dog in a travel carrier

The Most Pet-Friendly Airlines

Susan B. Barnes

Susan B. Barnes

May 17, 2023

11 min read

Table of Contents

There’s no doubt about it—pets are family, and we want to take them wherever we go, even when we fly. And we’re not alone: according to the United States Department of Transportation, more than 2 million pets travel by air each year. Imagine if they earned frequent flyer miles! Actually, one airline does award miles for pet travel…more on that below.

Here, we take a look at the most pet-friendly airlines, both domestically in the US and internationally. Note: This explainer is for pet travel, not animals classified as service animals or emotional support animals.

The most pet-friendly airlines in the US

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airways makes it easy to fly with your small dog or cat, who will travel with you in the cabin and sit underneath the seat in front of you in a carrier no larger than 17 x 12.5 x 8.5 inches (length + width + height). 

When booking your flights, keep in mind that pets are not permitted to fly in JetBlue’s Mint, and the airline highly recommends choosing a window or aisle seat. You may want to consider an Even More Space seat, which boasts up to seven inches more legroom and early boarding for more time for the two of you to settle in. It’s easy to add your pet to your JetBlue reservation, either online, via the app, or by calling the airline directly.

When you arrive at the airport, stop by the full-service counter—or seek out a JetBlue crew member in the self-service lobby—to pick up your special JetPaws® bag tag to attach to your pet’s carrier. You’ll also receive some Petiquette tips for smooth travel. If your pet rides in style a la a pet stroller, the stroller will be checked to your final destination at no charge.

What truly makes JetBlue the cat’s meow among domestic airlines is that traveling pets earn their parents who are TrueBlue members an 300 extra points per segment just for keeping them company on the flight.

  • Pets allowed in cabin: 6
  • Costs: $125 each way
  • Max weight: 20 pounds (pet + carrier)
  • Pets allowed in cargo: n/a
  • Lounge access: n/a
  • More info: One pet is allowed in a carrier.

American Airlines

Flying with your small dog or cat on American Airlines is as easy as sit—down—stay. Pets and their people can travel together on flights of up to 12 hours to and from select locations in the 48 contiguous United States, the US and Canada, Alaska, Mexico, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and St. Thomas.

Because of the various aircraft flown by American Airlines, it’s best to contact reservations to confirm the under-seat dimensions before booking your flights. As far as carry-on kennel sizes, soft-sided kennels, which the airline recommends, cannot exceed 18 x 11 x 11 inches (length + width + height); hard-sided kennels cannot exceed 19 x 13 x 9 inches (length + width + height) on mainline flights, and 16 x 12 x 8 inches (length + width + height) on regional American Eagle flights. Regardless, all carry-on kennels must be secure, padded, water-repellant, and have nylon mesh ventilation on three or more sides.

If you’re flying first class on the airline’s Airbus A321 Transcon, your carry-on pet can, too, with a few parameters. The A321T boasts dedicated compartments in Flagship First and Flagship Business for pet carriers; the compartments are used during taxi, take-off, and landing. 

  • Pets allowed in cabin: 7 on American flights, 5 on American Eagle flights
  • Costs: $125 each way
  • Max weight: 20 pounds
  • Pets allowed in cargo: Limited to active-duty U.S. military and U.S. State Department Foreign Service personnel traveling on official orders. Otherwise, travelers can use American Airlines Cargo’s PetEmbark service to ship their pets.
  • Costs: $200 per kennel each way for U.S. military and U.S. State Department Foreign Service personnel. PetEmbark fees are available upon request.
  • Max weight: No weight limit
  • Lounge access: Carry-on pets are permitted in Admirals Clubs.
  • More info: Pet fees are payable at the airport ticket counter. Brachycephalic, snub-nosed, or mixed breeds of snub-nosed animals are not allowed to travel in cargo or via PetEmbark. See a list of restricted dog and cat breeds here.
pets being loaded into cargo on a plane.

Delta Airlines

You don't have to leave your small cat, dog, or even household bird behind when you fly with Delta Airlines—all are allowed to accompany you in flight, even if you’re off on an international adventure together. There is one caveat, though: pets cannot travel in the cabin to Hawaii nor to a dozen or so other destinations; find the complete list here

Though Delta’s fleet size varies, the airline recommends a carry-on no larger than 18 x 11 x 11 (length + width + height) since that size fits most aircraft types. For peace of mind before buying your tickets, it’s a good idea to contact reservations to confirm the planes’ dimensions. Pet reservations, which are on a first-come, first-served basis, must be made directly with reservations.

When it’s time to fly, visit the Special Service Counter to check in with your pet. Here a Delta agent will check the dimensions of your carry-on kennel and issue a cabin pet tag once you’ve paid the travel fee.

