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How to Prepare Flying With Your Pet for the First Time

How to Prepare Flying With Your Pet for the First Time

Whether you are going on an adventure or moving cross country, flying with your pet can be a stressful situation, especially for the first time. There are multiple steps to follow prior to flights which can vary by airline and where your destination is as well as how to handle being with your pet in the airport and on the plane. It’s important to note that this article is strictly about flying with personal pets and not traveling with Service Dogs as those policies are vastly different with fewer restrictions. This article will cover everything you need to know to successfully fly with your pet!

Picking The Airline and Flight

Airline Policy Considerations

Pet policies can be drastically different between airlines which is a factor that many people have not taken into consideration. What is fine for one airline might not be allowed for another. Certain breeds may also not be allowed on flights, for example, brachycephalic breeds are often now allowed in the cargo hold. Large dogs usually aren’t allowed in the cabin with an exception for service dogs. Some breeds have been completely banned from certain airlines.

Choosing an airline with favorable pet policies can increase the likelihood of a less stressful experience for both you and your pet. Chewy has a guide on the policies  for popular domestic airlines but always check with the airline itself for the most up-to-date information. One example of an airline policy is American Airlines:

“When checking a pet, you need to:

  • Contact Reservations at least 48 hours prior to travel

  • Check-in at the ticket counter with your official orders

  • Allow extra check-in time (at least 2 hours and no more than 4 hours before your flight)

  • Complete a checklist with an agent

  • Provide a health certificate

  • Reservations and ticket changes

To ensure the health and safety of your pet, the health certificate you provide must be issued by a vet within:

  • 10 days of your travel

  • 60 days of your return (travel on the same ticket)

  • 10 days of your return (travel on a separate ticket)” Source

But their policy also does not allow standard pets in the cargo hold. They only allow “checked pets for active-duty U.S. Military and U.S. State Department Foreign Service personnel traveling on official orders” (American Airlines) .

Picking and Booking a Flight

Book your flight at the same time as your pet. There are often limits to how many pets are allowed on board a single flight and by delaying, you’re at risk of there not being a space available for them. Call the airline as well to ensure there is still room for your pet. Ensure that your pet is allowed in the class that you are going to sit in as well as some airlines may not allow pets in first or business class.

Best Airlines for Pet Travel

Certain airlines are known for going above and beyond in ensuring excellent policies and handling of pets on their flights. American Airlines, for example, also has the American PetEmbark program which has created “industry-leading policies and procedures to ensure your pet receives the best care in the air.” This also includes a toolkit for everything you need for flying with your pet. According to Forbes , a few of the best airlines for traveling with pets include:

Being Prepared

Proper Paperwork

There are certain veterinary paperwork and documents that are required regardless of where you are flying to. A health certificate, aka a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection , is required plus some airlines require an acclimation certificate. The health certificate will verify that your pet is healthy enough to travel and does not carry a disease that can be passed to other animals or people. It’s important to take into consideration that certain vaccinations may be required to obtain a certificate. This can only be completed and signed by a federally accredited veterinarian. You will need to research what other paperwork is needed for your destination.

Destination-Specific Requirements

International destinations as well as Hawaii have strict laws regarding pets entering to prevent diseases from being spread. Many countries (and Hawaii) require a mandatory quarantine period to monitor pets. This list contains the quarantine period for some popular destinations. They may also have different health requirements, especially with certain vaccinations

Carrier Requirements and Restrictions

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File

If you plan on taking your pet in the cabin, which is often just for pets under 20 pounds, you will need to ensure that the carrier fits airline requirements as well as meets the needs for you and your pet. The general guidelines for a pet carrier include:

  • Must be able to fit under the seat in front of you.

  • Pets must be able to stand up, lie down, and turn around comfortably without touching the sides of the carrier.

  • Water-resistant (which is also helpful for accidents)

  • Soft side, collapsible, and padded

  • Have at least 2 sources of ventilation

It’s also wise to help your pet acclimate to their potentially new carrier so they can have a comfortable flight experience.

