Taking a vacation with your pet is a great way to bond and relax with your best friend, but it’s not always as easy as packing a bag and heading out on the open road. Many pet owners need to take flights with their pets to get to their destination.
While flying with your dog or cat may seem like a harrowing experience, a quality pet carrier can make it much easier for you and your beloved furry friend to get to your destination safely and comfortably.
Today, we’ll take a look at the best airline-approved dog or cat carriers on the market today and go over all the important considerations you need to make before you decide on the best carrier for you and your pet.
At a Glance: Our Favorite Airline Approved Pet Carriers
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We break down several things to consider below, including material, construction, ventilation, size and more. If you plan to travel by car with your dog frequently, it’s best to look at crash-tested crates or carriers for your pup.
The first thing to consider is the material that it’s made from. Typically, the exterior is made from nylon fabric, but not all fabrics are created equal. Some of the best carriers provide a waterproof exterior that still maintains its breathability, which provides optimal airflow, while also being resistant to unpleasant pet odors.
While most carriers use similar materials, they aren’t necessarily created equally. Some manufacturers use thick, heavy-duty material and construction methods while others cut corners with thinner light-duty fabrics which are obviously more prone to wear than their heavy-duty counterparts. If you’re looking for a carrier that will stand up to whatever you can dish out, look into models that are made from heavy-duty materials that are waterproof but also breathable.
Another key concern that ties into the material used to make the carrier is how well ventilated it is. Our favorite picks offer plenty of mesh sections to optimize airflow and also allow your pet to see what’s going on outside the carrier.
Not only is it important that there are plenty of mesh ventilation panels, but it’s also important that they’re made from heavy-duty mesh. Cheaper models usually feature light-duty mesh that resembles mosquito netting. It’s easy to imagine how quickly your pet’s nails can rip through the mesh, making the carrier useless.
To combat this issue, most manufacturers use a resin mesh, which is much more resistant to rips and tears than flimsier plastic mesh. Not only is this style of mesh more resistant to damage, but it’s also longer-lasting, which will ensure that your carrier will stand the test of time.
Of course, heavy-duty materials and plenty of ventilation are important, but there’s one more piece to the puzzle that will determine how long your carrier lasts, and that’s its construction quality. You should always be thinking about construction as a factor when buying any product that will contain your pet or keep things locked away from your pup.
Before deciding on the option you think is best, it can be helpful to examine the stitching or fabric welds (or whatever other construction methods the carrier uses.) Not only do you need a carrier that’s well put together, but for soft-sided carriers, the internal frame and the base for the “floor” are also critically important.
Most carriers have a wire frame throughout the top, which helps the frame maintain its shape and prevent sagging. Many carriers also have a hard bottom that provides more stability for your pet and also helps reinforce the shape of the carrier.
These build characteristics are important for the long life of your carrier, but also because they help to keep your pet comfortable and secure within their temporary home.
Comfortable For Your Pet
Of course, even the most well-made carrier is useless if your dog or cat isn’t comfortable inside. While some of the more affordable models provide as much comfort for your pet as the duffle bag you take to the gym, some go above and beyond and provide your furry friend with a soft and inviting travel home for them to relax in.
Look for carriers that feature a plush or faux fur lining throughout, especially when it comes to the area where your dog or cat will be laying down. You should also be able to remove the lining to wash it whenever necessary.
Critical to the safety and security of your fur baby, locking zippers make it impossible for escape artist pets to open their carriers and get out without your knowledge.
Most carriers feature two zippers for each opening, but the best options have clips on each zipper that can be attached together, functionally locking your pet inside the carrier so they can’t escape until you decide it’s time to let them out.
You may also want to look for a model that provides plenty of opportunities to store your pet’s toys, treats, medication, and other accessories. Sure, you could just as easily place these items into other pieces of luggage, but having onboard storage allows you to keep all of your pet’s stuff together and easily accessible.
Of course, you can also use these storage areas for your stuff, too, which will come in handy on flights where you’ve already checked your luggage and don’t have access to your things while you’re in the air.
Some models feature slit pockets while others have more secure pockets with zippers or Velcro. If you’re going to be storing important or valuable items, it may be best to purchase a carrier that has zippered storage.
You’ll also want the carrier to be washable to keep it looking its best, and free from any pet odors. Most importantly, a bag that you can wash will keep you protected from any accidents your pet may have while they’re nervous or frightened during travel. That way, you can just toss your carrier into the wash instead of needing to replace it.
Easy To Open And Close
One of the most critical and often overlooked aspects of buying a pet carrier is how easy it is for you to get your dog or cat inside. No doubt, some of you are lucky enough to have a happy-go-lucky pet that loves to travel and is happy to go right in when it’s time to go.
For the rest of us who have pets that consider going into their carrier to be a fate worse than death, it’s critical that your carrier opens wide and is easy to manipulate. That way, even if your pet is trying their hardest to resist entering their carrier, you’ll still be able to get them securely inside their travel home.