  • Pets allowed in cabin: 6 (premium + main cabins combined)
  • Costs: $95 each way
  • Max weight: No weight limit
  • Pets allowed in cargo: Pet cargo travel is on hold until further notice
  • Lounge access: Yes, but pets must remain in carriers just as on the plane.
  • More info: Pets in cabin kennels count as one carry-on item.  

Southwest Airlines

If your travels take you anywhere in the contiguous 48 United States, why not bring your pet along? Southwest Airlines allows pets to accompany their people in the cabin, so long as they stay tucked under the seat in a pet carrier in front of their human’s feet. And if you have two pets of the same breed of cat or dog, they can travel within the same carrier, so long as they’re both comfortable. 

Carry-on pet carriers cannot exceed 18.5 x 13.5 x 9.5 (length + width + height). For pets that are as loyal to Southwest as their humans, Southwest has its own branded pet carrier measuring in at 17 x 11 x 9 (length + width + height) for pets up to 15 pounds. Carry-on pet carriers count as one carry-on or personal item.

Southwest’s generous two checked bags for free policy means you can easily transport your pet’s food, toys, and other creature comforts from home at no cost. In addition to the two free bags, pet strollers, and crates can also be checked at no charge.

While pets are accepted on flights between the Hawaiian Islands, pets are not allowed on flights to or from Hawaii. Pets are not allowed to travel on Southwest’s international flights or any itinerary that includes an international flight.

  • Pets allowed in cabin: 6
  • Costs: $95 each way
  • Max weight: No weight limit
  • Pets allowed in cargo: n/a; pets are not allowed in cargo
  • Lounge access: n/a
  • More info: Pets must be vaccinated, but Southwest does not require documentation. Unaccompanied minors cannot travel with a pet. 

United Airlines

If you’re traveling with United Airlines and want to bring your pet along, you can do so on any flight operated by United or United Express, so long as your destination allows pets

When it comes time to book your and your pet’s flights, if you’re flying domestically within the US, you can add your pet to your reservation right from the start by clicking “Travel with a pet;” if you’d like to add your pet to an existing domestic reservation, you can easily do so under My Trips

Once your flights are booked, make sure that your pet carrier fits United’s dimensions: hard-carrier sizes can be a maximum of 17.5 x 12 x 7.5 (length + width + height), while soft-sided carriers have a maximum size of 18 x 11 x 11 (length + width + height). On your travel day, you and your pet will check in for your flight at the ticket counter, where you’ll receive a special tag for your carrier.

  • Pets allowed in cabin: Depending on cabin and plane, but ranges from up to 2 in premium cabins and up to 6 in economy
  • Costs: $125 each way
  • Max weight: No weight limit
  • Pets allowed in cargo: n/a
  • Lounge access: In-cabin pets are welcome in certain United Club locations, provided local ordinances permit them.
  • More info: If you’re flying internationally, you’ll need to call 800-864-8331 to add your pet to your reservation.

In addition to these airlines, Alaska Airlines, Breeze Airways, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Spirit Airlines all allow pet travel.

The most pet-friendly airlines for international travel

dog on the beach in Spain.

Air France

When it comes to traveling with your small dog or cat, Air France says, mais oui! In fact,

nearly 90,000 dogs and cats travel the airline’s routes each year, most on domestic routes. That’s not to say your pet can’t travel with you internationally, though. Again, that’s a mais oui from Air France.

Air France passengers may carry on one pet in its carrier that does not exceed 18” x 11" x 9” (length + width + height). The airline has a carrier available in its online store.

Booking your and your pet’s flights with Air France is as easy as adding the “Pet in Cabin” option on the reservations page; you can also add a pet to existing reservations using the same prompt on the My Bookings page.

  • Pets allowed in cabin: Depends upon the aircraft flown; check with reservations when booking flights.
  • Costs: €70 — €200, depending upon route
  • Max weight: 8 kg (pet + carrier)
  • Pets allowed in cargo: Depends upon the aircraft flown; check with reservations when booking flights.
  • Costs: €70 — €200, depending upon route
  • Lounge access:  In-cabin pets are allowed in Air France lounges but need to remain in their carriers.
  • More info: Air France does not permit pets in the Business cabin on intercontinental flights. Pet fees must be paid at the airport.

SWISS International Air Lines

To say that SWISS International Air Lines allows pet travel is an understatement: in 2022, 18,500 SWISS passengers traveled with their dogs and cats from SWISS hubs in Zurich and Geneva, and of those, 16,600 flew in-cabin. The airline does more than domestic pet travel too. Swiss WorldCargo transports more than 4,000 animals annually worldwide, ranging from the cats and dogs we know and love to wild animals that are part of an animal protection campaign or going to their new homes. 

All pet travel, whether in-cabin or checked in cargo, must be booked through SWISS’ Service Centre. In-cabin pets must remain in their carriers that are no larger than 55 x 40 x 23 (centimeters, length + width + height).