If You Have to Put Your Pet in Cargo

While we would all love to have all pets in the airplane cabin, unfortunately, some pets, mainly large dogs, have to fly in the cargo hold due to airline restrictions. It’s never the best option but it can often be the only one. If your pet has to fly in the cargo hold, take some of these tips under consideration:

  • Keep your pet on the same flight as you and ask the airline if you can watch them be loaded and unloaded if possible.

  • Avoid flights with stops and transfers to decrease the chances of a “misplaced” pet.

  • Choose flights based on the weather. For example, choose an early morning or late night/red-eye flight in the summer with afternoon flights in the winter.

  • Examine your pet immediately upon landing when you are reunited

  • Tranquilizers should only be given under veterinary supervision. Certain airlines will also deny pets that have been given tranquilizers to reduce the risk of death or complications.

  • Brachycephalic animals should NEVER be put in cargo. This includes bulldogs, Pugs, and Persian cats.

  • Choose a collar that won’t get caught in the carrier doors such as a breakaway collar.

  • Keep identification and contact information both on your pet and the carrier itself.

  • Put a photo of the pet on the outside of the carrier for quick identification confirmation.

Essentials to Pack

When bringing a pet on a flight, it’s optimal to be prepared for anything. While you may have a bulk of supplies in a checked back, there a few items to bring in your carry on luggage for your pet. These may different based on what kind of pet you are bringing:

  • Copy of required documents

  • Travel grooming kit  or at least grooming wipes

  • Collar, harnes, and leash

  • Treats

  • Sealed food with a small dish

  • Potty pads and/or travel litter box

  • Poop bags

  • Empty water bottle, you can fill this up after security or buy a full one after

  • Prescription medication

  • Copy of the airline’s pet policy

  • Receipt showing you have paid for your pet to be on the plane

  • Copy of health certificate and other health documents

Flight Day

Before You Leave for the Airport

The day is here! The day when you are flying with your pet for the first time. First things first, double check that you have all needed supplies. For meals, it’s recommended to give a small, digestible meal a few hours prior to the flight with little water consumption. You can also get them tired with some extra exercise. If you have any calming medication for your pet, follow the instructions and give it a couple hours beforehand. Your veterinarian will be able to guide you on this.

Arriving at the Airport

Arrive to the airport extra early in case there are any road bumps as well as the time it takes to check in your pet. The time you need to be at the airport prior may different by airline or airport. For example, those going in cargo may need to be checked in three hours prior. For pets in cargo, you can review the airline policy for pick-up information for getting your pet back after the flight. For pets who will be flying in the cabin, check in can be done at the standard passenger check-in area when you first enter the airport. The desk agent will review the paperwork and give the all-clear.



Security is often one of the most stressful aspects of flying with a pet, especially depending on their behavior and tolerance. You will need to remove their collar or anything with metal on them, remove them from the carrier and be carried through the x-ray by you as the carrier goes through on the conveyor belt. You can typically keep a leash on your pet if there is a higher risk of them escaping.


Once you’ve gone through security and have found your gate, try to locate the closest pet relief area and allow your pet to go to the bathroom as close as possible to boarding time. Check with the airport’s rules on if your pet can be removed from the carrier while waiting to board.

During the Flight

Short flights may be a bit easier but for those long haul ones, keeping your pet calm and entertained is essential for both your stress levels and consideration of fellow passengers. Individual flights may be different if they allow you to take your pet out of the carrier and is often up to the flight attendants. For potty breaks, you can take your pet to the lavatory and allow them to use potty pads or a litter box for cats. Limit water intake but don’t withhold and feed small meals to prevent accidents.


Flying with your pet for the first time involves meticulous planning and preparation to ensure a smooth journey. Choose the right airline with pet-friendly policies, understand veterinary and carrier requirements, and be well-prepared with the necessary documents. Familiarize your pet with their carrier and follow the airline’s specific guidelines to reduce anxiety on the day of travel. Ensure a safe and enjoyable flight experience for both you and your beloved pet by following these tips and guidelines. Enjoy your flight!

Please note that the information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. We are not veterinarians, and the content shared here should not be considered professional veterinary advice.

If you have any questions regarding copyrights or the use of materials in this article, please contact us for clarification.



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