What Are The Requirements For An Airline Approved Pet Carrier For Dogs?

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If you’re getting ready to fly with your dog on commercial airline flights, you’ll need an airline approved pet carrier. 

That’s because dogs, cats and other pets can’t just sit on your lap or hang out on a leash, regardless of whether you’re flying First Class, Business Class or Economy Class. 

Unfortunately, you also can’t buy a seat for your dog or cat on an airplane!

Airline Approved Dog Crate

Keeping that in mind, the size of your pet determines:

  1. If they can fly in-cabin or cargo
  2. The material and the dimensions of the pet carrier you’ll need

But how do you know if your pet is too large to fly in-cabin? 

Well, the easy answer is that pets who weigh up to 20lbs can fly in-cabin, and larger pets have to fly cargo. 

In general, that means cats, puppies and toy dog breeds can fly in-cabin.

At least as long as they comfortably fit into the largest airline approved pet carrier for cabin, which needs to fit under the seat in front of you!

There’s one exception for service dogs aka assistance dogs, as well as emotional support dogs. These pups can fly with you in-cabin, regardless of size.

In this blog post, we’ll share the pet carrier dimensions for both cabin and cargo along with pet carrier brand choices. 

But before we jump right into it, let’s cover 5 questions related to flying with pets:

Things You Should Know Before Flying With Your Dog

1. Can my dog walk through the airport?

Yes. As long as they’re leashed, you can walk your dog up to the airline terminal. That’s where you’ll have to put them into their pet carrier. I did that with my 38 lb pup Wally when we flew from Dulles Airport to Frankfurt Airport in March 2021.

2. What months are dogs not allowed to fly?

Between May and September, most airlines won’t transport pets cargo due to warmer temperatures. So if you’re looking to fly with a medium-large sized pup, make sure you plan your flight around those months.

3. Can I hold my dog during takeoff?

No. Your dog (and cat) has to stay in their pet carrier under your front seat at all times while you’re on the plane with them. That includes taxiing, takeoff and landing.

4. What’s the minimum age for dogs and cats to fly?

Dogs and cats have to be a minimum of 8-12 weeks old to be allowed to fly on a plane. As the minimum age requirement differs between airlines, make sure to double check before you book your puppy’s or kitten’s flight.

5. Can I buy a pet carrier at the airport?

Most likely not. Airlines typically don’t have pet carriers for sale at their terminals so you need to buy one ahead of time.

As a matter of fact, we recommend you purchase a pet carrier several weeks in advance so you can start getting your dog or cat used to it. Check out our dog & puppy crate training tips here.

What Are The Requirements For An Airline Approved Pet Carrier For Dogs?

How do you know if a pet carrier is airline-approved?

The brands who sell pet carriers to fly with dogs and cats have designed their travel crates using airline approved pet carrier dimensions. 

However, just to be on the safe side, you should always double-check if the airline you’re planning on flying with has any specific requirements for pet flight boxes. 

Below you’ll find links to the travel kennel requirements of 8 big airlines:

Airline Approved Pet Carrier Dimensions

The dimensions of airline compliant crates depend on where your pet will fly on the plane. 

That said, the dimensions for in-cabin pet carriers are obviously different from the ones for cargo travel crates. 

But generally speaking, your dog or cat always has to be able to stand, comfortably move around and lie down in their pet carrier. 

When you walk up to the airline’s counter, their staff will perform a visual inspection of your pet in their travel crate. They typically only pull out the measuring tape if the dimensions seem completely off. 

When I dropped my pup Wally off at the Lufthansa counter at Dulles airport, no one measured! 

But they did have a good look at his pet carrier and made sure that he was comfortable in it. 

Airline Approved Pet Carrier
At Dulles airport with Wally’s travel crate shortly before our international flight

In-Cabin Pet Carrier Dimensions (Maximum sizes)

Soft sided pet carriers: 18” Length x 11” Width x 11” Height 

Hard sided pet carriers: 17.5” Length  x 12” Width x 7.5” Height

Cargo Pet Carrier Dimensions 

Maximum size: 39.5” Length x 25” Width x 30” Height

While some aircrafts can accommodate giant pet carriers (48” Length x 32” Width x 35” Height), many don’t.

So when you’re not sure, always double check with your airline!

