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The 9 Best Airline-Approved Pet Carriers, According to Travelers

Flying with your pet requires its share of homework. Regulations on bringing your pooch or feline aboard an airplane include providing updated paperwork as well as picking a pet carrier that adheres to baggage requirements and size restrictions. (For other things to consider when flying with a pet and advice from animal experts, jump to the tips section.)

If you plan to bring your cat or dog with you on your next flight but aren’t sure which pet carrier is best – or allowed – U.S. News is here to help. Start with this list of the top airline-approved pet carriers for your jet-setting four-legged friends.

The Top Pet Carriers for Air Travel in 2023

(Note: Prices were accurate at the time of publication; they may fluctuate due to demand or other factors.)

Carrier dimensions: 17 x 11 x 11 inches | Pet weight limit: 15 pounds

What sets this carrier apart: Designed with airline approval in mind, the medium size of this traveler-favorite carrier accommodates cats or small dogs with its spacious interior. Mesh panels zip open on three sides of the carrier as well as the top, ensuring a well-ventilated bag. The outer material is a lightweight and durable polyester. A removable, machine-washable woolen mat makes the interior comfy for your pet; there’s also a safety leash you can use to secure your pet inside.

You can use the connectable loop handles and padded shoulder strap for easy carrying, and this carrier bag folds up when you’re ready to store it away. The Henkelion Pet Carrier even comes in several fun colors, such as purple or green.

Travelers appreciate: “I have used the Henkelion soft-sided carrier many times,” says Robbie Parker of travel blog Expat in Paradise, who travels with his small dogs. “These are great carriers as they are hardy for travel, collapse for storage, and fit perfectly under the seat for in cabin travel. Also, I like that they have one side that is mesh and the other side is solid with a pocket. You can face solid side toward the aisle so people walking around the plane don’t upset your dog.” He adds, “Overall, I would recommend it for in-cabin plane travel.”

Frequent traveler and luxury travel advisor Ashley Les, founder of Postcards From, also appreciates that the design puts her cats at ease when flying. “I find that with more mesh, cats are exposed to more light and sight – it gets them more anxious,” she says, adding: “There are multiple ways to get my cats in the carriers, from the sides or above, as well. I love that you can take out the bottom to wash it separately.”

Price: $28.99 or less for medium
Shop now: Amazon

(Courtesy of Sherpa)

Carrier dimensions: 17 x 11 x 10.5 inches | Pet weight limit: 16 pounds

What sets this carrier apart: Beyond a patented, crash-tested flexible wire frame that keeps your little buddy safe, Sherpa provides a Guaranteed on Board program that offers a refund for your flight and airline pet fee if you’re denied boarding because of the small or medium sizes of this carrier. This mesh and polyester bag is an industry standard with good airflow. The front and top entries have locking zippers, and this collapsible carrier also features a removable (and machine-washable) faux-lambskin liner, a rear pocket for storage, and a seat belt safety strap that doubles as a luggage strap.

Travelers appreciate: This Sherpa carrier is renowned for its reliable functionality and amazing value. Recent travelers say the medium carrier fits well under the seat and keeps their pet comfortable in transit.

Carrier dimensions: 17 x 11 x 11 inches | Pet weight limit: 13.2 pounds

What sets this carrier apart: This Petsfit carrier’s medium size adheres to most airline requirements (as does the small carrier). One of the mesh windows can be unzipped to form an extra compartment, expanding the carrier by 9.4 inches for an extended width of 20.4 inches. This product is a great option if you need a carrier for air travel but still want your pet to enjoy a bit more space to stretch out when not tucked under the airplane seat.

The sturdy solid wire construction ensures the bag won’t collapse but is flexible enough to tuck into a small space, though you may need to remove the rods on either side if the carrier is too tall to fit easily underneath. There’s a side pocket for storage, double zippers and a water-repellent inner cloth.

Travelers appreciate: “The Petsfit carrier was flexible enough to squeeze under most airplane seats, but still was sturdy enough to hold,” says Alexandra Lauren of the travel blog The Bucket List Mermaid, who has used this carrier to fly with her cat. “My kitty could look around the airport with the built-in leash in the carrier. The expandable portion was an added bonus because it allowed for more room for my pet when on long layovers or when I had an empty seat on the airplane.” Lauren also recommends Petsfit’s expandable backpack-style carrier for a hands-free option.

Natuvalle 6-in-1 Pet Carrier – Small in blue against white background.

