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Taking your beloved fur baby into the clouds via plane? Selecting the best dog carrier can be daunting.
The big question is, with the multitude of options out there, how do you choose wisely?
In this post, we’ll review the best dog kennels for airline travel currently on the market, from soft to hard carriers, wheels, shoulder bags and everything in between.
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Contents & Quick Navigation
What Requirements Need to be Met for My Dog to Fly?
It’s important to note that pet flying requirements vary between airline companies. Before you begin your hunt for whether you need a pet carrier with wheels or one that folds out, make sure you check with your airline on pet travel fees, carrier size requirements, and health certificates.
Before you get amped on your trip with your fur baby, research and compare airline pet policies to choose the best one that suits your needs.
How will Fido take flight?
Your dog’s size and weight will be the deciding factor on whether or not she can fly in the cabin or will have to be stored as cargo. Once again, every airline has different rules, but generally if a dog is over 20 lbs (9 kg), cargo it is.
Checking your dog into a cargo
You’ll want to make sure you buy a hard pet carrier for a dog going into cargo.
Inquire about a “last on, first off” policy that ensures your dog will be boarded at the last minute and will get off the plane first without having to wait in the holding area for too long, especially in extreme climates.
Speaking of extreme climates, is the cargo area of the plane you will fly in a climate controlled? It doesn’t hurt to ask. You might even want to consider planning your trip around changing climates, jet-setting when it’s not the dog days of summer or snow-blown winter.
Finally, you can ask about special check-in procedures for your dog. Some airlines will let you escort pupper to the cargo facility and will track her location for each leg of the journey to ensure she ends up at the right destination and not Bermuda.
You can follow the pet carrier guidelines outlined by the International Air Travel Association (IATA). Even if you are flying domestic (which tends to be a bit more lax with certain pet requirements), following the official international guidelines is the safest bet when your dog flies cargo.
Here is a brief outline of the do’s and don’ts established by IATA.
- Size: In order to provide plenty of space for your dog, the pet kennel must be the pet’s body length plus half their leg and tall enough so that the ears do not touch the roof. You can get more info on choosing the right size crate here.
- Must have a single, whole metal door: It shouldn’t collapse in or fold.
- Dishes: Two bowls (one for food, one for water) must be attached to the door of the kennel and not the sides so that air personnel can supply food and water without opening the door.
- Zip tie the carrier’s door shut.
- Padding: The carrier must be lined with a soft, fabric bed along with potty pads in case of an accident.
- Side Rim: A spacing rim of ¾ on all sides is required to prevent potential biting when personnel carries the kennel.
- Stickers: All sides of the carrier must sport “live animal” and “this way up” stickers. Some airlines will provide these if you ask. Otherwise, be sure to bring your own.
- Ventilation: Make sure there are air holes on all 4 sides of the carrier. They should run at least halfway up the wall.
- Emergency Info: Attach a contact card to the crate that gives your contact info, an emergency contact, the destination and flight number, any medications and feeding instructions.
- No plastic bolts, doors or latches used for crate assembly.
- No doors located on the top of the carrier.
- No wheels on the crate or the wheels must be detachable.
- Carriers traveling in cargo cannot be wicker, wire, mesh or soft-sided.
Keeping your dog in the cabin
Small dogs can fly in-cabin, offering a bit more convenience and peace of mind for you since you won’t have to be separated during the flight.
Most airlines require that a carrier fits beneath the airplane seat in front of you, that it’s leak-proof and offers proper ventilation. Some airlines limit the number of pets on a flight, so you need to take care that you book your dog early.
Be mindful of how your dog reacts around others, as you’ll be sitting in close proximity to other passengers. If Fido gets anxious and will bark, discuss relaxation options with your vet, such as strapping on a ThunderShirt or using calming drops.
If your dog is a brachycephalic breed (Pugs, Bulldogs, etc.) respiratory issues from pressure changes in the cabin can be dangerous. Check with the vet and airline company about breeds that are not permitted to fly.
