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How to Fly With a Puppy

I wanted to share my experience on how to fly with a puppy in case it will help others considering the same.

Last month I decided to fly from Bozeman to Minneapolis to pick up my new Lab puppy and then fly back with my puppy in the cabin with me. This was much easier and more convenient than planning out a four-day road trip to go pick him up and back.

There are pros & cons to flying with a puppy, of course, but overall the process was fairly easy.

How to fly with a puppy in the cabin

This article is mainly focused on your puppy flying in the cabin with you. This is what I did with my Lab puppy, Rip.

However, you also have the option of flying your puppy below, in cargo. For example, your breeder might offer the option of shipping your puppy to you. I will cover that later in the article.

First, there are two things you’ll want to do right away if you’re flying with a puppy:

  • Check the airline’s specific pet requirements
  • Make sure your puppy has been checked by a vet
Waiting at our gate

Check the specific airline’s pet requirements

Each airline has different pet rules and like everything else, these rules can change.

Some airlines require puppies to be a certain age. Some require certain vaccinations. They all have different crate/carrier size limits. It’s best to just call your specific airline and get everything squared away.

Here are some questions to confirm with the airline:

  • The puppy’s age requirement (8 weeks or 10 weeks?)
  • What vaccinations are required? (Usually just rabies, once over 16 weeks)
  • What is the dog’s size limit? (Usually under 20 or 25 pounds)
  • How big can my pet’s carrier be for the flight?
  • What is the cost to fly a pet?
  • Do I need to reserve a spot for my pet in advance?
  • Does my puppy need to wear a mask? (just seeing if you’re reading this)

How to fly with a puppy on Delta Airlines

I decided to fly Delta with my puppy since that was the most convenient flight option in general for me. I booked my own flight online as usual. Then I called the airline the next day to confirm I would have a pet on my return flight.

Delta does not have enough people answering their phones or online chat right now (as of Aug 2021) and I was on hold for literally 6 hours! So, be prepared for that frustration!

Delta’s pet regulations – reserve a spot to fly with your puppy in advance

As of Aug 2021, Delta wants you to call ahead and reserve a spot for your pet on the plane. This is because they limit the number of animals per flight (I believe it’s 4 pets total, I’m not sure).

So, while it is first come, first served, you don’t want to just show up the day of your flight and hope your pet will get a spot. That is not worth the stress. Call in advance to make sure you have a spot reserved.

I noticed that United Airlines allows you to add a pet to your flight when you’re booking online, so that is a lot more convenient than Delta’s process where you have to actually call.

Check with the vet before flying with your puppy

Delta Airlines requires that puppies be at least 10 weeks old in order to fly in the cabin and that you have a “health certificate” filled out by a veterinarian. Most of the other airlines require the puppy to be at least 8 weeks old.

The health certificate is simply stating that your puppy or dog has been examined by a vet within 10 days and is healthy enough to fly. I’m sure it’s a liability issue for the airlines.

Your puppy’s breeder should be able to provide a vet’s health certificate for you if you ask in advance. Otherwise, you’ll have to take your puppy to a vet yourself before your flight.

Our breeder also wrote on the certificate that my puppy was 10 weeks old, even though he was only 8 weeks. This was so he would be allowed to fly on Delta.

Delta never actually asked for the health certificate, but they did ask me about the age of my puppy. I said he was 10 weeks old.

My friend Kate had a similar experience when she flew with her young moyen poodle, Alice.

Alice the poodle

“All the airline websites say you need to have a health certificate that was issued no more than 10 days before travel. I went to my vet and got one but no one ever asked me for it,” she said.

Approved pet carriers for flying a puppy in the cabin

Delta requires that pets in the cabin weigh under 25 lbs, which was no issue for a young Lab puppy. My pup weighed less than 10 pounds at the time.

The airline never actually weighed or measured my carrier. The guy at the check-in desk just glanced at it and was like, “yep, that’s good.” He did not ask to see my puppy, either.

When I was on the phone with Delta to reserve a spot for my puppy, I did verify what carrier measurements would be acceptable. This is different for every plane, as well as where you’re seated on the plane, so it’s good to ask.

The large Sherpa brand pet carrier I had was roughly 19″ by 11.5″ by 11.75″ and Delta said that would work just fine. I was flying first class, though, so that allowed for a little extra space.

Sherpa pet carrier

When it doubt, just go with the next size down. In our case, no one actually measured our carrier.

When I flew with Rip, his carrier did not fit under the seat at all, so I just did my best and no one seemed to care.

My friend Kate said the same when she flew with Alice.