Wheels, Handles & Backpack Straps
The last consideration to make before deciding on the best carrier for you and your pet is how you’ll be transporting it. All carriers feature one or more methods for you to carry them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re comfortable, or well-designed.
The top carriers that are endorsed by most major airlines provide multiple carrying points, such as handles and shoulder straps. These handles should be well-padded and ergonomically designed to reduce fatigue as you carry your pet.
Some options even feature wheels so you can easily wheel your pet behind you without having to put added stress on your hands or back. There are even backpack-style carriers that you can wear just like a book bag.
If possible, try out the carrier before buying to ensure that it’s easy to carry and provides ample padding, so traveling with your pet is as comfortable as possible.
Our Favorite Airline-Approved Picks
Choosing a pet carrier isn’t very easy. Picking the right carrier can be very difficult if you aren’t sure how big it should be, on top of balancing comfort for a long flight. After extensive research, we’ve developed a list of the best airline-approved pet carriers that are available for you today. Here’s what we found.
Sherpa Original Deluxe Lattice Stitch
- Guaranteed on-board program for small and medium sizes.
- Comfortable and well-ventilated.
- Safety belt attaches to luggage handle.
- Lightweight material.
- Liner is machine-washable.
- Collapsible when not in use for easy storage.
- Available in 3 sizes and 3 colors.
One of the most popular carriers on the market from a trusted brand in the pet industry, this bag is perfect for dog or cat owners looking for a classic carrier that’s available in a range of sizes.
This carrier features a quilted nylon exterior with mesh side and top panels, providing tons of ventilation and maximum visibility for your pet. A wide zipper panel on the top and a side zipper that opens flat makes it easy to get even the most agitated dog or cat into their carrier with less stress.
There’s also a luggage strap and a padded shoulder strap for carrying ease.
A patented wire frame can be compacted down several inches so that even the largest size available can still fit underneath your seat to comply with airline regulations. Locking zippers ensure that your pet is securely inside their carrier at all times. A zippered rear pocket provides plenty of room to store treats and accessories.
We love that this carrier has plenty of ventilation, is easy to get in and out of, and has no durability issues (it’s built to last).
Petpeppy Expandable Pet Carrier
- Expertly crafted roof ventilation design allows for air circulation.
- Made from high quality safe, eco-friendly nylon material.
- Lightweight, durable and sturdy.
- Plush faux fleece bedding, padded shoulder strap, and spacious extra storage compartments.
- Double zippers on top and side allows for easy entrance from both sides.
If your dog or cat loves to seriously veg out, this carrier could be ideal for you, as it’s perhaps the most expandable carrier on the market. Both sides of the carrier zip out to offer more room, providing your dog or cat with plenty of opportunities to relax when you aren’t in flight.
This carrier is made from durable waterproof nylon, with mesh panels throughout and a plush fleece liner throughout the floor of the carrier. When it isn’t expanded, it fits under all airline regulations at 18” long and 11” wide. When the sides and tunnel are expanded, the carrier provides tons of additional space for your pet to relax and lounge in.
Other features include a slip pocket, luggage panel, and a padded shoulder strap for easy carrying. A hard bottom panel and a wire frame running throughout the top of the carrier add stability and durability to this career, and it’s backed by a year warranty.
We love that this carrier has tons of additional room and heavy-duty mesh panels. It also has a luggage panel which comes in handy.
KOPEKS Deluxe Backpack With Double Wheels
- Smooth spinning wheels.
- 3 different ways to carry.
- Lots of storage.
- 600D Oxford fabric with 3 ventilation mesh panels that provide a cool environment and easy visibility. Telescoping handle made of industrial-grade aluminum alloy rods.
- High-quality polyurethane double wheels provide extra stability and durability.
For those looking for a carrier that’s on wheels, the KOPEKS helps you speed through the airport quickly and easily. Perfect for those with pets who are heavy to carry (up to 10 pounds only).
It has smooth spinning wheels and an easy-motion two-wheeled platform that allows for easy maneuvering. You can also use it as a backpack. There is lots of storage including two large pockets to store treats, toys, and other pet supplies while on the go.
This carrier is durable and with heavy-duty materials. With three ventilation mesh panels, your pooch will stay cool and easy to keep an eye on. The telescoping handle is made with industrial-grade aluminum alloy rods. And the high-quality polyurethane double wheels provide extra stability and durability.
We love that this carrier has multiple ways to carry plus plenty of storage.
Mr. Peanut's Expandable Soft Sided
- Comes in 4 stylish color combo options.
- Lightweight breathable mesh on all sides for proper ventilation.
- Removable fleece bed with a plywood base for additional support.
- Padded shoulder strap and area for name tag.
- Zippered mesh storage.
A well-made carrier that looks great and provides plenty of comfort for your furry friend, this stylish carrier looks more like a modern weekend bag than a pet carrier, and it’s among the more attractive options available.
This carrier features a grey exterior with tan piping and a tan leather strap. A matching I.D. tag on the shoulder strap is also included. The sides of the bag zip down fully making it easy to get your pet inside and the mesh window also zips open.