What Safety Concerns Should I Have About My Dog Flying?
When it comes to safety, it all boils down to how well you know your dog and then making a conscientious decision about whether or not flying is really best for her.
Here are our top 8 tips to double up on doggie safety in the sky:
- Pay a visit to your veterinarian beforehand to get the approval to travel.
- Make sure your contact information is up-to-date and matches with your dog’s microchip.
- When booking your flight, go for direct. Layovers mean more time in the carrier for your pooch and increase the risk of nightmares, such as delays or lost cargo.
- To be able to fly, your dog should already be potty and crate trained. But, accidents do happen- especially in high-stress environments. Line your pet carrier with a potty training pad.
- Make sure there is plenty of water if the flight is longer than a few hours. Pack an extra meal, water bottle and collapsible bowl in case of an emergency.
- Slap a label with your name, pet’s name and full contact info on the carrier and on your dog’s collar.
- Take your dog for a long walk the day before the flight to burn energy and calm her down.
- Before the big travel day, introduce doggie to her new pet carrier and let her get used to being inside of it.
To prepare your carrier for the trip, take a look at this video, which offers some informative tips.
What Features Should I Look for in an Airline Approved Pet Carrier?
You’ve talked to potential airlines about their pet policies, booked your direct flight and taken your doggo to the vet. Now, it’s time to look for the best dog kennel.
Here is a list of the most prominent features that can make you and your dog’s life much easier on the tarmac:
- Zipper or velcro enclosures: Take a look at how manufacturers allow you to open and close the carrier. Is your dog hyperactive? Velcro enclosures offer pet owners fast access but might be too easy for rambunctious pooches to bust out of. Zippers offer more security but can be a pain to finagle, getting caught on fabric or your pup’s fur.
- Pockets: Pockets are a lifesaver, allowing you to store supplies and treats in an organized fashion without having to dig through your own luggage.
- Soft bedding: Keep your dog cozy with a fabric lining. Opt for a thinner layer rather than thick in case it gets too hot.
- Wheels: If the backpack or purse pet carrier won’t go over well with your shoulder muscles, opt for a rolling pet carrier that is airline approved. This makes it easy to maneuver your way through the airport without putting too much strain on your joints. Keep in mind that wheels are not allowed for hard crates that will fly in cargo.
- Leash: Some soft carriers will feature an attached short leash to hook your dog’s collar to when she’s inside the crate. This is handy to prevent her from trying to jump out while strolling through a busy airport.
Soft or hard: which type of carrier is right for me?
It all boils down to your dog’s size and weight when determining which material is best for you.
Soft pet carrier for small dogs
Flexible, light and easy to maneuver, the soft pet carrier is ideal if your dog is going into the cabin with you.
The majority of airlines require that you must fit the carrier underneath the seat, which is more doable with a shapeable soft carrier.
>>Check out our review of best small dog crates (plastic, soft, metal-wired and other)
Hard pet carrier for medium to large dogs
If your dog is over 20 lbs and must travel via cargo, the hard pet carrier is required for the best protection. Hard walls and larger sizes make it a comfortable fit when being lifted and stored.
There are also more of this variety on the market that is known and approved for air travel, which is a convenient plus.
>>Check out our review of best large dog crates (soft-sided, plastic, metal-wired and stylish/wooden)
The Best 10 Airline Approved Pet Carriers for 2022
Let’s get down to it. We’ve chosen our favorite pet kennels that offer everything you could ever need to give your dog the most comfortable flight.
Best crates for in-cabin use
- Recommended for small dogs; 17″ L x 9″ W x 11.5″ H
- Meets standards of most airlines
- Zipper enclosures
- Comes with removable pad for easy cleaning
- Extra pockets for storage
- Shoulder strap
This soft pet carrier is well-ventilated on the sides, allowing for dogs to stay cool while fitted snugly under an airplane seat. It also allows them to see what’s going on, which can help supplement calmness.
