There are many details to consider before flying with a small dog. Each airline has slightly different rules for pets in the cabin, but all require dogs to be harmless, quiet and odorless. The most significant differences in airline policies for pets relate to the maximum weight and size of the carrier. I made a diagram for your quick reference:
Pet Policies – Domestic US Flights
This information is based on the airlines’ websites from January 2020. Before booking, please contact the airline to make sure that their cabin policy for pets has not changed.
The chart above shows the maximum carrier size for several US airlines. Delta and American Airlines say their size policy depends on the type of aircraft. Although you may see domestic pet carriers advertised as “approved by the airline,” it may not apply to every airline or aircraft.
All airlines require carriers:
Be clean and resistant to leaks with absorbent material mats Close the animal completely and should not be avoided Have adequate air ventilation Be large enough for the pet to stand, turn and lie down
My favorite indoor pet cabinet is the large Sturdibag. It is incredibly light and flexible enough to fit under the seat in front of you. At 12 ″ x 18 ″ x 12 12, the big one is technically above most airline size policies. I have never found that this is a problem due to the flexible structure.
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Although some airlines allow online dog reservations, it’s a good idea to call and confirm their cabin pet policy. I also recommend booking as early as possible, as each plane is allowed a maximum number of animals. No matter how you make your reservation, you will need to register at the airline counter.
When checking in, the agent may ask you to weigh your pet carrier inside to make sure it complies with the airline’s cabin rules. In my experience, this rarely happens; Agents are usually more interested to see that your dog can stand still and turn in the carrier.
Have you flown with a pet in the cockpit of any of these airlines? Please let us know how it went by leaving a comment below.