11 Lessons Learned While Flying With My Dog In-Cabin

Have you ever flown with a dog?

Last week, I packed my bags and flew from Charlotte, North Carolina to El Paso, Texas. I had to take two planes with a total travel time of six hours. Oh, yeah, did I mention that I took my Chihuahua, Diego with me? It had been years since I flew with my little man (this was his second time on an airplane) so I was a bit nervous how he was going to handle the whole ordeal. While he cried in his bag before we boarded the first plane, once I sat down and placed his carrier under the seat in front of me, he immediately calmed down. Actually, he slept through most of the flights.

Here are some things I learned from flying with my dog:

1) Reserve a Spot On The Plane For Your Pooch

When booking your plane tickets, you will need to call the airline and reserve a spot for your pooch. I flew with Delta and they only allow two dogs in the main cabin per flight. You don’t want to book your tickets, arrive at the airport with your dog, and then find out there’s no room for your pup!

2) Get Your Dog Used To The Pet Carrier Before Your Flight

Since I arrived at the airport two hours before my flight, and my travel time was about six hours long, Diego was stuck in his pet carrier for about 8 hours. I did take him out for a few minutes to stretch his legs between flights (which I’ll talk about in a minute), but that’s a very long time for a dog to be stuck in a little bag. So about a week or two before your flight, introduce your pooch to the pet carrier so he gets used to it. I wrote an entire article highlighting 5 Simple Steps To Introduce Your Dog to a Pet Carrier that can help with this process!

3) You Can’t Check Into Your Flight 24-Hours In Advance On Your Phone

Whenever I fly, I like to check in 24-hours in advance on my phone. At that time, I get my mobile boarding passes and upload them to Apple’s Wallet app. I do this to avoid the long check-in line at the airport and cut straight to the security line. Well, last week when I tried checking into my flight via my phone, Delta wouldn’t let me. Since I had to pay for Diego right before my flight, they made me check in at the kiosk once I arrived at the airport.

4) Expect To Pay Extra

I paid $125 for Diego to fly with me in the main cabin. I purchased a one-way ticket, so I only had this fee once. But if you are traveling round trip then you can expect to pay a fee twice. Please note: this fee does not apply if you are traveling with an emotional support or service dog.

5) Get a Health Certificate From Your Vet

Not every airline requires this, but it’s still a good idea to have one. I paid $55 for mine. It’s basically just a piece of paper that says your dog’s vaccines are up-to-date. Your vet will sign it and the certificate is good for one week.

Confession: While I was told that I had to have a health certificate both times I flew with Diego, no one asked to see it either time. On one hand, I felt like I burned money because the certificate was never even seen. On the other hand, the certificate gave me some peace of mind, because if anyone had asked for proof of vaccines, I had it!

6) Your Dog’s Carrier Counts as One Of Your Carry-On Bags

I’m not sure if every airline is the same, but anytime I’ve ever flown, I was allowed to take two carry-on items — one larger bag that is stored in the overhead bin and a purse that stays on the floor under the seat in front of me. When you travel with a dog in the main cabin, though, their pet carrier replaces one of your carry-on items.

The carrier must be placed under the seat in front of you. That means, your other carry-on (whether it’s a purse or larger bag) must be stored in the overhead bin. I think this is an important thing to mention because I typically keep my laptop in my purse and then during the flight I whip it out and get some work done. This time around, though, my laptop wasn’t easily accessible. Since it’s a major pain opening up the overhead bins mid-flight, I decided to rest rather than work.

The lesson here – if you have something important that you will need during your flight, try to tuck it into your pet carrier’s side pocket.


7) Make Sure Your Pet Carrier Will Fit Under The Seat

Speaking of your pet’s carrier … 

Your dog should be able to stand and move around comfortably in his carrier. Additionally, it needs to fit under the seat in front of you. I flew with Delta and they require:

“The maximum dimensions for hard-sided kennels are 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high (44 cm x 30 cm x 19 cm). The recommended maximum dimensions for soft-sided kennels are 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high (46 cm x 28 cm x 28 cm).”

While my carrier did meet their requirements, it still wouldn’t go all the way under the seat (which you can see in the photo above). Luckily, I had a nice flight staff and they didn’t give me a hard time!  They said it would be fine.  A quick tip, though, double check with your airline to see what their requirements are. 

8) The Cabin Floor Can Get Really Hot or Really Cold During The Flight

The first time I flew with Diego, I was told that the cabin floor can get really cold. To keep him warm during the flight, I dressed him in a rather thick sweater. Well, my flight didn’t seem to have the floor blowers on so Diego got very hot. This time around, I just kept a thin blanket on the bottom of the carrier. That way he wasn’t overwhelmed but still had some warmth if he needed it.

Whatever you wind up doing, check on your pooch throughout the flight to make sure his carrier is a comfortable temperature.

9) Some People Don’t Want To Sit Next To Your Dog

So, as a common courtesy, I let my neighboring passengers know that I was traveling with a dog. I was checking to make sure no one had pet allergies. While most people were actually excited to see my little Diego on the plane, there was one lady on my second flight who made a big stink out of it! She immediately flagged down the flight attendant and demanded that she be moved because she didn’t want to sit next to “that thing.” THAT THING? Are you seriously talking about my canine kid that way?!?!?!?!?! Oh, she really made my blood boil. I’m always suspicious of people who don’t like dogs.

Okay … end of non-dog-people rant. 

The point here is, you may want to check with your neighbors to make sure no one is allergic.

10) Your Pooch May Not Get a Chance To Go To The Bathroom

While I haven’t seen one yet, some airports actually have a potty station for pups. I personally brought pee-pee pads with me, went into the bathroom stall, and offered Diego a chance to empty his bladder. Since he isn’t pee-pee pad trained, he just looked at me like, “What do you expect me to do with this thing?!”

Since your dog may not have the opportunity to relieve himself, keep pre-flight food and water to a minimum.

11) Let Your Dog Stretch His Legs

When I checked in for my flight, I was told that Diego had to stay in his bag the entire time. Let’s get real, though. I’m not going to keep my little man crammed in a bag for hours on end. Find yourself a quiet corner of the airport or go into a bathroom stall and let your pup stretch his legs. 

Safe travels!