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Flying With A Big Dog: Travel Tips For Ease & Safety

If your next adventure has you jumping on a plane and you want to fly with a big dog, so they can join you for the adventure, we wrote this guide to help you make it happen. Whether you are simply traveling for fun and want your dog to be along for the ride or you are relocating, this should be a great place to start preparing for flying with your furry friend.

Since I was a teenager, my family relocated between Africa and the US always taking our dogs with us. Depending on the flight we had various reasons why our jack russells had to fly in cargo even though they are technically small dogs. This was often related to country regulations. While no one ever claims dogs will just love flying under the plane, following a guide like this will help make the process go more smoothly. Hopefully, your dog will be a little like ours – a couple days to recover and then back to their normal selves just like all 3 of my jacks.

Three Different Ways Dogs Travel on Planes

One of the most important factors when traveling with your big dog is understanding the different ways that they can travel. Each method is different in cost, the type of crate you might use, logistics, and other things that can really make a difference as you are making your travel plans.

So let’s take a look at the different ways your dog can fly

1) In the Cabin

This is usually what people think about when they want to travel with their dogs. You bring your dog with you in the cabin, and your dog travels in a soft carry-on case. It is easy for small dogs to travel in the cabin because both the dog and crate are small enough to fit under the seat.

Unfortunately, for big dogs, you can’t exactly pop them under the seat like a pomeranian! That space is pretty small, so cabin flying isn’t an option for many dogs. Our boy Sammy here would really, really like to go in the cabin with us…but even for a smallish dog (23 lbs) he just doesn’t fit.

If you are planning on flying with a big or medium sized dog, you have to make sure they fit inside the airline approved carrier to go in cabin
Can Sam (23 lbs) go in the cabin? Nope, not even close!

Dog weight and crate size limits for traveling in the cabin

The exact requirements vary by airline on both weight and crate size limits, but typically there is a weight limit of around 18 lbs. The largest crate allowed is currently American airlines which allows crates that are 19 inches x 13 inches x 9 inches.

Some airlines have a size but not a weight limit.  Those are better for dogs such as pugs or frenchies that might be small enough to fit in the crate but are heftier with their weight.

Other ways to travel in the cabin with your large dog

There are alternative ways for a dog to travel in cabin, such as chartered flights or specialized airlines, but those are often much more complicated and expensive.

2) As Excess Baggage

This is one the most popular ways that people fly with large dogs because your pet will fly on the same plane, and they are linked to your plane ticket. The key difference is that your dog is flying in a different part of the plane than you. It may be strange to book your beloved family member as “baggage”, but they will be in a cargo cabin with climate controls and lighting to keep them comfortable.

When traveling with your dog as excess baggage:

  • Your dog crate must meet airline requirements (more details on travel crates is below)
  • Airlines won’t allow dogs to fly as excess baggage if the weather at any destination is too warm or too cold.  Extreme weather is the biggest danger while your dog waits on the tarmac in their crate while being loaded. A typical acceptable range is between 20˚F (-7˚C) and 80˚F (27˚C). 
  • Many airlines also limit the total number of pets on the flight, so plan accordingly to ensure there is space available
  • Airlines often have a limit to the number of pets per passenger
  • While pets are generally handled carefully, there may still be risks associated with handling on layovers, etc. So, it is ideal to book direct flights
  • Very large dogs (over 100 lbs) might exceed excess baggage limits
  • Not all airlines provide this service. 

3) Through Cargo

There might be special situations (giant breeds, relocation, complicated travel logistics, or strict country requirements) where it might be necessary for your dog to be shipped as cargo. With this method, your dog may even be traveling separately from you. As with the excess baggage, your dog will have their basic needs met and be in a lighted, climate-controlled area to keep them comfortable.

