The Best Airline-approved Pet Carriers for Traveling With Your Furry Friend

Including top-rated carriers from brands like Sleepypod and Sherpa.

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airplane-approved pet carrier

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.

T+L Top Picks

Best Overall: Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe Airline-Approved Pet Carrier

pet carriers
Courtesy of Amazon

Why We Love It: It features mesh paneling on four of the six sides, so you'll always have a good view of your pet.

What to Consider: It's not ideal for taller pets.

Sherpa's airline-approved pet carriers are the most popular ones on the market — even Delta and American Airlines collaborated with the brand for official bags. The pet carrier has plenty of helpful features, like mesh ventilation panels, a removable and machine-washable liner, and a spring wireframe that can compress to fit under airplane seats. There are even multiple ways to carry it: with the shoulder strap, carrying handles, or attached to your luggage. It comes in three different sizes, so don't forget to measure your pet before ordering.

Dimensions: 3 size options | Weight: 2.62 to 4.9 pounds

Best Expandable Option: Mr. Peanut's Expandable Airline-Approved Pet Carrier

pet carriers
Courtesy of Amazon

Why We Love It: It can expand and contract, making it ideal for longer trips where your pet's need for space may change throughout the day.

What to Consider: While it's airline-approved, it's on the larger side — so don't plan on fully stowing it under your seat.

The best part about expandable pet carriers is that they give your cat or dog the opportunity to have more space, which is especially helpful when there are layovers or delays. There are two ways for your pet to enter the carrier (through the top or side), and the fabric on top acts as a privacy screen but rolls up to reveal another mesh window. It also features a luggage strap to make travel even easier. Plus, Mr. Peanut's is a family-owned business that gives back a portion of its sales to animal welfare organizations.

Dimensions: 18 x 11 x 10.4 inches (when not expanded) | Weight: 2.7 pounds

Best With Wheels: Snoozer Roll Around 4-in-1 Pet Carrier

pet carriers
Courtesy of Amazon

Why We Love It: The versatile wheeled design makes the bag easy for you to carry and offers a smooth ride for your pet.

What to Consider: It's best for small pets.

This wheeled pet carrier from Snoozer is a great choice if you're worried about constantly carrying your pet around the airport (especially if they're on the heavier side). It has three mesh sides, a telescopic handle, and roomy side pockets for stashing treats, a leash, and other necessities. The rigid base can be removed once you get on the plane, which allows it to easily fit under seats. Even better, pets can look around through the top of the carrier while rolling through the airport. It's worth noting, though, that rolling carriers should be reserved for dogs. "Most cats hate rolling carriers, as they bump along cracks in the sidewalk," says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, Senior Veterinarian at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City. Dogs, on the other hand, are less bothered by the bumpy ride.

Dimensions: 3 options | Weight: 7 to 10 pounds

Related: The Best Duffel Bags for Travel

Best Light-blocking: Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier

pet carriers
Courtesy of Amazon

Why We Love It: It's extremely sturdy, making it more comfortable for both you and your pet.

What to Consider: It can be difficult to keep an eye on your pet, as there's only a small amount of mesh on the sides.

Thanks to a dark interior fabric and optional privacy shield, this carrier has a cave-like effect that blocks light and makes it easier for pets to sleep during travel. It boasts a padded shoulder strap, machine washable bedding, and a luggage grade nylon exterior. The carrier also compresses about six inches shorter to fit under airplane seats and folds up flat for storage. It's even certified by the Center for Pet Safety, so you can rest assured knowing your four-legged pal is safe and comfortable throughout your journey.

Dimensions: 22 x 10.5 x 10.5 inches | Weight: 4.5 pounds

Best for Cargo: Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier

pet carriers
Courtesy of Amazon

Why We Love It: It's incredibly sturdy and secure.

What to Consider: It's a bit heavy for its size.