How to Measure Your Pet For An Airline Approved Pet Carrier

Travel crates are subject to International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations. 

That means that they have to be the right size for your particular pet – and here’s how you figure that out:

Have your dog or cat stand and measure their length from the tip of their nose to the base of their tail (don’t include the length of the tail).

Next, measure their height from the floor to the top of their head. 

Then add 4” to each measurement. That gives you the interior measurements of the pet carrier.

Wally’s hard plastic travel crate measured 36” x 25” x 27” on the outside. 

That makes it a Medium pet carrier that’s designed for dogs up to 20” tall and 29” long. 

These days, it’s set up in my office and Wally still uses it when he hangs out with me while I work. At night, he sleeps in his regular kennel which is a bit larger than the travel crate.

Airline Approved Crate
Wally hanging out in his travel pet carrier

Airline Approved Pet Carriers In-Cabin

Below, you’ll find requirements for in-cabin pet carriers as well as several airline approved pet carriers for in-cabin flights.

Hard & Soft Dog Carriers

For in-cabin flights, you can transport your pet both in hard and soft dog carriers. 

Here are the dimensions again:

Soft sided pet carriers: 18” Length x 11” Width x 11” Height 

Hard sided pet carriers: 17.5” Length  x 12” Width x 7.5” Height


Regardless of the material of your pet carrier, it needs to be escape-proof. 

That means it needs to be fully enclosed while having adequate air ventilation, and it can’t have any tears, cracks or breaks.

Absorbent Bedding

Your pet carrier needs to be lined with absorbent bedding in case your dog or cat has an accident. 

Next, let’s look at some airline approved pet carriers for in-cabin flights:

It’s made with durable, high-grade polyester and synthetic fabric including a ventilated design and sherpa-lined bedding. 

This soft-sided pet carrier comes with a detachable strap for easy carrying, a name tag, two sided access and a collapsible pet bowl.

It measures 17” x 10.5” x 11.2” and can accommodate pets weighing up to 18 lbs.

It’s made with polyester, synthetic fabric and mesh windows for ventilation as well as a machine-washable faux-lambskin liner.

This soft-sided pet carrier comes with a padded carrying strap with adjustable no-slip shoulder as well as a rear pocket.

It comes in small and medium sizes.

The small size measures 15” x 10” x 8.5” and works for pets up to 8 lbs.

The medium size measures 17” x 11” x 10.5” and works for pets up to 16 lbs.  

Its patented spring wire frame allows the rear end of the carrier to be pushed down several inches to conform to under seat dimensions.

According to the brand, this soft-sided pet carrier is “approved for use on most airlines and included in an exclusive Guaranteed on Board program: Small is approved for American Airlines, AirTran Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, U.S. Airways, United Airlines, Air Canada Airlines and West Jet Airlines. Medium is approved for American Airlines, United Airlines and Air Canada Airlines.”

It’s made with waterproof, durable polyester, synthetic fabric and includes a removable, plush soft bed cover.

This soft-sided pet carrier comes with hand-carrying straps and an adjustable padded shoulder strap.

According to the brand, the sides expand to allow your pet to stretch. 

Obviously, you can’t use this feature on the plane, but it can work as an extended hang out area at home or at a hotel.

It measures 17” x 11” x 11” and can accommodate pets weighing up to 20 lbs.

It’s made with polyester, synthetic fabric with mesh netting and includes a removable crate pad.

This soft-sided pet carrier comes with carrying handles, an adjustable shoulder strap, a back pocket as well as a safety back strap to secure the carrier to your luggage.

It measures 17” x 10” x 11.5” and can accommodate pets weighing up to 20 lbs.

It’s made with breathable mesh walls on 3 sides, a machine washable sherpa bed lining and multiple pockets.

This soft-sided pet carrier comes with high-quality metal hooks, 4 self-locking zippers and wide shoulder straps.

It can also be used as a backpack and measures 17” x 11” x 11” and can accommodate pets weighing up to 15 lbs.

Airline Approved Pet Carrier For Cargo

Below, you’ll find requirements for cargo pet carriers as well as several airline approved pet carriers for flying your pet cargo.

Solid Construction/Hard Dog Carriers for Cargo Flights 

Wire kennels and soft sided kennels are not allowed for cargo flights. Instead, the pet carriers need to be made of rigid plastic or metal.

