Planning a trip by air can be stressful enough, but if you’re traveling with your pet, you’ll also need to consider their welfare. Travel guidelines for animals vary from airline to airline, which is why it’s important to choose carefully. Based on safety, Alaska Airlines is the best airline for pets, followed by American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, and Delta Airways. However, your pet’s species, breed, and size can impact which airline might be your top choice. From the best airlines for carry-on pets to the few airlines that accept reptiles, this guide will help you feel confident flying with your furred, feathered, or scaled companion.
Best Airlines for Pets
You might have your own airline preference when flying, but have you considered which airlines are most pet-friendly? Depending on your pet’s size and species, one of our top five airlines may be a more ideal choice than another.
1. Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines is one of the best choices for traveling pets based on safety data. According to Air Travel Consumer Reports from the United States Department of Transportation, Alaska had the lowest incidence of reported animal-related incidents between 2015 and 2020. They also reportedly fly more pets than any other domestic airline, which makes this data even more impressive.
In addition to their safety record, Alaska also accommodates a wide range of species. Small dogs, cats, rabbits, and domestic birds can fly in Alaskan Airlines’ cabins if they weigh less than 20 pounds and can comfortably fit in a carrier with maximum dimensions of 17- by 11- by 7.5-inches. Unlike many other airlines, Alaska will allow a traveler to bring two pet carriers on a flight. However, you will have to purchase two seats in order to fly two pets.
Alaska will also fly dogs, cats, hamsters, ferrets, guinea pigs, domestic birds, fish, pot-bellied pigs, and non-poisonous reptiles in the climate-controlled baggage compartment. Their weight restriction is a generous 149 pounds (including both your pet’s weight and the weight of their kennel), which is more than most airlines allow.
2. American Airlines
American Airlines follows Alaska in safety with low numbers of pet incidents, as well as a thorough pet policy. This airline is your best bet when choosing to bring your cat or small dog as a carry-on due to their pet carrier dimension allowance. On mainline American flights, you can bring your pet in a kennel as large as 19- by 13- by 9-inches. However, they only allow cats and small dogs in the cabin. No other species may fly with American.
If your cat or dog won’t be flying in the cabin with you, an alternative is to ship them via American Airlines cargo. Just note, they do have weight limitations, so both your pet and their kennel must weigh less than 100 pounds. American takes precautions to make sure no pets are exposed to dangerous temperatures during cargo transit through temperature restrictions. They will not allow pets to fly if the ground temperature is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or below 45 degrees. This can be frustrating if you discover your pet can’t travel, but it’s for their safety.
3. Frontier Airlines
Frontier Airlines allows several species of pets to travel in the cabin: cats, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, and small birds. Their kennel allowance for carry-on pets is close to the large size of American Airlines at 18- by 14- by 8-inches.
They do not require a health certificate to be issued for pets traveling within the United States, unless the state you’re landing in (such as Hawaii) requires special documentation. If you have a larger dog or your pet can’t comfortably fit within the specified carrier dimensions, unfortunately your pet cannot fly on Frontier. The airline doesn’t transport pets in checked baggage or cargo.
4. JetBlue Airways
JetBlue is a favorite airline among people, and they’re also a top pick when flying with pets for the same reason: excess leg room! Standard JetBlue seats boast more legroom than other airlines, though you can purchase an upgraded seat with even more. That means even with your pet’s carrier under the seat in front of you, you’ll have plenty of room to stretch your legs.
Individuals who fly with their service dog can also benefit from this extra space. The airline allows small dogs and cats to fly within the cabin only; they do not fly pets as baggage or cargo.
5. Delta Airlines
With Delta Airlines, you can fly your cat, small dog, or household bird in the cabin with you. They allow pets to reside in a roomy 18- by 11- by 11-inches soft carrier. Delta’s carry-on pet fee is one of the lowest at just $95 per pet each way.
Larger pets must be shipped as cargo. They have temperature requirements in place to keep cargo pets safe; they won’t ship pets when the ground temp is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit or below 20 degrees.
Flying with Short-nosed Dogs
If you’re the owner of a brachycephalic dog, you might be frustrated to discover that most airlines will not fly these "snub-nosed" breeds. Short-nosed dogs are at a much higher risk of developing breathing problems due to their abnormal anatomy, which can make flying very dangerous for them, so much so that most airlines have banned these dogs from traveling in cargo. These breeds include:
If you have a smaller short-nosed dog that can fit in an appropriate-sized carry-on kennel, nearly all airlines, including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Frontier, will allow them to fly in the cabin with you. You can work to keep your pet safe by minimizing their stress level, keeping them at a healthy weight, and avoiding travel on hot days. Unfortunately, if your dog is large, you may need to make arrangements to travel by car, train, or boat.
Airlines for Pet Reptiles
Airlines do not allow reptiles of any kind to fly with you in the cabin. However, some allow reptiles to travel as checked baggage or as cargo. Our top pick, Alaska Airlines, will accept non-poisonous reptiles with a valid health certificate in their climate-controlled baggage compartment. Make sure you choose a secure and well-insulated carrier within their dimensions.
Best Airlines for Service Dogs
Service dogs are not considered pets and are instead classified as working dogs. Therefore, they’re not limited by airline pet policies. Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), any airline flying within or from the U.S. cannot discriminate against a service animal, so your service dog can fly in the cabin with you free of charge, regardless of their breed or size.
When flying with a service dog, they’ll either need to sit on the floor within the footprint of your seat or, if they’re small enough, on your lap. Based on this criterion, the best airline for service dogs would be one with the most legroom. JetBlue Airways tops the charts in this area.
If you’re hoping to fly with your emotional support animal (ESA), you may be out of luck. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, emotional support animals can no longer fly as service animals as of December 2020, so you’ll need to take your ESA as a pet. Service animals are also defined as "dogs," which excludes miniature service horses from protective laws.
Take Flight With Your Pet
Whether you’re taking a trip or moving across the country with your pet, you want them to arrive safely. Alaska Airlines is the frontrunner for the safest and best airline for pet travel. Still, it’s important to note that flying with an animal always carries some risks. Speak to your veterinarian to ensure it’s safe for your pet to travel, then book a flight with your top airline choice.