Pet Travel: How to Clear Airport Security with a Pet

Clearing pets through TSA securityYou and your pet are traveling in the cabin of an airplane together. You have checked in at the reservation desk, your pet is quietly lying down in their airline compliant pet carrier, you have tickets and possessions in hand. Everything is going according to plan. You proceed to the TSA security checkpoint. As you wait in the line, you wonder – what is coming next? How will TSA officials deal with your furry traveling companion?

PetTravel has received many questions about how people traveling with pets will be treated once they get to the front of the security line. Certainly, with all the confusion at security checkpoints and the flow of passengers intent on clearing the line and proceeding to their gate as quickly as possible, it is helpful to know how you and your pet will be cleared through security.

According to TSA: “Our security procedures do not prohibit you from bringing a pet on your flight. You should contact your airline or travel agent, however, before arriving at the airport to determine your airline’s policy on traveling with pets.”

Security Screening

More from TSA: “You will need to present the animal to the Security Officers at the checkpoint. You may walk your animal through the metal detector with you. If this is not possible, your animal will have to undergo a secondary screening, including a visual and physical inspection by our Security Officers. Your animal will NEVER be placed through an X-ray machine. However, you may be asked to remove your animal from its carrier so that the carrier can be placed on the X-Ray machine.”

You will be asked to remove your pet from the carrier so that the carrier can be run through the x-ray machine. You will walk through the upright metal detector with your pet. If you are traveling with a pet who is high spirited or scares easily, you can request a room so that your pet will not escape should you not be able to contain them when out of the carrier or get them back in the carrier once clearing security. You should allow extra time for this.

There has been a lot of news lately regarding the introduction of the controversial body scanners in many airports. If the old stand up metal detectors have been replaced with body scanners, both the pet and the owner are subject to pat down. Again, you will remove the pet from the carrier and make it available to security officers should they decide to inspect your pet. Should you require a pat down, you should put your pet back in the carrier first.

Being prepared is key to traveling with your pet. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your gate. Keep your accessories (coat, purse, laptop or other items you must carry) at a minimum so you will have free hands to handle your pet at security checkpoints. Take your pet out of the carrier after you have removed your shoes, belt, etc. and put your items on the table to be scanned. Be sure and carry a non-metallic leash in the carrier to loop around your wrist to be sure that your pet cannot escape when you remove them from the carrier. Even calm pets can get nervous and scared when around groups of people and in unfamiliar environments.

You can either carry your pet or let it walk beside you through the scanner. Once cleared, you can put your cat or dog back in the carrier.

We would welcome your feedback about your experiences at security checkpoints. Please make a comment so that you can help others who are traveling with their pet. We appreciate your time.

More information on pet travel by air


Pet Travel: How to Clear Airport Security with a Pet — 972 Comments

  1. Hello I am flying with my cat within the U.S. and I was wondering if the TSA would stop us for shot records or rabies shots. Do you think I should have both or just what the airline tells me to bring? I am flying southwest and I am afraid of missing my flight.

  2. Contrary to an earlier posting that states that TSA personnel will take you and your cat into a small room for a private screening, we were denied that amenity yesterday at Orlando International (MCO). My sister and nephew were accompanying my 2 cats to CT so I could drive a vehicle from FL and spare the cats the long car trip. At the TSA pre-check checkpoint my sister asked for a private screening and they refused. The agents were uncaring and abrupt with her. Luckily I was waiting nearby just in case something went wrong with the security screening. The agents made me remove the cat from the carrier (as I had expected, but not out in the busy screening line) while they put the carrier back at the end of the queue for the conveyeor belt for the x-ray. This took at least 5 minutes per cat even though the line was very short. I held onto the cat while it shuddered in fear and TSA took their time. I was outraged but didn’t dare complain since TSA agents are “the law” and I didn’t want the cats to be denied access to their flight. I have flown with my cats from many US airports over the past few decades, including after 9-11, and have to say the people at MCO were the most unfeeling I’ve ever encountered.

  3. My German shepherd is a emotional support animal with a signed letter from my mental health professional can she fly on Southwest Airlines she is highly trained

  4. Gone are the days when backpacks could be seen only on the backs of stooping men and women who embark on a long and tedious journey. Hikers and the hippies of 60s were often portrayed with backpacks. The backpack is now quite common and is found here, there and everywhere. Now today’s backpacks have become very common among students of all ages.