When your dog is traveling through cargo:

  • The dog is booked on a flight with their own ticket
  • It is a specialized service, so the level of care for your dog is usually higher than when flying as excess baggage
  • For some countries, like the United Kingdom and Australia, it is the only way your dog can enter
  • This might be the only option for some giant dog breeds since even excess baggage can have weight limits
  • It is significantly more expensive than the other two options, and people often hire a company to provide this service

How To Fly With A Large Dog: Step-By-Step

Step 1: Decide if Flying with Your Big Dog is the Best Plan

  • Some dogs are great travelers. Others have a harder time due to their personality, age, health, etc.
  • Consult with your vet if your dog has any special needs.  A health certificate is required for most international travel
  • A review of the 2022 Air Travel Consumer Report for the US Department of Transportation shows very few incidents with pets. However, snub-nosed breeds such as bulldogs, especially in warmer months, had the most problems. This is an ongoing issue that has caused many airlines to not allow brachycephalic breeds especially through excess baggage 
  • Flying with your larger dog is probably worth it for relocation but not for a week-long vacation 

Step 2: See If There is a Way to Fly Your Dog In-Cabin

  • Consider the weight and bag size requirements for airlines options going to your destination
  • The dog has to be able to turn around, and their head isn’t supposed to press against the top of the crate. People have been turned away at the gate because their dog didn’t fit comfortably in the carrier
  • Consider alternative flying options such as chartered flights or specialty airlines if you have extra funds and the route works for your destination. 

Step 3: Evaluate the Pros and Cons of Excess Baggage vs. Cargo

  • Many people chose Excess Baggage because it is significantly more affordable than shipping your large breed dogs through cargo
  • However, cargo offers more flexibility and more care for your pets, especially during layovers and other transition times 

Step 4: Pick Your Airline, Route, and Itinerary Carefully

  • While dogs can go for quite a while without eating, drinking, or using the bathroom, there are limits. Most dogs can hold it for 8-12 hours. If you can, find a flight that will allow your dog out within that time frame. Perhaps break your trip into 2 segments if necessary
  • Find a direct flight if possible.  If your layover is too short, your dog risks not making it to the next flight. If your layover is long, your dog will not receive bathroom breaks while in excess luggage.  Dogs flying in cargo are more likely to have services during a layover, but it depends on the capacity at a particular airport 
  • Confirm if the airline and route you are interested in provides the service you want.  Some airlines do not offer 1 or more of the 3 methods for transporting dogs
  • In the summer, pick an early or late flight. In the winter from colder climates, pick a flight in the middle of the day to avoid problems due to temperatures being out of range
  • Check if you need to fly on a weekday since that’s often when the appropriate staffing is available including getting your dog inspected after an international flight
  • Many airlines have limits to the number of pets that can be on any given flight. Check if there is space before booking. Or call immediately after booking so you can cancel within the 24-hour window if there is no availability 
Pick your airline, route, and itinerary carefully when flying to create the optimal conditions for your dog
Infographic of the 5 steps for flying with your big dog

Step 5: Follow the Regulations for Your Airline

  • Look up the rules for your airline 
  • Choose a crate that matches their size requirements
  • Follow any directions about labeling the crate and filling out the paperwork
  • Be careful to get only what is allowed and what your dog is used to.  Some people want to include water bowls, but many airlines don’t allow them because they spill and your dog will lie in a puddle. Others want to include a rabbit water dispenser, but if your dog doesn’t know how to use it, it isn’t useful. Other airlines require you to provide water and food, so it is important to look up requirements for your flight. 
  • For in-cabin and excess baggage, you typically pay your pet fee at the airport
Banner encouraging people to tell their story. Two dogs in the photo

How Much Does It Cost to Fly With a Big Dog?

💲 In the Cabin

Domestic within the US = $75-$150 each way depending on the airline

International = $100-$200 each way price varies by airline and route

💲💲 As Excess Baggage

Domestic within the US = $100-$150 each way depending on the airline

International = $225-$450 each way price varies by airline and route

💲💲💲 Through Cargo

The price is often not shared up front since it varies by weight, crate size, distance, and if a shipping company is used.  Customers can expect to pay anywhere from $400+ for US domestic flights and $1000 up to $6000 for international.  

What About Emotional Support & Service Dogs?

According to the regulations revised in 2020 by the Department of Transportation, 

Definition of a Service Dog

A dog that’s individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals (ESA) are no longer considered to be service animals. Most major US-based airlines have eliminated that program. There are a few international airlines that still allow ESAs, but they tend to be for smaller pets.

How it Works

Up to two service animals, even big dogs can fly free in the cabin with the person they are trained to serve. 

