Flying With Pets: New Rules Could Affect Your Non-Human Travel Companions

Traveling with pets can seem like a circus, but knowing what to expect and being prepared well ahead of your flight will make for a smooth trip for both you and your non-human companion.



Flying First Class

Photo by: mauinow1


When a woman tried to board a United Airlines flight with her peacock at Newark Liberty International Airport in January 2018, it made for amusing headlines. Despite the fact that she had been told several times before arriving at the airport that the peacock couldn’t be accommodated because of its size and weight, she gave it a try anyway, claiming that the bird was an emotional support animal. The incident was popular social media fodder, but it also prompted questions as to what constitutes a service or emotional support animal and it forced several airlines to update their policies regarding traveling with animals. Other animal-related incidents weren’t so light. In June of 2017, a man in a window seat required 28 stitches to his face when a 50-pound dog classified as an emotional support animal repeatedly attacked him on a Delta flight. In March 2018, a French bulldog puppy died after the owners say they were instructed to stow it in the overhead compartment during a flight. 



Cat flying in the plane

Photo by: GummyBone


More than ever, Americans are traveling with their pets. According to a 2017-2018 American Pet Products Association survey, there are almost 200 million pet dogs and cats in United States’ households. And many millions more count birds, reptiles, other mammals and fish as members of the family. With almost a billion domestic and international air travelers in 2017 according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, it’s almost assured that some passengers on just about every flight will have four legs. Delta Airlines alone reports that more than 250,000 animals fly with the company annually, and states that the number of service and emotional support animals on its flights have increased 150 percent since 2015. With that, Delta also reports that the company has seen an 84-percent increase of pet accidents and attacks on flights since 2016. And Delta isn’t alone. Most major U.S. airlines report an uptick in animal-related incidents, and since 2005 have had to report all incidents to the U.S. Department of Transportation. 



A man walks his bulldog on a leash through the terminal at the dog friendly San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California, September 24, 2016.

Photo by: Gado Images

Gado Images

What does the TSA say?

The TSA is concerned with passenger safety; individual airlines ultimately decide what pets can fly in their aircrafts’ cabins. Just because your pet successfully passes through TSA security doesn’t mean it will be allowed to fly unless the animal is a certified, specially trained Seeing Eye dog or other service dog that meets the Americans with Disabilities Act definition. Keep in mind that airlines are not necessarily required to fly all emotional support animals, which fall under a much broader definition than dogs that perform a physical task for their owners, such as leading the sight-impaired or alerting to an oncoming seizure. 

TSA screening checkpoint

TSA screening checkpoint

Passengers wait in line at the TSA screening checkpoint. Shoes, handbags and coats are sent through the scanner.

Pets small enough to fit under the seat in front of you in a carrier must pass through TSA security just like humans. Pets must be transported to the security checkpoint in a pet carrier that can fit under the airplane seat in front of you. Just before your turn, remove your pet from the carrier. Send the carrier through the x-ray machine like any other piece of luggage (never send any animal through the x-ray machine). Pets can be carried through the screening process or walked through the detector on a leash. Pet owners will have their hands swabbed for explosives. When the screening process is complete, pets should be returned to their carrier past security so that it doesn’t hold up other travelers. Fish are permitted through security if carried in a clear, spill-proof container and may exceed the 3.4-ounce liquid rule. Notify the TSA agent that you have live fish and request a hand inspection. When traveling with any pet, give yourself extra time to navigate through security and the airport.

When traveling with a service dog, it will be screened by passing through a metal detector. To help speed the process, consider using a TSA medical card that can be discretely presented to the agent.  If the animal sets off the detector, do not touch the animal, just hold onto the leash. You will not be separated from your service animal, and a TSA agent will inspect the animal. Items such as collars and leashes do not need to be removed from the animal but will require additional inspection.



Atlantic City, New Jersey - December 19, 2017: Male airline passenger is checking in his pet labradoodle that will accompany him on the plane. the dog is a comfort dog and he must show the proper documentation for the dog to be allowed on the plane. Shot with a Canon 5D Mark lV.

Photo by: Jodi Jacobson

Jodi Jacobson

Break Time: Airport Pet Areas

Beginning in August 2016, the Department of Transportation mandates that U.S. airports that see more than 10,000 passengers annually are required to have a wheelchair-accessible pet-relief area per terminal, a move that applies to 382 airports. At John F. Kennedy International Airport, its new 80,000-square-foot animal center called The Ark even offers “pawdicures” for dogs and has horse stalls. Visit airport websites to find what pet facilities are available and where they are located.  Check here for a list of airports with pet facilities.