(Courtesy of Natuvalle)

Carrier dimensions: 16.5 x 11.4 x 9 inches | Pet weight limit: 16 pounds

What sets this carrier apart: For travelers seeking versatility, this Natuvalle cat or dog carrier can be used like a backpack, shoulder bag, tote with carrying handles or even – if worn on your front – a baby carrier. This convertible choice can also be used as a car seat crate with built-in seat belt loops, and you have the option of using it either in the upright or side position. Other features include zipper locks, mesh panels, reinforced stitching, two walk-through doors and a photo ID tag. The carrier is foldable and has reflective stripes for night travel.

Travelers appreciate: Pet owners like the versatility of this bag; some travelers say the carrier fits best under the seat when on its side, as the upright position can be too tall.

Price: $119.90 or less for small
Shop now: Natuvalle

The PetAmi Backpack Pet Carrier in gray against white background.

(Courtesy of PetAmi)

Carrier dimensions: 16.5 x 12.5 x 10.5 inches | Pet weight limit: 18 pounds

What sets this carrier apart: Go hands-free with this PetAmi backpack-style carrier. A sturdy frame maintains its shape while you traipse through airport terminals, with chest and waist buckles for extra support. Four-sided access makes loading easy, and a rollaway mesh top means your furry friend can stick their head out the top when you’re not in the air. The safety strap and buckle are designed to thwart even great escape artists, and a sherpa-lined bed entices fur babies to relax. The backpack carrier color options include red and purple.

Travelers appreciate: Pet owners like the easy carrying this style provides, though they advise that you’ll need to store this bag on its side in the plane cabin, and it won’t fit on every airline.

Away's The Pet Carrier in light blue against white background.

(Courtesy of Away)

Carrier dimensions: 18.7 x 10.8 x 10.75 inches | Pet weight limit: 18 pounds

What sets this carrier apart: It’s a splurge, but this cat and dog carrier is made by Away, a popular luggage brand known for its sleek design and functionality. The same applies to this nylon and leather tote, which comes in black or a coast blue. The water-resistant lining is paired with sherpa bedding and exterior pockets that can hold a phone, keys or waste bags. If you already have an Away suitcase, this carrier will fit seamlessly over the handle with its trolley sleeve.

Travelers appreciate: Pet owners who travel with this bag like that it’s roomy, saying their pets seem comfortable inside. This carrier fits pets up to 18 pounds but is a bit on the larger side of an airline-approved carry-on, so be sure to research your airline’s policies before taking it aboard.

Price: $225 or less
Shop now: Away

Dog inside a blue Sleepypod Air against white background.

(Courtesy of Sleepypod)

Carrier dimensions: 22 x 10.5 x 10.5 inches; compresses to 16 x 10.5 x 10.5 inches | Pet weight limit: 18 pounds

What sets this carrier apart: The Sleepypod Air is designed to compress to fit under the seat during takeoff and landing; when the seat belt sign is off, your pet can enjoy slightly more room (but be aware that it doesn’t hold its reduced size in a freestanding position, only when tucked into a small space). This unique carrier employs sturdy luggage-grade ballistic nylon for its base, with a panel of mesh running along the front, top and back. A removable privacy panel can be slid over part of the mesh. Available in multiple colors, this crash-tested model also has a seat belt strap, a trolley sleeve and a comfortable shoulder strap for carrying it.

Travelers appreciate: Users like the carrier’s many features and say it’s a good option especially for larger cats traveling by air, but some pet owners felt there was not enough airflow (especially with the privacy panel) for longer flights.

Carrier dimensions: Six different sizes offered | Pet weight limit: Varies by carrier size

What sets this carrier apart: Any furry friends larger than about 20 pounds will likely have to travel in the cargo hold if they’re not a service animal. You’ll want a very sturdy dog crate for the journey that meets every regulation, and SportPet’s kennel passes the test for many travelers. This carrier meets International Air Transport Association guidelines with two snap-on water dishes and four stickers that indicate a live animal is inside; a “floor gutter” contains messes for easy cleanup. The durable plastic frame is connected with metal nuts and bolts and features airline-required tie holes for bungees.

This travel crate comes in six sizes, from small up to XXX-large, so be sure to determine the right size for your pet. A cushioned bed is not included and costs extra. For more information on pets traveling in cargo, consult the FAQ section at the bottom of this page.

Travelers appreciate: Pet owners like the sturdy construction and the compliance with airline regulations, but the traveler-favorite feature is the removable wheels, which are included with the carrier (except with size small).

Price: Starts at $63.99 for small
Shop now: Amazon

Petmate's Two-Door Kennel in pink against white background.