  • Pets allowed in cabin: Depending on the aircraft, but between three and five 
  • Costs: $57 — $126, depending upon the route
  • Max weight: 8 kg (pet + carrier)
  • Pets allowed in cargo: Varies
  • Costs: $92 — $437, depending upon kennel size and route 
  • Max weight: Varies by type of aircraft, kennel size, and species of animal. SWISS transports other animals in addition to pets. 
  • Lounge access: In-cabin pets are allowed in SWISS lounges but need to remain in their carriers.
  • More info: Dogs and cats over the age of 12 weeks are permitted to travel in-cabin or checked in as cargo; those traveling to the U.S. in cargo must be 16 weeks or older.


If you’re flying on Iberia, your pets are welcome to join you, and that goes beyond small cats and dogs to include fish, tortoises, and birds (except birds of prey). The one constant for all is that pet travel is subject to availability, and you should contact the airline’s Booking offices to confirm at least 48 hours in advance of your flight. 

Regardless of the type of pet with which you’re traveling, in-cabin carriers cannot exceed 45 x 35 x 25 (centimeters, length + width + height), and at least 16% of the surface must be ventilated. It is up to pet owners to review and collect the required documents for their pets’ travel to other countries.

  • Pets allowed in cabin: Depending on the aircraft, but between three and six 
  • Costs: between $50 and $210 each, depending on the destination 
  • Max weight: 8 kg (pet + carrier)
  • Pets allowed in cargo: Depends on several variables; check with the airline for availability on the flights you’ve selected
  • Costs: between $120 and $435, depending on the destination 
  • Max weight: 45 kg (pet + carrier) 
  • Lounge access: In-cabin pets are allowed in Iberia lounges but need to remain in their carriers.
  • More info: Large breed dogs that exceed the 45 kg weight limit to fly in Iberia’s cargo hold can travel via the appropriately-named Woof Airlines.

Etihad Airways

If you’re looking for an airline on which you can travel with your falcon, look no further than Etihad Airways. That’s right; falcons can fly with Etihad. Not only that, they fly in-cabin with their people for free, one per passenger in Economy, and two per person in First or Business.

In addition to falcons, passengers can fly with their small cats and dogs in Economy, but there is a substantial fee. Because of the planes’ configurations, passengers flying in Business or First Class will need to buy an additional seat for their pet in addition to the pet fee. In Economy, pet carriers cannot exceed 40 x 40 x 22 (centimeters, length + width + height), and in Business or First class, 50 x 43 x 50 (centimeters, length + width + height).

When you’re ready to book your pet’s flight, submit a booking form at least seven days before your date of travel, and email all required documents no later than 72 hours before your flight takes off. It’s the passengers’ responsibility to check and abide by countries’ requirements.

At the airport, check in at the ticket counter with all required documentation, and you’re ready to go. Cats and dogs must be at least 16 weeks old to fly with Etihad. The airline recommends boarding before other passengers to give you time to prepare your pet for the flight.

  • Pets allowed in cabin:
  • Costs: $1,500 each way (that’s not a typo!)
  • Max weight: 8 kg (pet + carrier)
  • Pets allowed in cargo: Only falcons can travel checked-in as cargo. Etihad Cargo’s LiveAnimals transports other pets.
  • Costs: Checked-in falcons traveling as cargo, $500 per cage. For all other pets, check with LiveAnimals for fees.
  • Max weight: Check with LiveAnimals for pet cargo weight restrictions
  • Lounge access: In-cabin pets are permitted in Etihad lounges, subject to local regulations and access policy.
  • More info: Breeds deemed dangers by Etihad Airways are not permitted to travel; see the complete list here.

Of Note: Though Qantas Airways’ pet travel is on hold, the airline has partnered with Mad Paws for pet sitting while you’re traveling. What’s more, this partnership enables loyal Qantas flyers to earn Qantas Points on their pet-sitting charges. Now that's a win-win.

Pre-flight essentials

Now that you know which airlines to consider for traveling with your pet, here are some pre-flight essentials to keep in mind as you prepare for your trip:

  • Check entry requirements to ensure your pet will be welcomed upon arrival.
  • Choose a pet carrier that fits your pet and airline’s parameters. If this is your pet’s first flight, it’s a good idea to acclimate them to the carrier before your travel day.
  • Check to see if the airport from which you’re flying has pet relief areas, either within the terminals or outside the airport, so you know where to go if your pet needs to, well, go.
  • Make sure your pet’s ID is attached to their collar.
  • To be on the safe side, request a health certificate from your vet within 10 days of your date of travel.
  • Portion out your pet’s food to be sure they have enough to eat each day of your trip. 
  • Don’t forget the treats!
  • Be sure to pack any medications your pet may need during the trip. 
  • Pack a favorite toy, blanket, or pillow that smells familiar to help keep your pet calm while in the air.
  • On the day of your flight, tuck a few treats into your carry-on bag so your pet can enjoy in-flight snacks, too.
  • Take a collapsable water bowl with you to the airport for last-minute sips of water prior to boarding your flight.
  • Don’t forget your pet’s collar, leash, and bags for clean-up.

