The Best Airline-approved Pet Carriers for Traveling With Your Furry Friend
Traveling with pets requires a decent amount of preparation. From making sure they're up-to-date on vaccines to gathering all of the required paperwork, it can be a bit of an ordeal. One thing you won't want to skip, though, is choosing the right carrier. And if you plan on bringing your pet in the cabin of the plane with you, you'll need an airline-approved pet carrier that'll keep your furry companion safe and comfortable the entire flight.
It's important to note that there are no universal guidelines for what makes a pet carrier airline-approved — many of the rules are airline-specific, so start by checking your preferred airlines' policies. Regarding the comfort and safety of your pet, we spoke with a couple veterinarians to find out what factors to consider when choosing a carrier for travel (read more of their advice below).
Our best overall pick is the Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe Airline-Approved Pet Carrier. It's easy to carry, comfy for your pet, and abides by most airlines' rules. But if the Sherpa doesn't quite do it for you, take a look at our list of carriers big and small.
- Best Overall: Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe Airline-Approved Pet Carrier on Amazon
- Best Expandable Option: Mr. Peanut's Expandable Airline-Approved Pet Carrier at Amazon
- Best With Wheels: Snoozer Roll Around 4-in-1 Pet Carrier at Amazon
- Best for Anxious Pets: Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier at Amazon
- Best for Cargo: Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier at Amazon
- Most Stylish: Wild One Travel Carrier at Wayfair
- Best Backpack: PetAmi Deluxe Pet Carrier Backpack at Amazon
- Best With Accessories: Morpilot Pet Travel Carrier Bag at Amazon
- Best Splurge: Away The Pet Carrier at Away Travel
T+L Top Picks
Best Overall: Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe Airline-Approved Pet Carrier
Best Expandable Option: Mr. Peanut's Expandable Airline-Approved Pet Carrier
Best With Wheels: Snoozer Roll Around 4-in-1 Pet Carrier
Best Light-blocking: Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier
Best for Cargo: Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier
Most Stylish: Wild One Travel Carrier
Best Backpack: PetAmi Deluxe Pet Carrier Backpack
Best With Accessories: Morpilot Pet Travel Carrier Bag
Best Splurge: Away The Pet Carrier
Tips for Buying a Pet Carrier
Start by Choosing the Best Size for Your Pet
Your main objective is to find the perfect carrier that is large enough to give your pet room, yet small enough to meet airline requirements and fit in your plane, bus, or train's storage areas. "[You need] to make sure your pet is not squashed," Dr. Hohenhaus says. "The carrier should be big enough to let your pet move around a bit — but isn't so big you can't carry it. It's good to have a carrier big enough for a mat, blanket, or something comfy to fit in as well."
It's worth keeping in mind that airlines limit pet carry-ons to 17.5 x 12 x 7.5 inches. If you're planning to check your pet carrier as cargo, the carrier must be compliant with International Air Transport Association regulations and meet a host of other requirements.
Choose a Carrier That Works for Your Mode of Transportation
In addition to the requirements above, most airlines also require pet carriers to fit comfortably under plane seats. That said, we suggest a soft side carrier if you plan to keep your pet in the cabin with you — it's much easier to fold and bend a soft carrier down to fit under a seat than it is with a hard side carrier. Taking your pet on a train? Amtrak requires pet carriers to be under 20 pounds and dimensions of 19 inches long by 14 inches wide by 10.5 inches high. Keep in mind carriers must also be stowed under the seats for train travel.
Check Airline and FAA Requirements Ahead of Travel
Because certain airlines don't allow pets to travel in the cabin with their owners at all, the FAA suggests calling the airline you're traveling with prior to your trip. The FAA and most airlines require pet carriers to be stowed securely through the duration of the trip and for pets to fit comfortably in their carrier (they can turn around and stand without touching the sides or top of the carrier).
Look for Features Specific to You, Your Pet, and Your Trip
While there are exceptions, soft side carriers tend to work best for plane and train travel, especially if you plan on keeping your pet in the cabin with you. Soft carriers are easier to fit under seats and keep properly stowed, and they generally take up less space. If you'll be checking your pet carrier as cargo, make sure to have a hard carrier and follow these guidelines.
When it comes to carrier doors and openings, Dr. Hohenhaus recommends going for convenience rather than style. "I like carriers that open on the top," she says. "The opening is bigger than those with a front door, and I can examine… the pet in the carrier through the open top door." She adds that, when it comes down to it, it's totally up to the owner and the pet.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can a pet stay in a carrier?
According to Dr. Meg Summers of Heart of Chelsea Veterinary Group in New York City, the amount of time pets can stay in carriers depends on their age. "Ideally, any pet six months and older should be in a carrier or crate for no longer than eight to nine hours at a time," she says. "If the pet is under six months, it's recommended [they stay in their carrier] no longer than four to five hours."
How can I make my pet comfortable and at ease in a carrier?
An easy way to keep pets happy in their carriers is to drop in a few treats and toys. It's also wise to spend a few weeks getting your pet used to their carrier before you travel. "Leave the pet carrier out in your home or apartment with the door open and make sure there is a comfy blanket inside," Dr. Hohenhaus says. "Every day put a few treats in there and it will be much easier to load your pet in the carrier."
What should I put in a carrier?
As mentioned above, you can't go wrong with small treats and toys. Consider also throwing in a blanket your pet is familiar with, a shirt that carries your scent, and extra padding if the bottom of the carrier is thin or hard. As far as bowls of food and water go, Dr. Summers suggests keeping those out of the carrier. "There already is not a lot of space, and often, it can create more of a mess inside the carrier that the pet has to be in," she says. "If [water] is in the form of a water bottle, like for a hamster, and the pet is acclimated to using it, that is okay, but typically I find it is best to just let them drink a little right before the flight, then offer them food and water as soon as the flight is over."
Why Trust Travel + Leisure
Travel + Leisure writers are shopping, fashion, and product experts who use personal experience and customer recommendations to choose the best items for shoppers. For this article, Amina Lake Abdelrahman and Hillary Maglin researched dozens of pet carriers, interviewed veterinarians, and used their expertise as travel writers to curate the perfect list of carriers for your pet.
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