One side of the bag is expandable to provide your pet with more room to relax. All of the zippers are locking for added security.
This Mr. Peanut carrier isn’t just stylish, it’s built to last, too. This one features a leather bottom with rubber feet, a durable plywood bottom, and a plush mattress pad to keep your pet comfortable despite the hard bottom below.
We love this carrier. It looks great, has leather trim, and has plenty of storage.
EliteField Soft Sided
- A removable fleece bed cover with an insertable hard support board.
- Comes in 6 colors.
- Durable, lightweight, waterproof material.
- Two pockets for accessory storage.
- Top and sides made of mesh netting for added sunlight and breathability.
- Hand carrying straps and adjustable padded shoulder strap allow for many carrying options.
Pet owners who are looking for an all-business pet carrier that combines durability, functionality, and comfort to create a carrier that’s perfect for any travel scenario, including on airplanes. This is one of the more compact carriers on the market, so it should be good to go, even on airlines that have strict pet policies.
Made from durable and breathable fabric, this option also provides several mesh panels for optimal airflow for your dog or cat. The carrier is easily carried with the hand or shoulder straps, which both feature ample padding. The plush fleece bed helps to keep your fur baby comfortable, while the hard bottom beneath helps the carrier retain its shape.
Heavy-duty zippers throughout allow you to unzip the carrier from any side or the top, and there is plenty of storage, with several pockets including one Velcro closure-covered pocket. Other intuitive features include adjustable seatbelt straps and a zippered panel that allows you to secure the carrier on top of your luggage.
We love that this carrier has loads of storage and has an integrated seat belt loop system with a luggage panel. It’s also sturdily built and will last for years to come.
Things To Know Before Traveling With Your Pet
Before you take off, there are some important tips you should consider to ensure that you and your pet have the best possible flight.
- Make sure you do your research on different airlines before selecting a flight. There aren’t any universal regulations for flying with pets, so the maximum permitted size and other requirements can vary widely between different airlines.
- Consider lining the carrier with training pads to prevent accidents. Even the most well-trained dogs and cats can have accidents when traveling, as the stress and anxiety of being in a car or on an airplane can be overwhelming.
- Before your trip, take your dog for a long walk, or a run in the dog park. That way, they’ll get out as much energy as possible, so they have less energy during your trip.
- Speak with your vet before you take off. While some pets deal with car or airline travel quite well, others are petrified. To try and make the trip as pleasant as possible, see if your vet recommends any special relaxation treats or a mild sedative before the flight.
- Take time to plan out all food, water, and potty breaks before your trip. These days, airlines have made it easier than ever to travel with your dog or cat. Many terminals feature bathroom stops for your pup along the way.
- Board your flight as early as possible. By doing so, you’ll allow yourself plenty of time for your fur baby to acclimate to their new surroundings and get comfortable before you take off. This step can go a long way in ensuring your dog or cat has a safe, anxiety-free, and enjoyable flight.
- If your pet is new to traveling, take them for a dry run before your flight to see how they react to traveling in their carrier. That way, you can determine if there are any special considerations you need to make before your pet’s big flight, so there aren’t any last-minute surprises on flight day.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I determine the right size carrier for my pet?
The best way to decide if the carrier is the right size for your dog or cat is to measure how tall and long your pet is and then compare that against the measurements for the carrier.
Try to buy the largest carrier possible to provide your pet with the most room to move around and relax. If your pet is unable to turn around inside the carrier, that’s usually an indicator that you should look for a larger option. If you have a giant breed dog, you’ll likely not be able to fly in-cabin with them because they are over a certain weight limitation. Your best bet here is to find a massive crate that you can put them in, and transport by vehicle.
Can I still choose my seat if I travel with a pet?
Depending on the airline you’re flying with, you may still be able to pick your seat before you check-in for your flight. However, those who prefer an aisle seat are likely to be out of luck, since these seats typically feature the least under-seat clearance, and most airlines forbid travelers in these seats from bringing a pet.
That said, you should still be able to choose a window or aisle seat. But, be sure to confirm this with your airline before purchasing your tickets.
What are the IATA, TSA, FAA, and why are they important?
These are different organizations tasked with drafting safety regulations for passenger air travel. IATA stands for International Air Transportation Association, TSA stands for Transportation Security Administration, and FAA stands for Federal Aviation Administration.
Before flying, you should visit each administration’s website so you can learn about their different regulations to ensure that you and your pet are traveling safely. Some of these agencies even offer independent certifications that state that a particular carrier is approved for use on airlines. However, these certifications aren’t required for a carrier to be permitted on an airplane.
While each of the carriers we covered above makes a solid choice if you’re looking for a new pet carrier, we believe that one carrier above the rest exemplifies all the carriers that you need in the best airline-approved pet carrier. Whether you choose one of these or a different carrier, always be sure to buy a carrier that will keep your pet safe, secure, and comfortable. Have a safe trip!