Airline Pet Policies

A family picking up their dog from Delta Cargo. - These images are protected by copyright. Delta has acquired permission from the copyright owner to the use the images for specified purposes and in some cases for a limited time. If you have been authorized by Delta to do so, you may use these images to promote Delta, but only as part of Delta-approved marketing and advertising. Further distribution (including proving these images to third parties), reproduction, display, or other use is strictly prohibited.

Airlines all have varying rules when it comes to flying with pets, and pet policies can change quickly. Check well ahead of time with your airline when traveling and make sure your chosen airline can accommodate your pet’s species and size. Here’s a quick break down of what major airlines permit regarding pets at the time of writing. Certified service dogs are not subject to pet regulations, but pets classified as emotional support animals may be subject to the same policies that apply to other pets, depending on the airline.

Alaska Airlines: “Inoffensive” dogs, cats, rabbits and household birds are accepted in the cabin. Pets must fit in an under-seat carrier, and the cost is $100 per carrier each way. Animals checked into cargo must have a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian issued within 10 days of travel.

Allegiant Air: Only cats and dogs are allowed on Allegiant flights, and must travel in a carrier under the seat. There is a $100 fee each way per carrier, with a maximum of two comfortable dogs or cats per carrier.

American Airlines: American Airlines accepts small dogs and cats that can fit comfortably in a carrier stowed under a seat. The charge is $125 per carrier, with a maximum of two animals per carrier. No other species are accepted. Service and emotional support animals require a doctor’s letter dated within a year of the flight. The number of animals allowed on each flight is capped at seven, so make your reservations early to ensure the flights you want. Pets checked in cargo must have a health certificate issued within 10 days of departure.

Delta Airlines: Beginning March 1, 2018, Delta Airlines requires current veterinarian records for all animals it transports, and a promise of good conduct from their owners. Records are to be uploaded through Delta’s website at least 48 hours before the flight. Snub or pug-nosed dogs and cats, such as French bulldogs and Burmese cats, are not accepted on Delta flights due to possible respiratory issues. Travelers with psychiatric service and emotional support animals are now required to sign a document attesting to their animal’s ability to behave well. Delta Airlines doesn’t accept any warm-blooded animals on flights that are more than 12 hours. Cost is $125 each way per carrier within the U.S. ($250 round trip). Animals too large to fit comfortably under the seat are transported in cargo with pricing based on weight, size and trip length. Reptiles, primates and certain other animals are transported via cargo only.

Frontier Airlines: Only dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and small household birds are permitted on flights in under-seat carriers; no animals are accepted as cargo. Cost is $75 each way. Currently, no health certificates are required for domestic flights.

Hawaiian Airlines: Animals are only allowed on inter-island and departing flights from Hawaii. Pets must fit under the seat in a carrier, or checked as cargo. Fees are $35 within Hawaii; $175 from Hawaii to the mainland.

JetBlue: JetBlue accepts one pet in an under-seat carrier per customer, and charges $100 each way. Only dogs and cats weighing no more than 20 pounds including the weight of the carrier are allowed. Health documents are not currently required for domestic flights. No animals are transported in cargo.

Southwest Airlines: Southwest airlines only accepts pet dogs and cats that can fit under seats in their carriers in-cabin. There is a non-refundable $95 charge per pet carrier each way for departing and return flights ($190 round trip). Up to two animals of the same species may be placed in each carrier. There is a one-carrier-per-traveler limit. No animals are ever transported via cargo on Southwest flights. Certified service and emotional support animals are permitted to travel with passengers internationally except to Jamaica, which has regulations prohibiting animals arriving on incoming international flights (applies to all airlines). Service animals are permitted to sit in front of their owner on flights, but not in emergency exit rows (also applies to all airlines). 

United Airlines: United allows cats, dogs, rabbits and household birds except cockatoos to travel in the cabin within the U.S. There is a charge of $125 each way. Since March 1, 2018, United requires emotional support animals or psychiatric service animals to have a letter from a licensed medical or mental health professional. Customers also need to provide veterinary health and vaccination records for the animal as well as confirmation that the animal has been trained to behave properly in a public setting.

Keep in mind that this information pertains only to domestic travel within the United States. When flying internationally with pets, make sure to fully understand rules and regulations of the destination country/countries you are visiting. As the United States’ only rabies-free state, bringing animals into Hawaii is a process that excludes many vacationers from bringing their pets. Only guide and service dogs are exempt from Hawaii’s quarantine process; click here for more information.

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