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American Airlines passengers can now bring a pet, full-sized carry-on


American Airlines passengers can now bring a pet, full-sized carry-on

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Thinking of taking your dog or cat with you the next time you fly? For a growing percentage of the 90.5 million pet owners in the U.S., the answer is yes. But while the notion of boarding a plane with your pet may seem simple, the rules and restrictions around traveling with an animal can be confusing. 

Eight major U.S. airlines allow pets to fly in-cabin as carry-ons. But flying with your pet takes research and planning, as pet policies vary from airline to airline, are steeped in restrictions, and are limited to specific countries and cities. You’ll also have to pay an extra fee for your pet ranging from $95 to $200, depending on the airline and where you’re flying. And restrictions often change.

For example, American Airlines recently revised its policies so passengers flying with pets may also bring one full-size carry-on or personal item. But the carrier prohibits carry-on pets on transatlantic and transpacific flights. Here’s what you need to know when considering taking your fur baby with you on a plane.

Cargo, check-in or carry-on?

Most airlines offer three options for transporting animals: cargo, check-in or carry-on. But if your pet is larger than a bread box, your options are limited to the cargo or baggage check-in options, with very few exceptions. 

Given that large canine breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers are among the most popular dogs in the country, the size restriction for in-cabin pet travel can be a major frustration for those who would rather not fly at all if that means putting their pet in cargo. 

A 2023 Forbes Adviser survey of 10,000 U.S. dog owners found that 33% of respondents fly with their pets, while 37% listed not being able to bring their dog on a plane as their biggest annoyance. (You can learn more about the differences between cargo, check-in and carry-on options here, including warnings about the dangers involved when pets travel in the cargo hold.) 

Carry-on pets

Even for pet owners whose animals are small enough to fly as a carry-on, traveling is no breeze.

“When I fly with him I have to go to the desk,” Margaret Rauch, 44, told CBS MoneyWatch, referring to her 15-pound poodle mix, Soda. The New York City resident has taken Soda on dozens of flights to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Soda, now 4, was being fostered by a friend after being found as a stray puppy in 2021. 

In addition to calling the airline in advance to register her dog for a flight, Rauch has to check in at the counter whenever she’s traveling with Soda, so the airline agent can confirm her dog and pet carrier conform to the in-cabin pet requirements and that the flight hasn’t already met its pet maximum. 

Soda, a 15-pound poodle mix, has flown on dozens of trips to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands with his owner, New York City resident Margaret Rauch.

Margaret Rauch


Rauch, who said she would never consider putting Soda in cargo, applauded American Airlines’ new policy, while noting that in her experience the one carry-on rule was rarely enforced. 

“I feel the price is already high for what I get. Even with AA’s rule change, I lose the underseat space,” she said. “My dog creates no extra work for anyone.”

Despite the added preparation, paperwork and hassle involved in flying with Soda — not to mention the unfriendly looks she occasionally detects from fellow passengers at the sight of her pet carrier — Rauch said, “It’s absolutely worth it.” 

Asked how the experience could be improved, she pointed to early boarding for pet owners as something that would help.

“If you can get in early, get a seat and settle down, that is an accommodation I don’t expect to see anytime soon but I think it makes sense,” Rauch said.

Safety and comfort

For the many Americans who see their pets practically as family members, one of the most challenging aspects of flying is ensuring their animal’s comfort and safety. 

“The increasing humanization of pets, which involves treating them as part of the family rather than as mere animals, has increased the demand for pet travel services that are of high quality and can be customized to meet the specific needs of each pet,” LinkedIn reported in December.

Among other tips, the U.S. Department of Transportation and animal experts recommend that you not feed your pet four to six hours before a flight and limit their water intake. Others also suggest keeping bottled water on hand at all times. Additionally, most airlines require certain vaccination and vet certification that your pet is healthy enough to fly. Individual countries also have their own requirements for pets to enter.  

Not surprisingly, some airlines do better than others at handling pets. One of the best-rated carriers for pet travel is Alaska Airlines, which has repeatedly topped rankings, such as NerdWallet’s Most pet-friendly airlines of 2024. In recent years, the airline also has maintained one of the industry’s lowest incident ratings, according to Veterinarians.org. United Airlines and Delta are among the airlines with the highest incident rates, according to the pet information website. 

On Rauch’s first plane trip with Soda traveling home to New York, a layover in Miami led to the flight sitting on the tarmac for two hours. Calming treats are something that helps keeps her dog relaxed on flights. She also withholds Soda’s food and limits his water intake up to five hours before a flight, which is also helpful given that he doesn’t like using pet relief areas, which she said generally smell of urine and can be overwhelming for dogs. Flights between New York City and St. Croix are generally under six hours. 

“I’m not sure how I’d handle a flight to Singapore,” Rauch said.

Here’s a rundown of U.S. airlines’ pet travel policies, along with fees and and restrictions:

Alaska Airlines

Pet fee: $100

Pets allowed: Dogs and cats are the only pets allowed in-cabin on international trips and flights to Hawaii. Domesticated rabbits and small household birds are allowed as carry-on on domestic flights.

Destinations: Domestic and international, with additional requirements and documentation required for pets traveling to Hawaii or internationally.

See Alaska’s full pet policy here.

American Airlines

Pet fee: $150

Pets allowed: Dogs, cats

Destinations: 

  • Within the 48 contiguous U.S.
  • The U.S. and Canada*
  • Alaska
  • Mexico*
  • Puerto Rico
  • St. Croix
  • St. Thomas

*Additional special restrictions may apply. See American’s full pet policy here.

Delta

Pet fee: $75-$200, depending on destination

Pets allowed: Dogs, cats, household birds

Pet friendly destinations: 

  • U.S., Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico
  • Canada
  • International destinations with the exception of Australia, U.K., Republic of Ireland and others.

Pets are not permitted on flights to Hawaii. See Delta’s full pet policy here.

Frontier Airlines 

Pet fee: $99

Pets allowed: Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and household birds

Destinations: Domestic flights and international flights to and from the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

See Frontier’s full pet policy here.

JetBlue

Pet fee: $125

Pets allowed: Dogs, cats

Destinations: Domestic and international. See exceptions for international flights here.

See JetBlue’s full pet policy here.

Southwest Airlines

Pet fee: $125 per pet carrier on the U.S. mainland; $35 per pet carrier between Hawaiian Islands

Pets allowed: Dogs, cats

Destinations: Domestic U.S. flights only. For travel to Puerto Rico, specific requirements may apply. For Hawaii travel, see rules and regulations here.

See Southwest’s full pet policy here.

Spirit Airlines

Pet fee: $125

Pets allowed: Dogs, cats, birds (with the exception of flights to or from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) or rabbits (with the exception of flights to or from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).

Destinations: Domestic flights including Puerto Rico and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

See Spirit’s full pet policy here.

United Airlines

Pet fee: $125

Pets allowed: Dogs, cats

Destinations: Domestic and international flights with a list of exceptions. United does not allow pets to fly to, from or through certain states and countries. View the list here.

See United’s full pet policy here.

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