Call instead of booking online

For up-to-date pet travel availability on the flights that work with your schedule, it may be easiest to take some time to pick up the phone and call your airline of choice. While some airlines allow for online or in-app reservations for you and your pet, speaking to an agent can quickly and easily confirm there’s room for you both.

Health certificates

Not all airlines require health certificates when traveling with your pet, but having one on hand isn’t a bad idea. Obtaining a health certificate can be as easy as requesting one from your vet. You’ll want to make the request close to your travel dates, as some airlines have specific requirements, like American Airlines’, within 10 days of travel requirement. The signed certificate should include your pet’s breed, weight, date of birth/age, and that they are healthy enough for travel.

The best idea when it comes to health certificates is to check requirements not only with the airline with which you’re traveling but your final destination, too.


For more flexibility, soft-sided carriers tend to work best when pets are traveling in cabin. For those traveling in the cargo hold, you’ll want to opt for hard-sided. Regardless of where your pet is traveling, they should have enough room to comfortably stand up, turn around, and lie down. Keep in mind airlines have size limitations when it comes to carriers, and make sure yours fits before you head to the airport.

Some of the top-rated soft-sided carriers for in-cabin travel we found include the AWAY Pet Carrier, the Sherpa Original Deluxe Airline Approved Pet Carrier, the EliteField Soft-Sided Airline Approved Dog and Cat Carrier, Mr. Peanut's Airline Approved Soft Sided Pet Carrier and Petsfit Expandable Airline Approved Pet Carrier, which expands for more room when you get to your destination. Some of these come in a variety of colors, too, so you can coordinate with your own luggage or your pet’s collar and leash.

Things to note

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) advises against sedating or tranquilizing pets who are traveling, and some airlines will not allow pets to travel who have been. The AVMA cites that animals that have been given sedatives or tranquilizers are at a higher risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems at high altitudes.

Regardless of which airline you’re flying, a common rule of thumb is that pets must remain inside the pet carrier while at the airport and on the plane. Additionally, it’s likely you cannot choose an exit or bulkhead row, or another seat with no under-seat stowage in front of them when traveling with a pet, but check with your airline to be sure.

Going through security

When going through security, you’ll remove your pet from its carrier; the carrier will go through the x-ray, and you’ll carry or walk your pet through. If you have TSA Pre-Check, good news — your pet has pre-check, too!

ESA vs. service animals vs. pets

Airlines differentiate emotional support animals from service animals from pets. While some airlines permit all three to travel, there may be stipulations around each. Your best bet is to contact your airline and discuss which option applies to you.

Peak periods

Just as there are peak travel periods for people, there are for people traveling with their pets. For example, SWISS finds that passengers travel with animals most often in the summer holiday months of July and August, as well as in December and January. If you’re planning to travel with your pet during a busy travel time, it’s best to plan and book in advance.

There are also times of the year when airlines do not fly pets in cargo hold due to extreme temperatures. For example, American Airlines prohibits pets traveling in its cargo hold to/through Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; or Palm Springs, California, between May 1 and September 30 due to extreme heat. Likewise, American monitors ground temperatures to ensure pets in cargo hold do not travel to/through destinations on itineraries with ground temperatures below 45°F. The exception to this rule is if you have a written letter from a licensed vet that includes the temperature to which your pet is acclimated.

Animal breed considerations

In an effort to ensure the safety and comfort of pets traveling with them, airlines oftentimes have restrictions when it comes to cats and dogs who can travel with them, mainly in cargo holds. For example, American Airlines does not accept brachycephalic cats of any “mix,” nor brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs of any “mix,” as checked pets to fly in cargo. Likewise, Air France notes that snub-nosed animals such as pugs, bulldogs, boxers, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, or Persian cats are prone to respiratory problems and advise owners of these breeds to obtain air travel advice from their vets.

Read more about traveling with pets

Susan B. Barnes

Susan B. Barnes

Freelance Writer

Susan B. Barnes is a Florida-based travel and lifestyle journalist with bylines in AARP, AFAR, Allrecipes, Condé Nast Traveler, Forbes Travel Guide, Garden & Gun, Global Traveler, Marriott Bonvoy, Southern Living, SUCCESS, Travel + Leisure and Vegetarian Times. When not traveling, she’s exploring Florida with her favorite travel companions: her husband and their rescued Miniature Schnauzer, Aldo.

Published May 17, 2023

Last updated December 21, 2023

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