the US. The first is the type of aircraft that serves the route and the size of the cargo hold door. The second is that both United Airlines and Delta no longer will fly larger crates under their current regulations. Should you fail to find an airline that flies a larger plane into JAX, you may consider flying to ATL and renting a car to drive to Jacksonville.

  2. So im flying from Auckland New Zealand Jacksonville and we have a pet relocater moving the dogs to LA then we will book there flight from LA to Jacksonville florida.. my question is…i was told that the cargo holds are getting smaller and they may not be able to accommodate my dogs? I quite honestly dont understand.

  3. Paul – the size of the cargo door on the aircraft that is serving your route will restrict the size of crate that can fit in the cargo hold. You can check with another airline that serves your route for the type of aircraft that they use or you can plan to fly from another airport that may accommodate larger aircraft.

  4. why does the airline tell you to get a create to fit you animal, but when I went to book the flight I was told it could not be taller then 27 inches(my rotti is 30 inches tall) I bought the create and now American airline says it cant be greater than 27 inches. any advice?

  5. Hi, I’m traveling from Puerto Rico to Florida my dog is about 16 pounds his a mix Labrador right now his 4 month I’ll be traveling for November or question is how big I have to buy his cage cause definitely he will go on the cargo.

  6. my question is our dog is big like a great dane. he is 32 inches at the shoulders, head is over our kitchen cabinets. Is there any made pet carriers big enough for him to fly. Air North will fly him as cargo, but how do I find a crate big enough for him?

  7. Terrie – it is fine for your pet to travel in a crate that is one size larger than ordinarily required. BA is pretty strict on allowing room for pets traveling in crates, so it would not be a bad thing unless the crate is obviously not sized for the pet.

  8. Hi
    I’m traveling with my dog from buenos Aires to Ireland, a two stop journey.
    Here in Argentina is difficult to get the crates, my dog need a 36 inch but they only have smaller or larger 40 inch. So it ok for the dog to have a much bigger crate than needed or is this against regulations? I think we’ll be flying with British airways or KLM
    Tanks you

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