  5. Ikraan – the United States is very cat-friendly. Your cat should be vaccinated for rabies and have a current health certificate issued in English (or bi-lingual with English being one of the languages). That is all you will need to enter the United States. Most all airlines will fly cats. Some will fly them in the cabin, but certainly as checked baggage as you will be accompanying it. You can find pet policies for over 150 airlines here: Be sure and contact your airline to make sure that your cat can fly on your specific route. Stay on the same airline for at least when you arrive in the United States if possible. Layovers are ok, but changing airline companies will cause you problems.

  6. So I’m in Africa for vacation and I have a cat in Africa and I’m going back to america with the cat the problem is in Africa the country I’m in you can’t make a passport for you’re pet what can I do? And they do alowd pets in the plane but when I go to the USA I’m gonna have a big problem

  7. Marlene – yes, it is true that airports have security rooms for this purpose. If the first TSA agent that you ask cannot help you, ask to speak to a supervisor. Be sure and allow extra time for this.

  8. Somewhere I read that TSA will let you take your pet into a room for security exam, rather than take them out of their carrier to go through security. For cats, this would undoubtedly be preferable, so they don’t have to wear a harness, something most cats hate.. I’ll be traveling out of JFK.

    1). Is this true? 2). how can I confirm?

    thank you,


  9. “Your animal will NEVER be placed through an X-ray machine.” Unless your cat is hiding in your suitcase. I know someone this happened to. She had some explaining to do to the TSA. She missed her flight because she had to wait for her husband to come and get the cat.

  10. Robin – African Grey parrots are protected through CITES, so you will need to start with the wildlife service in your country for permits. The transport of birds can get pretty tricky with the spread of Avian Influenza and some countries don’t allow the import of birds. Be sure and contact the Ministry of Agriculture (or the like) in your destination country for details. Quarantine may be involved.

  11. Has any one travelled with a parrot? I have an African Grey that I do not want to leave b leave behind. Any tips on how to do so. I do not want her to get quarantined any where in Asia where I am bound.

  12. Lee – Lufthansa flies from SEA to DUB through FRA so you may want to consider that route. It is important to note that your dog must arrive in Ireland as air cargo, so you don’t want to change from checked baggage service to air cargo service at your layover airport. With air cargo, your pet must be checked in at your airline’s cargo facility, so it is not something you can do during a layover. Much of the air service to DUB out of the northeast is provided by US-based airlines which will require that an agent book the transport as air cargo.

  13. I want to take my Scottish terrier back to Ireland for 3 months with me. I am traveling from Seattle and happy to stop in Boston or wherever in order to get direct from USA to Dublin. Any tips /recommendations would be appreciated. She would have to travel as checked baggage and not in cabin as she is over 20lbs.

  14. Rachel – it is hard to predict enforcement of Lufthansa’s regulations, but generally they are stricter on international flights and many times, they do weigh animals flying in the cabin. Your dog must fit comfortably in the carrier and be able to stand up and turn around. It all depends on the agent when you check in. Wish we could advise further.

  15. Kelli – Germany does not require an export permit for pets leaving the country. As long as you have proof of current rabies vaccination and a health certificate that is less than 30 days old, you will be fine. You will remove your dogs from their carriers so the carriers can go through x-ray and walk of hold them as you pass through the scanner.

  16. hi

    flying out of frankfurt germany back to the US. flying with lufthansa have flown before with them but this time one of my dogs is 2 kilos over the 8 kilo limit. does anyone know if they will still let him on being so low over the limit how strict are they???

  17. Hi
    we are traveling back to the US with our two small dogs in cabin. weight and bag all good. my question is besides checking them in and paying for them at lufthansa counter like we did to get over from jersey departing from frankfurt is there anything besides security walk through the dogs will need to do.. i didnt think there were but i cannot remember lol..

  18. Can I just carry my 9 lb dog through security? Flying out of Sea Tac. Do I HAVE to have him on a leash? He will be much calmer being held.