“Her little crate didn’t completely fit under the seat and stuck out a little. No one really seemed to care as long as I made an effort,” she said.

Alice the poodle barely fit under the seat

“I only had one flight attendant get picky that the carrier didn’t fit completely under but they let us stay. That said, you will have basically no leg room. Our flights were short and I am short so it wasn’t really a big deal.”

Cost to fly a pet in the cabin

The cost to fly a pet on Delta one way is $125. You pay this at the airport when you check in. Note that you can’t check in a day ahead on the Delta app as usual. You have to actually check in with your pet in person when you get to the airport.

Here are some links to some of the larger airlines’ pet policy pages and the price for a carry-on pet:

If you have a friend who has flown with a pet before, especially on the specific airline you will be using, ask them for their suggestions like I did! This helps remove some stress.

What to pack for flying with your puppy – packing list:

How to go through airline security with a puppy

When you get to the airport, you will need to go to the counter and check in with your pet. For most airlines, this is where you will pay your fee (there is a fee each way).

There was no line for us and this process took about 5 minutes.

The person at the counter will give you a tag to put on your pet’s carrier.

Once you and your pet are checked in, you head through security as you normally would.

Rip riding in his carrier

When you fly with a pet, get TSA Pre-check

I’m thankful I had TSA pre when I flew with my puppy because that meant I had a much shorter line and did not have to go through the extra steps of removing liquids and my shoes, etc.

When it’s your turn, whether you have TSA pre or not, you will remove your puppy from her carrier and carry her through the metal detector with you. I did not remove my puppy’s collar and this was not a problem.

Put your puppy’s carrier through the x-ray machine with your other luggage.

Other pet owners told me that TSA may swab your hands afterwards. This was not the case for me. Of course, a couple of people were commenting on how cute my puppy was and one TSA employee was petting Rip.

I’m not sure if airports require you keep your dog inside their carrier when you are inside the airport. I found a quiet area to let Rip out of his carrier on a leash and stretch his legs. I tried to hold him or distract him with a toy to prevent him from having an accident.

Waiting at the airport
And more waiting

Tips for how to fly with a puppy

1. Fly first class with your puppy, if possible

If you can swing a first class ticket, that will give you a little more leg room as well as room for your puppy. You will also get to board and exit the plane first. Well worth it!

2. Avoid the airport’s pet relief area with a young puppy

There are just too many germs and potential for your puppy to get sick. An 8-week-old puppy is not fully vaccinated, and I would rather risk an accident than put my puppy on this turf.

If you have an adult dog, then the pet relief area should be just fine, but they may or may not want to actually use it.

Kate said the airport pet area wasn’t very nice and was basically a puppy pee pad with fake grass.

Alice the poodle looked at that fake grass and pretty much said, “What are we doing here?”

She ended up just holding it.

3. Take your puppy into the airport’s restroom with you to go potty

I would have never thought of this, but our breeder suggested I simply bring my puppy into the women’s rest room with me and encourage him to go potty right on the hard floor.

He did this right away with no encouragement! Then I cleaned it up quickly with a Clorox wipe that I had brought. No big deal.

There’s no need to throw a pee pad down on the floor. Your puppy won’t know what to do with a pee pad and it’s so easy to clean up a little bit of potty or poop off the floor. No big deal.

Don’t worry what others will think. No one cares. People are in their own little worlds focused on their own travels.

4. Pack Clorox wipes in case of accidents

My puppy did not have an accident but it gave me peace of mind to have a few Clorox wipes on hand just in case. I used these when I had him go potty on the bathroom floor.

5. Go on a couple of “test runs” if possible

If possible, it’s good to get your puppy used to her carrier and riding in the car before getting on a plane.

I didn’t have too much time to prepare for this as I picked up my puppy on a Friday and then on Sunday we flew back to Montana. We stayed with my parents near Minneapolis for two nights prior to our flight home.

I had my puppy sleep in his new travel carrier those two nights so he would be used to it for our flight and we had a couple of 60-min car rides. So he was at least used to being in a car before getting on a plane.

Puppy carrier for the plane
Rip sleeping in his travel carrier

Kate made a point to get Alice used to her carrier before their first flight:

“I tried to only use it when we were going somewhere fun, like the dog park,” she said. “You go into this weird ‘thing’ and we end up somewhere you like, was my logic.”

She said she took Alice for car rides in her carrier and a trip to Home Depot. All of that seemed to help.

6. Bring extra food for your dog, just in case

I didn’t plan for this but I happened to have some extra puppy food along for Rip in my carry-on bag. We did not need it but we did end up having an emergency landing that added two extra hours to our trip. (There were issues at the Bozeman airport so we had to land in Billings, MT.)