The ADA adds, For evidence that an animal is a service animal, air carriers may ask to see identification cards, written documentation, presence of harnesses or tags, and ask the questions they are legally allowed to ask.

Service dogs are allowed in the cabin even if they are bigger than the normal in-cabin requirements

What Airlines Allow Large Dogs to Fly?

Domestic Airlines (United States)

If you are trying to travel in the United States, unfortunately, there is a lot of information out there that is out of date. Things shifted during the pandemic and as of writing this in January 2023, there are only two commercial airlines that have both broad coverage domestically and have services to fly larger dogs.

Alaska Airlines

Cabin: Small pets (maximum soft carrier size 17″ x 11″ x 9.5″) can fly for a fee of $100

Excess Baggage: Pet and Carrier up to 150 lbs (68kg). Pets that fit in carrier sizes 100-500 can fly for a fee of $100

Cargo: Pets may fly via PetConnect, rates vary depending on the destination

American Airlines

Cabin: Small pets (maximum soft carrier size 18 x 11 x 11 inches) can fly for a fee of $125

Cargo: Pets may fly via PetEmbark, rates vary depending on the destination

Delta Airlines

Cabin: Small pets (maximum soft carrier size 18 x 11 x 11 inches) can fly for a fee of $95 ($200 international)

Cargo: Delta has a longstanding reputation to be one of the top carriers for shipping pets since they have a vet on staff. However, after March 2020, they stopped transporting pets in cargo except for military and foreign service officers. The description says it is temporary, but there is no indication of when this service will resume.

✅ Check your semi-private and regional carriers for in-cabin options

It might be possible to find a carrier local to your region that provides services that meet your needs. They tend to be significantly more expensive, but it might be worth it if you can find them.

JSX , for example, has several routes in Texas, California, Nevada, and Arizona and they allow dogs up to 79 lbs to fly in the cabin. A separate seat must be purchased specifically for your dog.

✈️ Use my referral code when you make a JSX account to get $20 off your first flight – VAK10E

International Airlines

Internationally, it seems like a lot of the major airlines have good options for traveling with your dog. While the airlines may be accommodating, the requirements for travel will depend heavily on the country you are traveling to. Fees will vary significantly depending on your starting point and destination.

If you want to know more about specific country requirements, and what community members have to say about traveling there with pets, check out our ever-growing Countries page.

Air France

Cabin: pets up to 8kg (17.5 lbs) can fly in the cabin

Excess baggage: pets up to 75kg (165 lbs) can fly as excess baggage, subject to airline and destination requirements

Cargo: via Air France KLM Cargo

✅ Lufthansa

Cabin: pets up to 8kg (17.5 lbs) can fly in the cabin

Excess baggage: the Lufthansa website did not specify a weight limit, but pets can fly as excess baggage, subject to airline and destination requirements

Cargo: pets can be shipped as cargo via Lufthansa Cargo


Cabin: pets up to 8kg (17.5 lbs) can fly in the cabin

Excess baggage: pets up to 75kg (165 lbs) can fly as excess baggage, subject to airline and destination requirements

Cargo: pets can be shipped as cargo via Air France KLM Cargo

✅ Singapore Airlines

Excess baggage: pets up to 32kg (70.5lbs) can fly as excess baggage, subject to airline and destination requirements

Cargo: pets can be shipped as cargo via Singapore Airlines Cargo

Best Travel Crate for Flying With a Big Dog

As a dog owner, you may already have a crate at home, but the crate may or may not be acceptable for flying. IATA is a regulatory agency that provides the requirements for crates.

Your dog needs to be able to stand up, turn around, sit erect, and lie in a natural position.

The crate needs to have ventilation on all 4 sides, but it can’t be all ventilation like a pure wire crate. Molded plastic is one of the most common. It is also important for the dog not to be able to stick its nose or paws through the mesh.

Make sure to pick the correct crate type that meets airline requirements for flying with a large or medium dog

🛒 If you need to purchase a new crate for your flight, consider buying one of the options suggested below

Best All-Around Crate for flying with medium and big dogs

Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier

It meets the airline’s requirements and is frequently recommended in groups of people relocating with their dogs.

It comes in 7 sizes to accommodate chihuahuas all the way through German Shepards, so it is great for flying with larger dogs. However, it doesn’t have a size big enough for giant breeds like great danes.

