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What Are The Different Ways My Pet Can Travel By Plane?

Published on: March 3, 2022  |  Author: Starwood Pet Travel

airplane window over wingIf your pet will be flying on an airplane, there are three potential ways for them to travel:

  • In the cabin with you (depending on the airline & destination country)
  • As checked or accompanied baggage (depending on the airline & destination country)
  • As manifest cargo

Each option has its pros and cons, costs an additional fee and your pet will have to meet certain requirements.

In-Cabin Pet Travel

Other than service dogs, dogs and cats can only board the plane with you if they are small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of you. They have to be in a carrier (and stay in it), which can be either hard-sided or a soft pouch style. On the plus side, this is the most convenient choice for small pets, especially if you’re not traveling an excessive distance. And you don’t have to wonder how your pet is doing during their trip. On the down side, every plane has different under-seat dimensions, so choosing the right carrier can be a hassle. You'll have to carry your pet around with you, which can be cumbersome, and your pet counts as carry-on luggage. So much for that other bag you had planned to take on board. 

It's important to note that every airline has their own in-cabin pet requirements and some countries will not allow pets to travel in the cabin of the plane.

Checked or Accompanied Baggage

Sometimes you can check your pet along with your luggage when you arrive at the airport. He or she will head on down the conveyor and ride in the plane’s hold, which is pressurized and temperature-controlled. When you arrive at your destination, you’ll collect your pet at or near baggage claim. For obvious reasons, your pet can’t fly as accompanied baggage unless you are on the same flight. On the plus side, you don’t have to make a special trip to the cargo terminal.

On the down side, pets traveling in the hold must be in an IATA-approved kennel that meets strict construction specifications for security and safety and is large enough for your pet to stand up, sit down, spin around and lie down comfortably. In effect, your large dog in their kennel makes one more huge piece of luggage to haul from your car to the check-in counter.

It's important to note that every airline has their own checked baggage pet requirements and some countries will not allow pets to travel as checked or accompanied baggage.


Virtually any size pet can travel as cargo (even horses!). As noted, the hold is a safe environment, and your pet will need an approved kennel. On the plus side, pets can fly this way whether you’re on the same flight or not, which can be more convenient depending on your overall travel plans and itinerary. On the down side, you’ll need to take your pet to the cargo terminal to check them in, and you’ll need to collect them from the cargo terminal at their destination. You can also hire a pet transport company to book your pet's flight for you and check them in - so you won't have to!

Some airlines will only allow people with an STA certification to check in pets for their flight so you would need to use the services of a pet shipping company like Starwood. Additionally, some airlines will only accept pet cargo reservations via an approved pet shipper.

You don’t always get to choose

There are a variety of factors including airline, size of your pet, destination country and breed of your pet which can impact the way(s) your pet will be allowed to travel. Every airline has their own set of pet air travel policies. As mentioned above, every country also has rules about how pets can arrive by air. Even if an airline usually allows pets to travel in-cabin or as accompanied baggage, but your destination country does not - the airline must abide by the destination country's rules. The country’s requirements are based on customs and pet health considerations. It's important to do your research ahead of time and not to make any assumptions. For example, here are some differences in airline versus country regulations:

  • The United Kingdom only allows pets into the country as manifested cargo, though sometimes pets leaving the country can travel in-cabin or as excess baggage.
  • Australia only allows pets to arrive as manifest cargo, and a 10-day quarantine upon arrival is mandatory.
  • Lufthansa allows pets in-cabin based on size/weight, or as cargo.
  • American Airlines allows all three options, depending on your destination.
  • Delta is accepting some pets in-cabin or as accompanied baggage on certain flights, but are not currently accepting any pet as cargo.

Consider hiring a professional pet shipper

Multiple flights and/or multiple airlines add more twists, turns and dead-ends to this maze. With so many complexities involved, it doesn’t make sense to try making your pet’s flight decisions on your own. Even if in-cabin travel seems the obvious choice, it’s still not a no-brainer. Taking the time to get expert advice from an animal transport company can save you time, headaches and potential heartache. You’ll be confident you’re doing everything right.

Realistically, however, cargo may be your only option, no matter where you’re going or what airline you’re using. Enlisting a professional to handle the trickier aspects – flight arrangements and documentation – can be a real life-saver. They can also take responsibility for your pet’s entire move – literally door to door. That turns the maze of travel considerations into a straight path from departure to destination and ensures nothing gets lost along the way, including your precious cat or dog.


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