  19. Melissa – because your dogs are too long to fit in an airline-compliant pet carrier, they will need to fly in the cargo hold. What you need to do is to find an airline that flies your entire route or at least gets you to a major international airport in the US (where you will clear customs and continue on to Denver on a domestic flight) and become familiar with their pet policies. You can find pet policies for over 100 airlines here: Because commercial airlines require that your dogs fly into South Africa as air cargo, some may also require that for animals leaving SA. If you cannot find an airline that will allow your dogs to fly as accompanied checked baggage, then you will need to try their cargo departments.

    You will need to provide your own crates as very few airlines will allow you to rent them.

  20. Good day. I will be traveling from South Africa to Denver with my 2 dogs. Got all their rabies up to day and also microchipped and have a health certificate for them to fly. Now they are both dauchunds. Rolo is 7.5 kg 58cm lenght 39 cm height and elbow 13cm. Biscuit is 6.8kg 60cm lenght 30m height and 11 m elbow. Can they fly in the cabin with me or do I book them in cargo? Do I buy my own carrier or will cargo supply. Which airlines will allow cargo or cabin for pets to travel? What costs am I looking at for the both of them and what other documents do I require? Also if the clear customs howdo I get them again after plane lands?

  21. Anael – arrive at security early and ask for a private room. If the agent will not comply, then ask for a supervisor. Every airport should be able to accommodate this. That way, you can remove your cat from the carrier in an enclosed room thus lessening the chances to escape. You also may consider a pet calmer like these or speak with your vet about a very mild sedative: Be sure and try it at home before traveling.

  22. Hi,

    I am traveling back to Israel with both my cats from NYC.
    one cat is ok- she will cause no problem,
    but the other cat is INSANE and scary when he get scared, I am dreading the moment of security, there is absolutely no way I could carry him on my hands, nor besides me on a leash.
    any advice?…….

  23. TSA will not require that your ESA be in a carrier. If your leash or harness has no metal on it, you can walk through the scanners with your on a leash or harness. If this is not the case, you will hold your ESA and walk through the scanner with it if your ESA is small enough to hold. You can find a non-metal leash here: and a harness here: We will note that these products are not required, but for your convenience.

  24. I am travelling LAX to YVR with a small (10lb)ESA dog. The carrier (West Jet) has all documentation approved and advises that as an ESA she can remain on my lap and does not need to be on floor and so no carrier needed.Can I walk my dog through TSA security on her leash so I then do not need a pet carrier on the trip…she has never been in carrier before and is always carried or walked…would be stressful and much more complicated getting a carrier unless it is required by TSA.

  25. Jazzy- because you are flying domestically within the United States, your airline’s regulations will preside. You can find United’s pet policy here: TSA’s responsibility is to ensure security, not to check for health certificates. We are not aware that United will require a health certificate although it is good practice to travel with one.

  26. Hi.
    I am flyingn with my cat from Raleigh, NC to Sacramento, CA with a connecting flight in Houston, TX. United says that they don’t require and medical documentation but that the TSA might ask for a health certificate. Do I need to take my pet to the vet to obtain this to show to the TSA agents, or will we be fine with just his rabies documents? Thanks

  27. Your veterinarian will need to sign a heath certificate attesting that your dog is in good enough health to fly. The airlines should not have a problem as long as there is not a layover where they will be caring for it. If this is the case, then you need to contact your airline to discuss your dog’s care. This assumes that your dog is flying in the cargo hold. If your dog is small enough to fly in the cabin with you, then there should be no problems.

  28. My dog got injured in an accident and he does not use one of his back legs… is there any options for him to travel? Can he travel?

  29. Wagner – as your French Bulldog is flying in the cabin, it will need an airline-compliant carrier like these: It should be a soft-sided carrier which can “squish” down to get under the seat. We can’t predict enforcement of your airline’s rules but would say that you can contact your airline and ask how much room is under the seat in front of you on the specific aircraft that serves your route. Also, reserve the window seat. Get your carrier as soon as you can and get your dog acclimated to it. Layer pet pads in the carrier so that you have fresh ones if accidents should occur. As for a callmer, you can see if any herbal ones are available in neighborhood pet stores or discuss the use of a very mild tranquilizer with your vet. A puppy is young and your vet would know how safe that would be.