The price ranges from around $130-$360 for medium and large breeds.

The only problem is it is recommended/sometimes required to replace the plastic bolts with metal ones, especially with larger breeds to make the crate sturdier for lifting.

Best Crate with wheels

Pet Kennel for flying

SportPet Designs Plastic Kennels Rolling Plastic Wire Door Travel Dog Crate

You might be tempted to get a crate with wheels especially if you have a large breed that you can’t imagine lifting yourself.

If so, this could be a good option for you. Unfortunately, you will have to remove the wheels before handing your dog over, so many people just use the trolly at the airport.

This crate ranges from around $80-$550 for medium and large breeds. It also comes with metal bolts already in place, so that saves an extra step.

This is the crate we used to fly our terrier Sam to Italy

Best for giant breeds

Impact Collapsible Dog Crate

Most of the common and well-reviewed crates have a maximum size of 48 inches. This collapsable crate goes all the way up to 54 inches which may be necessary for those of you who have a dog the size of a small horse. While it has smaller sizes as well, this level of durability is probably not necessary since these kennels don’t come cheap.

Another advantage of this kennel is that it collapses. Once you arrive at your destination, you may have a difficult time putting such a large crate in your vehicle, so having one that collapses could be a useful feature.

FAQ: Flying with a large dog

What can I do to prepare for flying with a big dog?

  • Familiarize your large dog with as many situations as possible that overlap with what they will experience in a flight
  • Crate train them
  • Practice sitting calmly in a crate that is being moved around
  • Go to a bustling location for desensitization
  • Have strangers handle them
  • Teach your dog to Pee on command and on unusual surface

To get more ideas to help prevent your dog from whining or barking on the plane, read these 10 tips (+1 bonus)

Practice getting your dog comfortable so they stay calm while flying

How big can a dog be to fly in a cabin?

The general idea for dogs flying in the cabin is that the carrier can fit under the seat in front of the owner.

The most common weight limit is 8kg (18 lbs) including pet and carrier. 

For US commercial airlines, Spirit Airlines allows the heaviest dog at 18.14 kg (40lbs)

Some airlines like Southwest don’t have a weight limit but have a carrier size limit of 18.5” long x 8.5” high x 13.5” wide.

Small dogs can fly in the cabin. Big dogs don't fit in the cabin when flying

Can I take my 50lb dog on a plane?

Yes, with limits. Dogs this size typically fly either as excess baggage or in cargo. Not all airlines provide this service.

Can I buy a seat for my large dog on an airplane?

Not on any of the major commercial airlines in the US.  There are private charter flights and specialty airlines such as JSX Airlines that will allow larger dogs in the cabin. However, with limited routes and high costs, these types of options are out of reach for most travelers.

✈️ Use my referral code when you make a JSX account to get $20 off your first flight – VAK10E

What if the airline loses my dog? 

Pets getting lost is rare. However, you can reduce your chances of having difficulties by doing the following:

  • Book a direct flight if possible. If not, balance the layover time so there is enough time for your dog to change planes.  Or consider splitting your journey into multiple legs
  • Arrive at the airport early to check your pet in
  • Attach an airtag to your dog’s crate
  • Add your contact information directly to your dog’s crate
  • Tell your flight attendant you have a dog in excess baggage. Ask them to inform you when your dog has boarded

Tips for keeping the dog calm on the plane

Your dog’s chances of staying calm will significantly increase with practice and training.  Crate train your dog. Expose them to crowded, loud busy environments. There is debate about providing calming medications for your pet, so talk to your vet about options.  

Read more about 2 strategies you can do around the home to help your dog get ready for the crate and flight

Flying with a large dog – the wrap-up

Okay! That can be a lot to digest. We hope this was helpful for you as you are planning your next trip. It can be a little intimidating to track down each piece that you need to make your trip a success, especially for the first flight with a big dog. It can be so worth it to have your dog join you. Life isn’t quite the same without them along for the adventure! We would love to hear more about how things are going for you.

If you would like to share your story about flying internationally with a large dog or if you are traveling and would like to learn more you can start at our Countries page. As people add their reviews, there will be many helpful details about the places you are flying to.

We wish you the best on your journey!

Banner encouraging people to tell their story. Two dogs in the photo

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