The thin, removable pad is soft, yet just the right size so your dog isn’t too hot and stuffy.
A small key ring is included so you can conveniently hang a contact card with doggo’s information. As well, there are extra pockets to store treats and poo bags, just in case.
The only (minor) nuisance is that the entrance of the bag is not wire supported, causing the top to cave in around the dog and diminish space.
Overall, you can’t beat what you get for the price. This shoulder-strap bag is totally affordable and provides all of the bells and whistles you’d want from a soft pet carrier.
- Size: 18'x 11'x 11'; Expanded-size: 138' x 30' x 11'
- Airline approved cat carrier and dog carrier.
- Comes with a removable soft pad, a hard insert to stabilize floor of the carrier and a built-in leash to secure pet.
- Has multiple entry points and allows for maximum air circulation
- Comes with extra pockets for storage
If you’re all about providing your doggie with space to sprawl, then this expandable, mesh panel carrier might tickle your fancy.
When layovers are long and delays strike, this kennel will open up so your dog can sit and stand with no trouble. The mesh structure also ensures proper ventilation.
There is a zipper located at the top of the carrier which allows easy access to reach your pet if you want to drop in a snack or toy.
The quality isn’t the best though. When we played around with the zippers, we noticed that the mesh can easily snag, which can lead to tearing.
Overall, it gets the job done and allows your dog to travel comfortably. For the price, the quality could be better.
- Fits small to medium sized dogs: 19.5×10.2×12 inches (LxWxH).
- Airline approved
- Comes with detachable shoulder strap
- Sherpa lined bedding
At first glance, you might think that for a soft pet carrier, the price is a bit up there. That’s until you see all of the awesome features it comes with.
PetAmi thought of everything, from mesh sides and high-grade polyester fabric that allows for comfortable travel and easy airflow.
A Sherpa-lined base takes that comfort to the next level. We loved that this carrier comes with all of the gadgets that make travel a breeze, such as an ID card, leash hook and even a collapsible water bowl.
Safety buckle zippers help prevent escape if your dog likes to play Houdini. As well, there are two access points on either side of the bag for easy maneuverability.
The only gripe we had was with the folding. The carrier lacks the support it needs to stand upright stiffly and tends to collapse inward. But honestly, it’s forgivable considering the high quality and numerous amenities it comes with.
- Sizes: small, medium, large
- 2-wheeled bag with extendable handle
- Large top and front zippered enclosures
- Mesh paneling and soft sides for ventilation
This wheeled carrier is all about convenience. We love that the wheels and extended handle take the strain off your joints.
Soft sides with wide mesh paneling allows for exceptional airflow, plus your dog can keep an eye on what’s going on around her. The large size can fit under an airplane seat, all you have to do is remove the bottom base.
There are lots of great additions, such as a leash that is attached inside, and spacious pockets on the outer sides to hold supplies.
No doubt, this is an expensive carrier. But, if you and your pooch are avid travelers, this is a worthy investment for the convenience and quality.
- Sizes: small, medium, large
- Strong spring wire frame allows the carrier to be pushed down several inches to fit underneath airplane seats.
- Top and side entry with locking zippers for safety
- Comes with Faux- lambskin padding
This soft pet carrier comes with a variety of amenities and is built with air travel in mind. The patented wire framing allows the carrier to bend and mold in order to fit securely underneath an airplane seat.
The mesh sides ensure that airflow will not be blocked and your dog stays cool while in close quarters down by your feet.
The quality is top notch with this carrier, as it was built with air travel in mind. There is a thick, soft pad made of faux-lambskin that can easily be detached and machine washed.
All in all, we loved the sturdiness of this carrier, from the tightly knit mesh to the extra-strong shoulder strap that didn’t loosen or become flimsy.
Best crates for cargo use
- Approved by most airlines.