Had we been delayed for several more hours I would’ve been glad I had the extra food along for my puppy. Thankfully, he seemed to do just fine for the 5 hours or so that he had to be in his carrier. He did not end up needing the extra food.

Thankfully he slept most of the flight

What if my puppy cries on the plane?

My puppy slept through most of the flight, thankfully. But he was really squealing as people were boarding and as we were landing. This was embarrassing but there was not much I could do and no one seemed to care too much.

I wish I had saved a new toy or chew to hand him while he was freaking out. I ended up handing him my empty plastic Delta water bottle and he chewed on that quietly as we were landing.

“I got lucky with Alice,” Kate said. “She was pretty chill. I’d give her the occasional ice cube for her to chew on so she’d get some water, and I’d give her a treat every now and again. She basically slept the whole flight. I did get up to pee once and she was not about that, so I just sucked it up and held it.”

What if my puppy has an accident on the plane?

If your puppy goes potty in her carrier, you likely won’t even notice. Hopefully her bedding will soak it up, and if you added a pee pad that should also help absorb the liquid until you land.

Of course, if your puppy poops in her carrier that is another story.

Don’t panic! If your puppy poops on the plane, it is life. It will be a funny story for later.

I suggest having plastic poop bags along so you can do your best to pick up most of the poop. If you pack some Clorox wipes, that will also help you clean up some of the mess. Then I would toss it all into another plastic bag. Or another poop bag could also work.

Hopefully the smell won’t be too bad, but if so apologize to those around you and ask the flight attendants if they have any suggestions. They might have some extra towels or wipes to help you clean up.

How to fly with a puppy in cargo

I personally don’t like the idea of flying a young puppy in cargo because I would worry something could go wrong. But, it can certainly be done and breeders ship puppies all the time. Sometimes it is the best option.

Our breeder ships at least one puppy from almost every litter and she says it’s totally safe and the airlines are very, very careful.

I shipped an adult dog named Raven in cargo in 2020, and the process seemed to go well. (Although, I could not ask the dog for her opinion.)

Raven’s breeder shipped her to me on a direct Delta flight because I planned to adopt her. When the adoption ended up not working out, I shipped her back. And yes, I felt incredibly guilty about this. But it all seemed to work out fine.

When the dog you adopt doesn't work out
Raven flew in cargo on a Delta flight

Regulations for how to fly a puppy or dog in cargo

As with flying a dog in the cabin, I would check the specific regulations with each airline. The age limit is typically 8 weeks or 10 weeks.

If the puppy is over 16 weeks old, most airlines are going to require a rabies vaccination. You will also need to provide a health certificate within 10 days of the flight, showing the dog is in good health to fly.

Weight limit for flying a dog in cargo

There is generally not a weight limit for flying a dog in cargo, but the cost goes up a bit the heavier the dog/crate. You will need to provide a hard-sided travel crate for your dog.

When I flew Raven in cargo through Delta, I called ahead and made sure I was aware of all their requirements in adbance.

For example, Delta required that she had a food and water dish and some food taped to the outside of her crate. I also taped a certificate to the outside of her kennel stating the last time she had been given food and water.

This is in case her flight got delayed someone would make sure to offer her food and water after a certain time period. I can’t remember what that time period is, but it was reasonable.

Delta wanted me to have a “pad” in the crate to help absorb any accidents. So I had a small rug in there for Raven. The airline did not want me to have anything else in the crate, but I stuck an antler in there anyway for her to chew on.

I remember I also made sure her collar was fitted fairly tight so she would not slip out of her collar once she got to her destination and out of the crate.

Weather conditions to fly a pet

Each airline has its own weather requirements for flying a dog in cargo. It can’t be too hot or too cold. It’s different for each airline.

Some dog breeds are not allowed to fly in cargo

Some airlines do not allow you to fly certain breeds in cargo. There may also be breeds that are not allowed to fly as carry-ons. Always check with each airline.

For example, Delta does not allow brachycephalic (snub-nosed) dogs and cats or mixes to fly in cargo. This could include breeds such as French bulldogs, pugs and boxers. Always best to ask.

So, while it’s stressful to fly a pet in the cabin or in cargo, the process went well for me in my limited experience with both Rip and Raven.

Rip will be going to “hunting dog school” in Wisconsin a couple of times. I have not decided yet if I will fly him in cargo or drive him out. I’ll update this article when the time comes.

Have you ever flown or shipped a puppy?

Let me know your experience in the comments.

Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training and behavior, healthy raw food for pets and running with dogs.

How to fly with a puppy or dog

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