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How to Travel with a Puppy on a Plane: Rules & Tips

At JLDD, we often transport our puppies in the cabin of a plane to their new families. We get lots of excited squeals as well as inquisitive glances. Often we're asked how we are able to fly on airplanes with our puppies. To answer that, we've got some good tips.

First, there are several ways to get your pup across the country. Some breeders offer to ship their puppies via cargo. There is also air shipping but we avoid this method. The temperature and air pressure is not well-regulated in the cargo hold making the conditions potentially unsafe for a young puppy.

Interested in adding a new puppy to your family?

Airplane Best Practices for Traveling with a Dog or Puppy

In fact most airlines do not allow “snub-nosed” breeds (such as boxers, pugs, etc.) to be shipped via cargo due to their higher potential for overheating.

Furthermore, have you ever lost luggage after a plane trip or know someone who has? This is a very common occurrence with airline travel. Losing a suitcase is one thing, but we have known of this happening to puppies! They can end up stuck at the wrong airport or otherwise unaccounted for.

Depending on the length of layovers, delays, etc. the whole traveling process can be many hours during which time your puppy is confined to a crate — likely having had some potty accidents and/or having spilled their water or otherwise hungry/thirsty!

During the pre-boarding process, your pup will be crated and handled as a piece of luggage by airline workers who may or may not have any previous experience with dogs.

They are placed in the cargo hold and forced to deal with the loud noises and strange sensations of a flight on his own.

So, while it is possible that your puppy could have a seamless two hour flight and end up in your arms happy and healthy as can be, there is a risk that things could go wrong. At our South Carolina breedership, we prefer to only use this option when absolutely necessary. If you have a smaller dog or puppy, flying with him in the cabin is a much safer and more comfortable option for him.

Rules to Follow When Putting a Dog or Puppy on a Plane

To fly with your pet in the cabin, he/she must be roughly under 20 lbs. (see the most popular mini designer dogs here) in order to be able to fit in the appropriate size carrier. Most airlines have roughly the same requirements.

Puppies must be at least 8 weeks - 16 weeks of age (depending on the airline). They must fit in an acceptable carry-on carrier. This means that the carrier must be able to fit under the seat in front of you and be well ventilated and the dog must be able to fit comfortably inside of it. Pet fees range from $95-$125 depending on the airline.

The dog or puppy must remain in the carrier the entire time onboard the aircraft. It is important that your pup has been exposed to a carrier before so that he/she feels safe and comfortable in the carrier. Otherwise you and your plane mates may be in for long ride! Below is an outline of the fees and requirements for each major airline.

Related posts & puppy questions:

Flying With a Dog - Rules by Airline

United: 16 weeks of age, fee $125 each way, requires health certificate and proof of rabies vaccination

Southwest: 8 weeks of age, fee $95 each way, no health certificate required

Delta: 10 weeks of age, fee $125 each way, no health certificate required

American Airlines: 8 weeks of age, $125 fee each way, no health certificate required

(Be sure to check with each airline, as specifications may have changed since this post was published.)

What if you have a puppy or dog that is over 20 lbs. and unable to fit in a carry-on size kennel? There are still a couple options if you are someone who has a psychiatric diagnosis or physical disability and your dog meets the requirements for an ESA (emotional support animal) or service dog.

While all major airlines previously allowed ESA’s to travel in cabin, as of January 11th, 2021, Southwest is the only major airline still allowing ESA’s. What are the requirements for an ESA? According to Southwest, a person may fly with a larger dog if he/she provides documentation of mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Your dog must also remain on a leash at all times and not display aggressive behavior. Biting, lunging and other aggressive behaviors can cause you and your dog to be denied access onto the plane even with the appropriate documentation. Finally, there is no fee to fly with an ESA.

If you opt to fly with one of the other major airlines, you will not be able take your dog as an ESA. However, airlines do allow access for service dogs free of charge. The distinction between a service and ESA dog is that one simply comforts his or her owner with his presence and companionship. Service dogs are there to perform tasks they were specifically trained for.

Most people think of a dog who can operate a light switch for his owner who is in a wheelchair or a guide dog who helps navigate the world for his visually-impaired owner. But service dogs also help those with psychiatric disabilities -- a psychiatric service dog may be trained to lay on or lick his owner during a panic attack or circle his handler to create more personal space in a crowded situation.

Read more pup-tastic content:

The options for ways that service dogs help their people are nearly endless and because of the service they provide, they are allowed to fly on any airline.

Always, Always Bring Your Documents

United, American Airlines, Southwest, and Delta all require the same two forms of documentation for service dogs from the DOT (Department of Transportation). The first form requires health and behavioral information including but not limited to date of last rabies vaccination, verification that the dog has been trained to do work or perform tasks to assist his handler with his/her disability, and that the dog has been trained to behave in a public setting.

The second form attests that the dog will not eliminate on the plane or can do so in a sanitary way and is only required on flights of a duration of 8+ hours.

Whichever you choose to bring your dog or pup across the country, be safe. You may find that you meet the requirements for bringing an ESA or service dog on board if you meet the diagnostic criteria and your dog aids you with your disability.

If however you do not meet these requirements, you can opt to fly Fido as a pet if he can fit in the appropriate size kennel. If absolutely necessary, you can ship your dog as cargo.

Jenna and the JLDD Team

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