- 4 sided ventilation for adequate airflow
- Sizes available for dogs weighing from 23 to 90 lbs
This is a reliable heavy-duty plastic crate with metal barriers and a metal squeeze latch if you are traveling with a dog that likes to wriggle free.
This carrier doesn’t come with any extras, but it’s more so suitable for cargo travel, covering the bases of what most airlines require.
We love this carrier because of the quality and attention to detail, such as spaces for zip ties and easy assembly.
Overall, you get what you pay for and the price isn’t over the top.
- Comes in multiple sizes
- There is a snap on water bowl and waste collection gutter.
- Conforms to the requirements of most major domestic airlines.
For a basic airline approved pet carrier, this one is reliable with a rounded shape and well-ventilated sides that ensures your dog receives fresh air no matter where she flies.
It comes with some nice features, such as an attachable bowl and storage compartment. It is easy to assemble and spacious.
The only downer is that the door tends to be a bit stiff. Be mindful when constructing this kennel, so that the door hinges line up correctly.
- USDA and IATA approved
- Sizes: 21”, 28”, 32”, 36”, 40”, 48”
- Plastic construction with hard wire framing
- 4 sided ventilation
Touted as heavy duty, this pet carrier is suitable for large dogs up to 50 lbs. It’s built solid with air holes adorning all 4 sides of the crate. We especially appreciated the metal grating used instead of plastic for extra ammo against nervous chewers.
It meets the requirements held in place by most airlines, but beware that it comes with plastic bolts for assembly when metal bolts are usually what’s expected. Check with your airline first, as you may need to go out and purchase new bolts.
This carrier comes with a nice flight kit that includes safety stickers, water bowl, and absorbent floor padding. Overall, it covers a lot of bases for a basic, safe hard pet carrier if you aren’t looking for something fancy.
- Size: 30 to 50 lbs
- 360 degree ventilation
- Tie-down strap holes for extra security
- Heavy duty build with plastic
Take your large doggo into the air with ease with this hard, plastic carrier that does its job of protecting your pet from getting jostled about in the cargo hold, all while offering consistent airflow.
The price is on the lower end of the spectrum, so don’t expect any extras like fleece pads or collapsible water bowls.
Instead, you get a durable carrier that is easy to assemble. Alas, be careful when attaching the latch on the back door, as it needs to line up properly in order to close securely.
There are shallow compartments on the top that fail to hold much.
Overall, despite the few low-quality functions, this carrier is a reliable choice if you’re on a budget or making a short trip.
- Quick latch system on the metal door
- 4 sided ventilation
- Dimensions: 3″ x 14.6″ x 14.6″, ideal for pets weighing up to 25 lbs
You’ll love this hard kennel for travel, since it comes with durable, thick plastic walls that are reinforced by steel and ventilation holes on all four sides.
The door is made from thick metal with a sturdy latch, spring loaded latch to thwart escapees.
We love that this crate comes with a grated bottom insert in case of a potty accident. This makes it easier to clean and you won’t have to invest in poo pads.
Conclusion: This is our Pick for Best Airline Pet Carrier
For smaller dogs traveling in-cabin, the PetAmi Premium Airline Approved Soft-Sided Pet Travel Carrier takes the win, as it is a fantastic all-around crate that is both functional and full of useful features. We love that it comes with an ID card, leash hook and water bowl!
Our favorite hard airline kennel for dogs award goes to the Petmate Sky Kennel. When it comes to flying with your dog in cargo, you want something reliable that she can’t escape from. You also want your dog to feel safe and secure. This heavy duty crate was built for comfort and the quality is exceptional, so you know you get what you pay for.
1 reply on “Best 10 Airline Approved Pet Carriers and Crates for 2022”
I’ve never had to take a pet on a flight before but I think I would worry myself sick. You’d definitely want to make sure you were using the safest and most comfortable crate. Does the cargo hold tend to be hot or cold?