  30. Hi I will be flying the next days from from Austria to Madrid and after Costa Rica with a french bulldog 3 months old and 25 days she goes with me in the cabin,I dont know what to expect because what I understand the measures of the box all together can be only 105 cm what happen if is more any suggestions on what kind of box can I buy?is there any pill that I can use to relax the dog for the fly because is almost 10 hours flying,thanks so much hope you can help me guys

  31. Mic – the agent at check-in will verify that your iguanas’ carrier is compliant. What airline are you flying?

  32. We are flying with an airline in spain they have agreed to fly our 2 green iguanas in cabun with us.Who checks at the airport that the cage and animal is not to big or small meaning IATA aproved

  33. Allen – each airline generally specifies the minimum age of an animal they will be transporting as 8 weeks. With Lufthansa, it is according to country regulations. That said, what is more concerning is that you are changing airline companies in Germany. In order to do this and pay the pet fee for the leg you are flying on Condor, you will need to clear customs and enter Germany. This country does not permit the entrance of unvaccinated pets that are less than 3 months and 21 days old. If you were staying on Lufthansa, you could transit the country. We are not sure if Condor and Lufthansa share the same international terminal and if you could pay your pet fees for Condor in advance, thus not requiring to access their check-in desk, but you may want to contact them to find out.

  34. Hello. I have a 9 week old kitten that we got in Spain. We are flying back to the US, but through Germany. The whole trip will take one day. We go from Madrid to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, then from Frankfurt to Seattle on Condor. We have booked our kitten with the Airlines already, but when I did so, I forgot to tell them how old he is. The veterinarian is ok with him flying, but thinks the airline will say he?s too young. Also, not sure what we have to do in Germany as we go from Lufthansa to their codeshare Condor. Any advice?

  35. Susan,
    We are flying to Paris from Madrid then taking the ferry to Ireland. We will have the health certificate for entering Spain and submit the advanced notice of import to Ireland.

  36. Leigh Ann – as your pets are flying in and out of Ireland on Iberia, they will transit the country and should not be subject to any declaration or inspection. Have you complied with import requirements for Ireland?

  37. Susan,
    Thank you for your response. Just to clarify, we do not declare the bird or rabbit in Madrid? Therefore no inspection in Madrid?

  38. Leigh Ann – as you are staying on Iberia in and out of Madrid, you will stay in the secure area of the airport until you board your next flight on Iberia. Yes, your carrier must be x-rayed by TSA. You should ask for a private room to remove your bird from the carrier. If the TSA officer will not accommodate you, then ask for a supervisor. Be sure and allot extra time for this request.

  39. Hello,
    My husband and I are moving from US to Ireland and will be taking our bird and rabbit with us. On Iberia we can fly with them in the cabin from San Francisco to Madrid then to Paris. From France we will be taking a ferry to Ireland. All this so that they do not have to fly in Cargo. My question is, when we arrive in Madrid, do we clear customs before going to our onward flight to Paris? Or do we only clear customs in Paris when we leave the airport? Also, do you know if TSA in SF will require the bird to be taken out of its carrier at security check point?

    Leigh Ann

  40. what is the best kind of non metallic cat collar and lease? ( I have to purchase these for our two cats before we fly to Fl.)

  41. Tracy – Spirit and Southwest occupy different terminals at FLL and, although plans are in the works for passengers to be able to access all terminals without clearing security, those plans have not been implemented yet. Not sure how long your layover is in FLL and hard to estimate traffic when you board your next flight. You can find a map of the terminals and the airlines that serve them here: TSA has a program called Pre-Check involving pre-approval but you have to apply for it. More information about it here:

  42. Hello,
    We are traveling on Southwest/Spirit on separate legs from Raleigh to US Virgin Islands. In Ft Lauderdale, we transfer from Southwest to Spirit. We have paid for tickets for our pet on both airlines, but are afraid that if we have to exit security area with our pet in FLL, we will miss our connection. Why should we have to exit security (when the pet will be checked by TSA in Raleigh upon departure) when we will still be in secured terminal, just to be rechecked in FLL? Spirit does not do the actual checks, they are done by TSA. Can I just take the TSA security tag to the Spirit gate in FLL when I board the Spirit flight? I can’t get a clear answer from Spirit on this, even after multiple calls. We are not checking bags and are obtaining boarding passes online…at least I hope so, since I’m afraid the “pet” designation might change the availability of our online boarding passes.

  43. Elizabeth – if you leave the airport, then your dog will need to clear customs and enter Germany and, in this case, you should have an EU health certificate for Germany. You can use the same certificate to enter Austria.

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