Tips for Flying With a Dog & Must-Know Dangers of Flying Cargo

Not all pets who fly make it safely to their destination. Find out why and how you can keep your dog safe during air travel.

Updated January 24, 2024
Small Terrier in a travel carrier

Flying with your dog can be a way to explore a new place with your canine companion, but it needs a lot of planning and has some risks. Not all airlines accept pets, and not all pets can fly in the cabin which brings a host of dangers. Check out the safest way to fly with your dog when you might not want to, how to make the trip smoother, and some alternatives for when flying just won't work.

How Can I Bring My Dog on a Plane?

Dog air travel is a lot more complicated than airline travel for humans, and these days, that's saying a lot. However, sometimes it's the most convenient travel solution for your pet.

There are two basic ways for your dog to travel by air:

Carry On

If you're traveling with your pet, small dogs may travel in carriers beneath your passenger seat on the flight. This method is ideal because you'll be able to check on your pup frequently, and your presence will help lessen any anxiety they may experience on the flight. 


If you're not traveling with your dog or they're too big to fit beneath your seat, it will usually be necessary to check them in as cargo. This means they will be shipped along with the rest of the plane's luggage, although usually in a separate area with other pets being shipped, if any.

The Dangers of Flying Your Pet in Cargo

According to the Air Travel Consumer Report published in February 2023, seven pets died during flights in 2022. Of these fatalities, six occurred on Hawaiian Airlines flights. Five of the seven were short-faced dogs shipped in cargo.

Shipping your pet as cargo is not the ideal method for a number of reasons, including:

Frantic Anxiety

Pets often become quite anxious in the cargo hold, working themselves up into a nervous frenzy. The stress can worsen existing health conditions or lead to new health issues.

Need to Know

The cargo area can be much noisier than the cabin. These loud, unfamiliar sounds can be very stressful for dogs.

Temperature Fluctuation

The temperature in the cargo hold is quite different from the controlled atmosphere of the cabin. In the past, dogs have died from either severe heat exhaustion or hypothermia during transport. In response to these tragic events, airlines will now only ship pets during specific times of the year, and expected temperatures must fall within the airline's safety guidelines, or transport will be delayed.

Poor Ventilation

The ventilation in cargo holds might not be as efficient as in passenger areas, potentially leading to insufficient oxygen and poor air quality.

Lost or Misdirected Luggage

Just as luggage sometimes disappears, sometimes dogs don't make it to their rightful destination, and such a situation can become extremely complicated and heartbreaking. 

Need to Know

Because of the above dangers, dogs who can not fly under the seat with you in the cabin are safest left at home or using another method of transportation, if available. Some charter companies will also fly larger pets in the cabin.

If You're Flying With Your Dog

small dog in a travel bag on board of plane

There are a handful of steps necessary to properly prepare your dog for travel by air. 

Purchasing a Travel Carrier

It will be necessary to purchase a USDA-approved travel carrier for your dog, as the airlines do not provide them free of charge. Also referred to as airline crates, these units are made of high-density plastic and complete with ventilation holes.

Crates of this type are sold with "Live Animal" stickers to be affixed to the outside of the carrier to alert or remind airline staff of your dog's presence. Be sure the carrier is large enough to keep your dog comfortable. They should be able to stand up and turn around as needed.

Need to Know

Carriers approved for dog air travel are easily purchased at major pet supply chains and are sometimes also sold by the airlines themselves. Be sure to confirm that the carrier conforms with the airline's requirements prior to your day of travel.

Booking the Flight

Airline personnel should be able to help you through the booking process, advise you of regulations, and answer questions. Each airline has different rules regarding pets. Whenever possible, try to book a direct flight to your pet's destination. Each transfer is a chance for your dog to miss their next connection, adding more travel time and stress.

Helpful Hack

A carrier sitting on the tarmac while waiting to be loaded into the next cargo hold is directly affected by prevailing weather conditions, and your pet will also not likely enjoy the sound of nearby jets taking off and landing. It's far safer and less stressful for your pet if you pay the higher price for a direct flight.

Obtaining a Health Certificate

Airlines typically require every dog to have a current health certificate. You'll need to make an appointment with your veterinarian to have your dog examined for overall good health and to have their vaccinations updated as needed. Keep in mind that the certificate must be dated within ten days of the expected departure time, and plan accordingly.

Prior to flying, you'll need to attach the health certificate to the outside of your pet's carrier. Clear packing tape is ideal for this purpose since it is waterproof, and the certificate will still be legible.

Related: Best Pet-Friendly Airlines

Dog Air Travel Tips

Woman waiting for her flight at the airport gives water to her dog

There are a number of useful tips that will help assure your pet reaches his destination as comfortably and safely as possible.

Don't Feed Right Before

Do not feed your dog for twelve hours prior to the flight, but do allow them to have water. This will help reduce the risk of them becoming "airsick" during the flight. To reduce the risk of motion sickness, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe something short-term. It never hurts to ask. 

Water for the Flight

Provide water for the flight. This can be done by securely attaching a water bottle to the carrier, but sometimes bottles leak or get knocked off. A better solution may be to freeze water in the snap-on cup that came with your carrier and attach it inside the crate just prior to shipping. This will keep the water cool for a while and keep it from spilling during initial loading.

Exercise Your Pup

Give your dog plenty of exercise before heading to the airport. This can help them be more relaxed during the flight.

Line the Crate

Line the bottom of the crate with shredded newspaper to absorb or cover any in-flight accidents.

Attach the Destination Address

Attach your pet's destination address to the outside of the crate, including the name and phone number of the person picking them up, as well as your own name and number for emergency contact. If you are flying along with them, it's still important to attach this information in case of an emergency.

Your Dog's ID Card

Be sure to put an ID name tag on your pet's collar with your home address and phone number in case they become lost. If possible, attach a second tag with the name, address, and phone number of the person who will be picking them up.

Quick Tip

A microchip can ensure your information stays with your dog even if their identification tags are lost.

Make a Call

Call the person waiting at the other end of the flight to remind them your dog is on the way, the number of the flight, and what time it should be expected to land. Ask them to let you know when they pick up your dog so you can make sure they're safe.

Alternatives to Flying With Your Dog

If, after reading this information, you would like to know what your alternative options are, consider:

Traveling by Car

If you travel by car, it does take longer, but you can rest easy knowing your dog is with you. You're able to check on them frequently to make sure they're doing well. If you notice they're having a difficult time traveling, you're able to rest for a little while before continuing on your journey.

Related: Essential Tips for Roadtripping With Your Dog

Travel by Train

If you're not a fan of driving yourself, you can check out the train. Traveling by train is often pretty comfy for pets. Most train companies allow them to sit on your side, so you're able to be with them and calm them down if necessary. During the summer months, some train companies even make special stops for pets. 

Quick Tip

Before traveling by train, check the policies and regulations set by each individual train company.

Traveling by Water

If you're jumping across the ocean, you may want to consider a cruise rather than a plane. Not only is it more comfortable for your pup, but you can also enjoy the luxury a cruise offers. You'll have to check to see which cruise lines offer a pet option, along with how much it costs to add your pup to your stay when it comes time to travel.

Ease Your and Your Dog's Stress

Dog air travel isn't easy, but following these tips and guidelines will lessen the stress for everyone concerned. Remember to check with your vet any time you're about to travel, regardless of whether you're leaving by plane or car, even if you believe your pup is completely healthy. It's always better to be safe than sorry. And don't forget to carefully consider how your dog travels via air if you've chosen to fly.

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Tips for Flying With a Dog & Must-Know Dangers of Flying Cargo