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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
- 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
Best crates for cargo use
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.