(Courtesy of Petmate)

Carrier dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 10 inches (for 19-inch carrier) or 24.05 x 16.76 x 14.5 inches (for 24-inch) | Pet weight limit: Up to 10 pounds (19-inch) or 15 to 20 pounds (24-inch)

What sets this carrier apart: This option made of hard plastic and steel wire is tough enough to protect your cargo-contained cat, according to recent travelers. (Keep in mind that airlines do not recommend hard-sided carriers for in-cabin travel, and this kennel is too large to fit under airline seats.) The two front and top doors assist with entering and exiting, and color options like hot pink or blue will make this kennel easy to spot. The carrier comes in small (24-inch) and extra-small (19-inch) sizes, so choose accordingly based on the measurements of your cat. As with most hard-sided crates, you will have to purchase a plush bed separately.

Travelers appreciate: Recent traveling pet owners express that they are happy with the quality of the kennel and find it easy to assemble.

There are a few major points to consider when choosing a carrier that will serve as your pet’s safe space during a flight:

Size: Selecting the right carrier size for your pet is essential not only for your pets’ comfort but also for their safety, according to Sara Hogan, hospital manager at Clarendon Animal Care in Virginia. “Please ensure the measurements for your carrier meet a standard that allows for your pet to comfortably turn around AND lay down,” she says. But be aware that if the carrier is too large for your furry friend, they could end up injured in transit. The best way to determine the right size is to take measurements of your pet; to be as precise as possible, use the IATA’s formula.

Airflow: Don’t underestimate the importance of adequate airflow. “Carriers and crates really need to have proper ventilation for short or long-term travel,” Hogan says. “There IS a difference between taking your pet down the street to a friend’s house or the vet and taking your pet on a trip with any sort of additional time involved.”

Stability: Check the quality of all the zippers and materials − you want this to be an escape-proof carrier, and any malfunction can put your pet at risk. “If something has previously broken or fallen off the carrier or crate look to replace the piece or the entire crate/carrier,” Hogan advises.

Soft-sided vs. hard-sided: If your pet is small enough to fly in the cabin, most airlines highly recommend a soft-sided carrier, which gives the most flexibility. Airlines are often slightly more lenient with the dimensions for soft-sided carriers in the cabin as long as they are able to fit underneath the seat without blocking the aisle of the airplane. Another bonus: Soft pet carriers often come with removable fleece bedding for extra comfort.

Note: Crates and carriers destined for the cargo hold of the plane must be hard-sided. Find more details on carrier specifications for the cargo hold in the FAQ section at the bottom of this page.

Each airline sets its own specifications and safety rules for pets in the plane cabin with you, so be sure to check with your intended airline for dimension limits, breed restrictions and other guidelines. Be aware, too, that most major airlines based in the U.S. do not offer an option to transport animals in cargo.

Use the links below to find more information on the specific pet policies for the following U.S.-based airlines. Each airline’s size limit for soft-sided pet carriers in the cabin is also listed, with dimensions given in length by width by height.

How to prepare to fly with a pet

Help your pet acclimate

When preparing to travel with your furry companion, planning ahead is key, especially if your pet isn’t used to being confined in a crate or carrier. “I recommend buying the carrier as far in advance of travel as possible to allow your dog to become comfortable relaxing in the carrier in a familiar home environment before traveling,” says Amanda Farah, CPDT-KA, national training and behavior coordinator for Best Friends Animal Society.

Some pets are sensitive to loud noises, so one way to prepare them for the journey is by playing recordings of sounds they might encounter in transit, Farah says. “I’d say a good general rule is that because so much of what they encounter during air travel will be new and potentially stressful, you should familiarize them to many factors as possible in the weeks or even months leading up to travel.”

Book your travel far in advance

Keep in mind that airlines limit the number of pets allowed on a flight, so book early and try to secure a direct flight to cut down on travel time.

Familiarize yourself with your departure airport

Before you set off on your journey, familiarize yourself with the airport you’re departing from – such as where to find a pet relief area – and how to go through security with a pet in tow. For example, you must never place your pet on the security conveyor belt (only the empty carrier goes through the X-ray tunnel).

Research your destination

This is a crucial step. Some countries will not allow pets in at all, while other destinations (such as Hawaii) may have strict rules about rabies vaccines or require all animals to travel in cargo. Christine Barton, a veterinarian with The Vets, recommends checking the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website to learn about requirements for health certificates, vaccines and more.

Other considerations will depend on what type of vacation you’re planning; if it involves hiking or camping with your dog, Barton suggests checking the expected weather, making a small emergency kit for you and your pet, and considering a GPS tracker for remote areas. Wherever you’re headed, locate the closest emergency animal hospital just in case and make sure to book pet-friendly accommodations.