Here are the maximum dimensions again:

39.5” Length x 25” Width x 30” Height


In order to be considered escape-proof, pet carriers in the cargo area need to be constructed with metal bolts or screws. 

Metal Doors

Travel crates for the cargo area must have a metal door and can’t have an opening on top of the carrier.

No Wheels

For obvious reasons, your dog’s travel crate can’t have any wheels. 

You’ll have to take them off and put them back on at your final destination.

Absorbent Material

The pet carrier needs to be lined with absorbent material in case of an accident (but no straw, hay or wood shavings). 

When Wally flew cargo, I put his regular dog crate pad into his travel carrier. 


Domestic flights require ventilation on 3 sides of the kennel, and many international flights require ventilation on 4 sides. 

Wally was fine with 3 ventilated sides on his kennel when he flew from the US to Germany. 

Again, double check your particular airline’s requirements!

Food & Water Dishes

Most airlines require that you tape a small bag of food along with instructions on top of your pet carrier in case of delays. 

The carrier also needs to have a fixed food dish on the inside and a refillable water container attached on the door. 

We’ll provide a few options for crate water bottles in the next section. 

But first, our pick of travel dog crates:

It’s a durable plastic construction that features a moat to guide liquids to the outer edges of the crate. 

It also features 4 wheels that can easily be taken off as needed.

This dog carrier includes 2 food/water dishes, 4 live animal stickers, metal bolts and nuts, and tie down holes for zip ties required by airlines.

It’s available in 5 different sizes, with the largest one being a giant travel crate. 

Remember, not all airlines accept these, so do make sure to double check with your respective airline before you show up with a giant crate on your travel day!

Medium: 26.5” Length x 20” Width x 18.5” Height

Large: 31.5” Length x 22” Width x 23” Height

X-Large: 35.5” Length x 23.75” Width x 26.75” Height

XX-Large: 39.5” Length x 25.25” Width x 29.25” Height

3X-Large (Giant): 48” Length x 32” Width x 36” Height

It features a durable plastic shell, non corrodible wing nuts, extra strong steel wire, an interlocking door, tie down holes as well as 360° ventilation.

This travel kennel includes 2 Live Animal stickers, clip on bowls and ID stickers for easy modification for travel. Top handles are available in the 21” and 28” sizes.

It’s available in 5 different sizes.

21”: 21” Length x 16” Width x 15” Height

28”: 28” Length x 20.5” Width x 21.5” Height

32”: 32” Length x 22.5” Width x 24” Height

36”: 36” Length x 25” Width x 27” Height

40”: 40” Length x 27” Width x 30” Height

It features a durable plastic shell as well as 360° ventilation and includes 2 dishes, 4 Live Animals stickers, metal bolts and nuts.

This particular pet carrier is only available in small with the following dimensions:

24” Length x 16” Width x 16” Height

Airline Approved Pet Carrier Water Bowls for Cargo Flights

As mentioned earlier, once you have your airline approved pet carrier, you’ll still need a crate water bottle for your cargo flights such as the ones listed below:

Bottom Line

As you’ve seen, there’s a few caveats as far as flying with pets. 

If they comfortably fit into an airline approved pet carrier that fits under the seat in front of you, they can fly in the cabin with you. 

Here are those airline-approved pet carrier dimensions again:

Soft sided pet carriers: 18” Length x 11” Width x 11” Height 

Hard sided pet carriers: 17.5” Length  x 12” Width x 7.5” Height

But remember, they have to remain there during the entirety of the flight and can’t hang out on your lap, a free seat next to you or in the aisle. 

If your dog or cat doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you, they’ll have to fly in the air-conditioned cargo area of the plane.  

Remember that your pet has to comfortably fit in their pet carrier and be able to stand, turn around and lie down. 

Again, the maximum dimensions for cargo travel crates are 39.5” Length x 25” Width x 30” Height. 

Depending on the airline, they may also accept giant travel crates with larger measurements. 

That’s why it’s important to always double check the respective airline’s requirements for traveling with pets.

We wish you safe and stress-free travels with your furry loved ones!

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Airline Approved Pet Carrier: What Are The Requirements? - white dog sitting in plastic crate

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