How To Ship Your Dog By Air

We’ve all heard that moving is one of life’s most stressful events.  And if you have to transport your beloved family dog separately, that can bring on it’s own avalanche of worry and anxiety.  Special care is required when transporting your furry friend to a new home across the country, or to another country entirely.  Helping Fido get from point A to point B smoothly can only be achieved by making the right decisions when arranging for proper pet transport.

Is Your Dog on the No Fly List?

Boston Terrier, a member of the no fly list

Most airlines no longer transport breeds and mixes of brachycephalic (short- or snub-nosed) dogs due to risks associated with their respiratory issues.  These include breeds like Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers, and Boxers. They also will not transport “strong-jawed” breeds and mixes, and breeds that are historically aggressive for safety reasons.  These breeds include all Mastiffs, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and American Pit Bull Terriers. If you have a breed or mix that you suspect falls into one of these categories, start by checking to see if your dog can fly on ANY airline before you go to the trouble of further investigation.

Kennel Guidelines

Make sure your kennel meets airline regulations.  All airlines follow USDA and International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines.  Having said that, when you show up to check your dog in, the airline makes the final decision on whether or not your dog’s crate is acceptable and is cleared to fly.  Just because a retailer claims that their crate is “airline approved” does not make it so. It’s up to you to make sure it complies with IATA and airline standards. Some airlines, like United, partner with crate companies to assure compliance.  United’s pet transport group, PetSafe, partners with Petmate. You can find a link to an assortment of Petmate SkyKennels on their website.

Check restrictions with the specific airline you think your going to try to fly with before booking your dog’s flight.  Delta no longer accepts crates larger than the 300 series, or crates more than 24 inches tall. This excludes all Large, X-Large, and Giant Breed crates.  United, however, accepts crates up through the 500 series, which includes crates up to 30 inches tall. Your dog’s size may prevent you from booking with specific airlines.

Once you know your dog’s crate fits within airline guidelines, make sure the crate fits your dog properly.  Kennels should be large enough for your dog to stand and sit upright, turn around, and lie down in a natural position.  If your dog can’t turn around in the kennel, the airline will not let him fly. For some airlines, if your dog’s head (including his ears) touches the top of the kennel while sitting or standing, a larger kennel will be required.

Demonstrating how a dog should fit in a crate

The following video from United Airlines clearly demonstrates how to select the proper crate:

Kennels must be rigid and held together with nut and bolt style assemblies.  Soft, collapsible, or wire kennels will not be accepted. Doors and latches must be made of metal, not plastic.  The kennel cannot have more than one door, and it must be ventilated on at least three sides.

You need to have two empty dishes (one for food, one for water) securely fastened to the inside of the kennel, yet accessible from the outside without opening the door.  You will also need to secure a small bag of food to the top of the kennel with feeding instructions. If you do not want your dog fed or watered during the duration of the travel day, you must have documentation from a licensed veterinarian confirming their approval and attach this to the top of the crate.

The kennel must contain absorbent bedding material, such as towels, blankets, or shredded black and white newspaper.

Your dog’s crate should be labeled with ‘LIVE ANIMAL’ on the top and at least one side, and letters should be at least 1 inch tall.  You will also need arrows or the words ‘THIS END UP’ on both sides of the crate.

All airlines suggest that you acclimate your dog to the crate before travel:

Document Requirements

Health Certificates

Health Certificates must be issued by a licensed veterinarian within 10 days of transport.  (This is not something you can do a month in advance.)  Some airlines require one copy, and some require two. Make sure to bring copies of vaccine records, including rabies.  Some airlines will also require a photo of your dog, as well as a photo of his crate.


Some airlines prohibit sedation or tranquilization of household pets entirely, due to respiratory and cardiovascular problems caused by altitude pressures.  If sedation is allowed by your airline and you choose to sedate your dog, you will need to provide the airline with the name of the medication, the dosage given, and the date and time that the drug was administered.  This information should also be taped to the top of your dog’s kennel.


Hawaii maintains a rabies-free status, and Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture has strict regulations to prevent the spread of diseases.  Visit their website to make sure you are meeting all requirements, some of which have a 30 day waiting period, or you risk your dog being quarantined for up to 120 days upon arrival in Hawaii.


For dogs being transported internationally, visit the USDA-APHIS Pet Travel site for your destination country’s travel requirements.  These requirements can include vaccinations, testing, and arranging for import permits that can take weeks or months to complete prior to travel.  If you don’t comply fully with your destination country’s requirements, you risk your dog being refused transport, quarantined, or returned to the U.S. at your expense.

Also, some airlines will only accept international bookings from professional pet shippers who are members of IPATA, the International Pet and Animal Transport Association.  If your airline requires this, visit the IPATA website to find a shipper.  

Temperature Policy

For your dog’s safety, airlines will not ship pets during extreme weather.  For Delta, if the ground temperature falls outside of the range of 20-80 degrees Fahrenheit at any point in the routing, your dog will be grounded.  For American Airlines, the range is 20-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, this includes ground temperatures for origin, connecting, and destination cities.  The catch for American Airlines is that if ground temperatures are between 20-44 degrees Fahrenheit, the airline requires a “Letter of Acclimation” signed and dated by a licensed veterinarian stating the exact lowest temperature between 20 and 44 degrees that your dog may be exposed to.

The airlines take their temperature policy serious, and if there is a change in temperature that is outside their acceptable range, they may contact you to come pick up your dog.  If temperatures become unsafe at connection points during travel, the airline may take your dog to a local kenneling facility until the temperatures return to a safe range.

Hiring a Pet Relocation Service

Obviously, there is a lot to know before you ship your dog on an airline.  If just thinking about trying to cover all the bases is making your head spin, there are many companies that take the guess-work out of making it happen, like Happy Tails Travel, Inc.  Happy Tails Travel, Inc. is reviewed as one of the top pet transport services and has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. They can provide a free estimate for their services, and they are also an IPATA member and can ship pets internationally.  

To make sure you don’t fall prey to an online scam, verify that the pet transport service you’re thinking of choosing is registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  It is also beneficial if the company is registered with IPATA, the industry’s leading professional organization. The ultimate goal is to find a service that offers proper care and reliability to make your dog’s journey as comfortable and seamless as possible.

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