Consult your vet

Once you’ve done your research, your veterinarian can help ensure your pet has everything you both need to travel, such as microchipping, required or recommended vaccines (and proof of them), testing, and health records, Barton says. A vet can also address any health concerns. “Doctors can discuss risks, precautions, and things to monitor while traveling,” Barton explains, adding that you should make sure your pet is up to date on needed preventive medications, such as treatment for fleas or heartworm.

If your furry friend struggles with anxiety, your vet can prescribe them a medication to make the journey less stressful for both of you. “Talk to your veterinarian before administering any sort of medication to your pet, but definitely consider it for future travel,” Hogan says.

Flying With Pets: Frequently Asked Questions

A carrier being “airline-approved” typically means it adheres to the airline’s size requirements, is leakproof, provides adequate airflow and keeps your pet securely inside.

You can find a pet carrier on wheels, such as the Snoozer 4-in-1 Roll Around Pet Carrier or the SportPet Rolling Plastic Kennel, but keep in mind that most wheeled pet carriers are too large to fit under the seat on most airlines, even with detachable wheels. Wheeled options can make your furry friend easier for you to transport, but they also tend to make for a bumpy ride for your pet, so consider carefully whether a carrier on wheels is right for your cat or dog, especially if they’re easily frightened.

Most major airlines in the U.S. do not allow pets to travel in cargo; some, like American Airlines, only offer this service for active military or diplomatic personnel. Of the major U.S. airlines, only Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines currently accept animals in the cargo hold, so keep that in mind if you have a medium or large dog – or if your intended destination does not welcome in-cabin pets.

Most animals who fly in the cargo hold are fine, but there’s still a risk of your pet being killed, injured or lost, according to the Humane Society of the United States. The most common dangers are excessively hot or cold temperatures, poorly ventilated crates, and rough handling. Be sure to follow all IATA guidelines for cargo crates to ensure your pet’s safety. Before you book a flight, you may also want to research the airline’s history with companion animals in the cargo hold.

The kennel you choose for cargo travel must allow your pet enough room to stand, sit upright, turn around while standing and lie in a natural position, according to the IATA. Carriers must made of rigid materials and include a solid roof, a leakproof base, a door with well-maintained hardware, working handles and ventilation on all four sides. Labels that say “Live Animal” and “This Way Up” are also required by the IATA.

A water dish must be securely affixed to the inside of the carrier, with open access for your pet to drink and for someone to refill it from the outside without opening the crate. A food container can either be inside the carrier if it’s sealed or attached to the outside.

A pet carrier usually counts as either a personal item or a carry-on. Depending on the airline policy, you may be able to bring either a personal item or a carry-on bag (not both) in addition to your carrier. Check your airline’s carry-on luggage allowance and pet policy to see what you can bring.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires puppies and kittens to be at least 8 weeks old to travel, but airlines may impose their own age restrictions on top of that. On Delta, for example, companion animals must be at least 10 weeks old for domestic flights. United Airlines says your pet should be at least 4 months old for international travel to comply with rabies vaccine requirements.

Your furry friend will incur certain fees for flying, but the cost will vary by airline. American Airlines, as an example, charges a $125 service fee for a carry-on pet, while Allegiant’s fee is $50. Cargo fees may depend on trip details: Hawaiian Airlines charges $60 in fees for domestic flights and $225 for flights between Hawaii and North America, while the cargo fee on Alaska Airlines is $100. Service animals typically fly at no charge as long as they meet the airline’s requirements.

It depends on your pet, according to Hogan. “If they’re quite anxious you may want to offer food with a bit more advanced time prior to the flight to avoid vomiting in the carrier or on themselves, however, not too much time where they’ll be hungry throughout the travel day,” she advises. “Water is important to offer as often as possible in any setting. Access to using the bathroom more than once prior to travel is also advised so as not to miss an opportunity for output!”

Conveniently, some airports may have pet relief areas your dog can use either before or after you go through security, but that’s something you’ll have to research beforehand.

No. Unless your pet is a service animal of a certain size, airlines typically require pets in the cabin to be secured in their carrier and stowed under the seat in front of you.

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

Catriona Kendall is a frequent traveler and longtime cat owner who knows the importance of a sturdy and secure pet carrier. Her cats haven’t managed to damage or escape from the Henkelion and Petmate carriers she’s owned for years (despite their best efforts). She also recommends this pop-up Pet Fit for Life carrier for road trips. Kendall compiled this list of airline-compliant carriers using her experience as a pet owner, advice from animal experts and extensive research.

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