air travel with pets: tips and tricks

Today, we’re heading to LA and Ohio for a total of three weeks! Jack will be joining, so this will be his 8th, 9th and 10th flights of the year. ? ✈️’ Ive had a few people ask me about tips for traveling with a pet, so thought I would share some tips and tricks for airline pet travel!

I’m definitely no expert on this topic, and only know what I know through personal experience and recommendations from friends. I do want to preface this post with two things – every airline has their own policies and procedures for pet travel so make sure you research beforehand. Here’s a great resource linking to different airline sites and their pet policies. Second, this post just covers traveling with a small pet in the airline cabin, since that’s what my experience entails. I don’t have any experience with traveling with pets as cargo, and have heard some horror stories, so won’t be going into that aspect of pet travel for larger animals.

Most airlines only allow small dogs (under 20-25 pounds) and cats to fly in the cabin. Jack is about 13 pounds, so there’s no issue size-wise for him when traveling. If your dog is on the cusp size-wise, I would do extra research on your airline carrier to make sure you don’t run into any last-minute issues when you arrive at the airport.


Most importantly, if you’re planning to travel with a small pet, you need to secure their spot on the plane. After booking a flight, call your airline immediately and let them know you’re carrying on a pet with you. If you’re traveling with a pet, I would recommend booking your flight as soon as possible, since airlines have a max amount of animals they will allow to travel on each flight. For example, Southwest only allows six pets at a time, outside of emotional support and service animals. You could also call the airline in advance of buying your own (human) ticket to make sure they have room for a dog as a carry-on. You’ll have to pay a Pet Fee ($95 on Southwest, $125 on Delta, United and American). If you are traveling with an emotional support animal or service animal, you still need to call the airline in advance and let them know you’re bringing a pet. The only difference is that you don’t pay the Pet Fee and the pet isn’t required to stay in a carrier during the flight (although, it’s way easier to still keep them in there, in my opinion).


An airline-approved pet carrier – we have the Sleepypod Air Carrier, which definitely isn’t the cheapest option out there, but has worked really well for Jack. There’s a thick, padded shoulder strap for easy carrying, but my favorite feature is that we can slide Jack’s carrier over the top of our suitcase and securely/easily get from Point A to Point B in the airport. The carrier also expands, so once you’re in the air, you can open the side pockets of the carrier so your pet has the maximum amount of space while traveling. And, you can also use this pet carrier as an on-the-go pet bed or car seat for your cat or dog. The carrier is also plush inside so it’s like a little luxurious palace for your pet while traveling. ?

Leash – (this is an obvious one?)

A high-value treat or toy – we always “surprise” Jack with a special treat or toy to chew on for a flight. This is positive reinforcement that being in the pet carrier and traveling = good things for him. Highly recommend doing this!

Letter from doctor – this only applies if you have an Emotional Support Animal, but super important to not forget to bring with you! Make sure your letter complies with exactly what the airline requires. It’s worth doing specific research on this before your flight to ensure you don’t run into any issues when checking in your pet at the airport.

Potty pads – we don’t do this because Jack can hold it and we haven’t flown more than 5 hours (or 7ish hours of all-up travel time), but I know a lot of people bring these in case their pet needs to relieve himself on the plane.

Pet anxiety/stress relief remedies –  we’ve tried this natural Rescue Remedy before (just drop into water) but Jack didn’t like it. But, some people swear by this stuff and says it really helps their pet stay calm in the new travel environment.

Non-plane stuff to pack for a trip – food/water bowls (up to you if you want to include these in the carrier for eating and drinking during flight), enough food for the duration of your trip (or, we often just buy a small bag of food at our destination to avoid traveling with it), extra treats and toys, potty bags.


Limit pets food/water intake that day – We’ll pull Jack’s food and water about 4-5 hours before the flight time.

Exercise pet before flight – If you have a super active pet, I highly recommend going to the park the day before or morning of your flight for a big play sesh. It’s much easier to travel with Jack when he’s tired.


Potty time (outside) – Before going inside, find the pet relief area at the airport or walk around so your pet can go to the bathroom (one last time ??)

Check In – When you get inside, go to the ticket counter and check in your pet. Again, if you have a service or emotional support animal, you have to also check them in at the ticket counter. Bring appropriate paperwork from a medical professional for service / emotional support animals.

Getting through security – Take pet out of carrier at security, take off leash/tags/collar and put both on the security conveyer belt. Hold or walk with your pet through (you can ask the security people what they prefer – it’s always been hold for us). If you have any pet food in your bag/carrier, I would recommend taking out of the bag/carrier. We’ve had secondary screenings of dog food several times, so it’s helpful when it’s out of the bag already or at the top of your suitcase instead of buried at the bottom.


Pet stays in carrier – Your pet needs to stay in its designated carrier throughout the flight. Again, the exception here is for service and emotional support animals who can just sit on the floor or on your lap (size depending).

Leave your pet alone – Minimize “checking in” on your pet – we’ve found that checking in on Jack and giving him attention simply distracts him from sleeping or just chilling in his carrier. Just let them chill and nap in there! ✌?

Food/Water – depending on how long your flight is, give your pet some water or ice an hour or so before landing. We’ve done this on our 4-5 hour flights and usually, he prefers eating ice over drinking water out of a bowl while traveling.


Go outside right away (duh) – especially if it’s a long flight, I always try to hustle to make sure Jack can relieve himself right away. If you are waiting for checked bags, take your pet outside first, and then come back into the airport to grb your bags.

Okay! So those are my tips and tricks for air travel with a little furry family member! As mentioned earlier, the rules and policies are a bit different when traveling with an emotional support animal or service animal. My friend Davida wrote a great post HERE about emotional support animals – what they are, how to get a pet registered, etc.

If you’ve traveled with a pet before, would love to know what other tips you have to share, in case I missed anything. Thanks for reading and safe travels! ✈️

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