Whether you rely on your dog for emotional support or can’t bear the thought of leaving your cat at home while on vacation, most airlines are willing to accommodate pets onboard. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 2 million pets travel on planes each year. Traveling with an animal can be a headache, though, if you don’t have a carrier that meets airline requirements and is both comfortable for your pet and easy to use.
Each airline sets its own size restrictions for in-cabin pet carriers, so it’s worth checking with your airline first. (On JetBlue, the combined weight of your pet and carrier must be under 20 pounds and the carrier size limit is 17 inches long by 12.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches high. American Airlines has the same 20-pound limit but carrier size limits vary based on the aircraft. Size requirements on Delta also depend on the type of plane, while the maximum dimensions for a soft-sided carrier on United are 18 inches long by 11 inches wide by 11 inches high.) To find the best carriers for taking your pet onboard in most situations, however, we asked four pet pros and owners what they recommend for flying with your furry friend.
Best overall carriers
Experts love the durable and comfortable carriers Sherpa has specifically designed for air travel. The company partners with several major airlines (including Southwest, United, and Delta) in their Guaranteed on Board program. On the site, you can see which carriers are approved for each airline and even submit a form to your airline with your flight details, pet’s information, and the type of carrier you’ll be using. If you’re denied boarding because of an issue related to the carrier, Guaranteed on Board will refund the cost of your flight and any associated pet fees.
“The small and medium sizes of the Sherpa Original Deluxe pet carrier are included in Guaranteed on Board, so you can rest assured that your pet travels will go by without a hitch,” says Samantha Schwab, resident pet expert at Chewy. Kristi Littrell, adoption manager at Best Friends Animal Society, is also a fan of Sherpa’s soft-sided carriers, “because they can fit under the seat in front of you, whereas the harder-sided ones can’t adjust to various spaces.”
“The best soft-sided carriers are those with mesh panels, like the Frisco pet carrier, so your pet can see what’s going on around them,” says Schwab. “Plus, the mesh allows for proper ventilation so your pet can breathe easy.” Similar in style to the Sherpa bag, the small and medium versions of this carrier should work for traveling on most flights. It’ll also attach to the handle of your rolling carry-on bag for easy transport through the airport.
Best carrier for small pets
If you regularly fly on a specific airline, it might be worth buying their official pet carrier so you won’t have any doubts about it fitting under the seats. This one from JetBlue is on the smaller side and is best for petite dogs and cats.
This heathered fabric carrier from Mr. Peanut’s is available in a refreshing selection of non-black colors and is another one of Schwab’s picks. “[It’s] lined with a soft fabric so your pet can snuggle up during a long trip,” she says. The carrier features locking zippers for added security and outside pockets for storing treats, toys, or a leash. Roll-down fabric covers the mesh openings if your pet gets overstimulated by all the action at the airport. Littrell says these flaps “also keep the airline draft out when you are flying.”
Best expandable carrier
Conrad Russo, blogger and owner of Pet Gear Lab recommends this fleece-lined case for skittish pets. “I love that it’s expandable on the side,” he says. “Dogs traveling and taken on a plane can really [have] anxiety, so giving them a little more space makes all the difference.” Zip up the expandable panels before boarding to make sure the case fits your airline’s regulations, and then open them up on the plane to let your cat or dog spread out.
Best backpack carrier
Alex Rued, owner of a Russian Siberian cat (a larger breed) named Vlad, says he was “calm, cool, and collected” in this backpack on a three-hour Delta flight. The pop-out bubble window offers cats a wide field of vision and the mesh sides provide ample ventilation.
More pet travel essentials
When Littrell travels with her pets, she says, “I always take a soft-sided dish for water for them and a little food in case they are hungry, but not a full meal as you don’t want your animal getting sick when traveling.” These collapsible silicone bowls become totally flat when not in use, so they’re ideal for travel, and you can easily attach them to your carrying case with the included carabiners.
Littrell also advises to “put a pee pad at the bottom of the carrier and have an extra just in case.” Your carrier should be waterproof and easy to clean, but it can’t hurt to have an extra layer of protection in case of accidents.
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