This Petmate kennel is a great airline-approved carrier if you're shipping your pet in cargo instead of bringing them in the cabin with you. The hard-sided carrier is available in multiple sizes ranging from 21 inches to 48 inches in length, some of which have top handles for carrying and four-way locks that prevent the door from accidentally shifting open. All sizes come with "live animal" stickers, clip-on bowls, and ID tags to make traveling with your pet as safe as possible.

Dimensions: 6 options | Weight: 2.2 to 6.02 pounds

Most Stylish: Wild One Travel Carrier

pet carriers
Courtesy of Wild One

Why We Love It: It's so sleek, stylish, and lightweight, it could easily pass as an overnight bag.

What to Consider: It's best for small pets.

You've probably seen Wild One's trendy pet carrier all over Instagram. The brand is known for its stylish pet accessories, and this dog carrier is no exception. Designed to fit under standard airline seats, the low-profile bag can even convert into a canopy bed for your pet. The carrier also has a trolley sleeve so you can stow it on top of your suitcase, and the zippers have genius snap buttons for extra security, so no need to worry about your dog escaping. Bonus: The bag's shoulder strap doubles as a leash for those last-minute bathroom trips outside.

Dimensions: 18.5 x 13 x 9 inches | Weight: 0.785 pounds

Related: Travel Bags for Every Type of Trip, According to a T+L Editor

Best Backpack: PetAmi Deluxe Pet Carrier Backpack

pet carriers
Courtesy of Amazon

Why We Love It: Because it's a backpack, it's one of the easiest options to carry.

What to Consider: It's not ideal for taller pets.

If carrying your furry friend on your back through the airport sounds appealing, opt for this popular pet backpack from PetAmi. The carrier has three compartments to stash water bottles or treats, and the chest and waist straps provide additional support and stability. Thanks to a spacious interior and mesh paneling on the front and both sides, your pet will stay cool and comfortable in transit — not to mention, the mesh makes it easy for you to see them. The backpack comes in one size and is available in 12 different colors. Dr. Hohenhaus does note this type of carrier should only be used for smaller pets. "[This] backpack is good if your pet likes it and you can carry it," she says. "If you need something bigger than you can carry, you should consider a stroller, wagon, or rolling carrier."

Dimensions: 16.3 x 12.5 x 10.2 inches | Weight: 3.88 pounds

Best With Accessories: Morpilot Pet Travel Carrier Bag

pet carriers
Courtesy of Amazon

Why We Love It: It's both reasonably priced and packed with convenient extras for your pet.

What to Consider: It's on the larger side — so don't plan on fully stowing it under your seat.

The Morpilot pet carrier comes with extra accessories that make it well worth the buy. There's a collapsible bowl included to give your pet food and water while on the go, as well as a machine-washable bed that's comfy enough to use at home. The carrier has mesh ventilation on four sides and a front window so curious animals can see what's happening in their surroundings. And if you travel with your pet by car, you'll appreciate the seat belt loops that keep the carrier in place.

Dimensions: 3 options | Weight: 3 to 3.75 pounds

Best Splurge: Away The Pet Carrier

pet carriers
Courtesy of Away

Why We Love It: It's sturdy, sleek, and easy to clean.

What to Consider: You'll likely have to squish it down a bit to fit it under an airplane seat.

Away's airline-approved pet carrier is the one of the most expensive options on our list, but it's worth the splurge if you're already obsessed with the brand's luggage. The carrier is designed to seamlessly attach to your Away suitcase, and it also has latches that fasten onto car seat belts for extra security in transit. Boasting mesh panels, removable plush bedding, and a retractable privacy screen, the roomy carrier will ensure your pet feels comfortable no matter where you're headed. The airline-approved carrier even has a water-resistant lining that makes cleaning up accidents a little easier. Plus, it's one of the few travel carriers certified by the Center for Pet Safety.

Dimensions: 18.7 x 10.75 x 10.8 inches | Weight: 4.3 pounds with shoulder strap, 3.9 pounds without

Related: The Best Carry-on Luggage, According to Travel Editors

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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