Dog Jaunt's new pet travel book is now out! Buy it, or learn more about it here. And please review it on Amazon!

Good news for travelers with in-cabin pets: Changes in U.S. airlines’ carry-on policies regarding your pet’s carrier

I’ve updated this post (which originally went up on 7/30/12) with a chart. I think it’s easier to follow than the list approach I started with. Please note that the airline name is also a link to that airline’s pet policy page, so you can easily refer to the airline’s own site.

When I began flying with Chloe, nearly four years ago, U.S. airlines that allowed pets in-cabin stipulated that your pet’s carrier took the place of your carry-on bag, leaving you with only a “small personal item” to pack with the items you’d need during flight, or couldn’t bear to entrust to the baggage handling system. I’ve posted several work-arounds, including a couple of pocket-packed travel vests (solving the problem of not being able to get to your small personal item, stowed above you, during turbulent flights) and, as recently as last Friday, a wheeled carry-on that can be passed off as a small personal item (solving the problem of travelers who want to roll, not carry, their larger small pets). [Please take a look, too, at a reader’s report about using a pet stroller at the airport to solve the same problem.]

So when reader Gery asked for clarification on last Friday’s post (“Interesting — so are you saying that the dog carrier replaces your carry-on bag instead of your ‘personal item’?”), I confidently assured him that that was indeed what I was saying, and attached a couple of examples from actual airline policy language — except that after I’d found my first example, from Delta: “Your pet in-cabin counts as one piece of carry-on baggage” (and even that language is a little ambiguous), I found two examples, Southwest and American, with new language saying that a pet carrier takes the place of either your carry-on or your personal item!

I’ve now gone through my list of the major U.S. airlines, and made a table of the results. I updated it most recently on 7/19/16. Before you travel, you might want to print out the relevant page from your airline’s site, in case you meet some resistance from a ticketing or gate agent.

AirlineCarry-on policyTotal items allowed
Alaska"When traveling with your pet in the cabin, the pet carrier counts toward your carry-on bag allotment. You may bring either a pet carrier and a personal item, or a pet carrier and a standard size carry-on bag. You may not board the aircraft with a pet carrier, a standard size carry-on, and a personal item."Pet carrier + carry-on OR pet carrier + personal item
Allegiant"Passengers with a pet carrier may bring one personal item, not exceed exterior dimensions of 7 in. x 15 in. x 16 in. (17.8 cm x 38.1 cm x 40.6 cm), which may be stored in the overhead bin space free of charge. Passengers with a pet carrier who also bring a carry-on bag, not to exceed exterior dimensions of 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in. (22.9 cm x 35.6 cm x 55.9 cm) will be charged accordingly for a carry-on bag." [Section 47]Pet carrier + personal item (size specified)
American"[Y]ou can bring one pet kennel as your carry-on bag"Pet carrier + personal item
Delta"Your pet counts as one piece of carry-on baggage."Unclear
Frontier"Due to limited space in our cabin, if you want to bring on a pet container it will count as either your carry-on bag or personal item. If the pet is taken in place of your personal item, a carry-on bag charge may apply (if you have an additional carry-on bag)."Pet carrier + personal item OR pet carrier + carry-on
JetBlue"Your pet and carrier count as one carry-on bag onboard."Pet carrier + personal item
Southwest"Pet carriers are considered either a personal item or a carryon item. A Customer may board the aircraft with either a pet carrier and a personal item or a pet carrier and a regular size carryon bag. A Customer may not board the aircraft with a pet carrier, a regular size carryon bag, and a personal item."Pet carrier + carry-on OR pet carrier + personal item
SpiritNot statedUnclear
Sun Country"Your pet in its carrier is considered a carry-on item and must be included in your regular carry-on allotment."Pet carrier + personal item
United"An in-cabin pet may be carried in addition to a carry-on bag...."Pet carrier + carry-on
Virgin America"[C]arry-on pets count towards a guest's carry-on baggage allowance."Unclear

I fly on Southwest, United, JetBlue and Virgin America, so on most of my future trips (Virgin America is a mystery, and until they clarify their language, I’ll assume the worst), I’ll hook Chloe’s carrier over my own wheeled carry-on’s extended handle and roll her around the airport. I’ll still wear my Travel Vest of Many Pockets, however, since my carry-on will be in the overhead bin, where my small personal item used to be.

My heartfelt thanks to reader Gery for giving me the impetus to look more closely at language I’d learned to take for granted. Dog Jaunt’s readers make it a better blog, and that is a fact. I will also review the major international airlines’ pet policies, and later this week I’ll write a separate post about what I learn.

23 comments

  • Jessica Sala

    AWESOME followup! I’ll be saving this as a guide for future travel and to share with my pet friends!

  • EcoDog

    What happens in a case where you have to pay for a carry-on bag? I am flying on Allegiant in two weeks with my dog. I paid $100 each way for her plus I paid $25 each way for a carry-on bag. Allegiant allows each passenger to have a personal item that fits under the seat and one carry-on bag (which you pay for). Their policy states, “A kennel or carrier is included in the carry-on baggage limitations.” Does this mean they aren’t going to let me bring my purse on board with the dog kennel and carry-on bag?

  • Well, EcoDog, that’s a good question. Allegiant’s language is a little bit ambiguous, so maybe you can argue that your pet’s carrier takes the place of your personal item, not your carry-on. I don’t fly on Allegiant, so I don’t have personal experience to share with you (I generally assume the worst, i.e., that I have to check my bag as well as Chloe’s, so even if I did fly on Allegiant, I wouldn’t have tested the system). Please let us know what you find out!

  • Hannah

    I have a flight booked for me and my dog from Asia to the US on Delta. When I booked, the representative (a frequent flier on Delta with his mini Schnauzer) said that I would be allowed to take my dog in the carrier IN ADDITION to my personal item and carry-on. He said that since I’m paying $200 for my dog to fly, it doesn’t take the place of my other carry-on and baggage allowances. I plan to call them back in a few days to see what another person says (you know how they have different info depending on whom you talk to!). What are your thoughts?

  • Bentree's Momma

    Hello, because of your hard work and willingness to share your info I found that Alaska Airlines allows in-cabin pets(1 in business, 1 in economy) on flights to Honolulu!!! I was so stressed! We are relocating to the island of Guam, which like Hawaii, is rabies free and has strict quarantine rules. That was the easy part. Though my dog has traveled once on United’s (formerly Continental’s) Petsafe program, I couldn’t get a straight answer in the several calls I made to United, which made me more anxious. Plus, that was a short 3 hour flight. I was really trying to avoid having my dog go through cargo again, on a trans-Pacific flight. Because I thought all airlines did not allow in-cabin pets to Honolulu, I thought about transiting in Narita, but I couldn’t get a reassuring answer from Delta nor United as to if he could go in-cabin all the way, or if at all. Or what the procedure was if I had to switch from in-cabin to cargo in Narita. (Starting from Los Angeles) Every representative gave me a different answer and I never heard from the Japan quarantine office in Narita. Soooooo… after a sleepless night, I found your blog post regarding Alaska’s new policy. AND.. the fare and pet fee were so inexpensive! Though I still will need to send my dog by cargo to our final destination, having him in-cabin for the first leg was a compromise that put me a little at ease. We will spend a little less than 24 hours in Honolulu, so I haven’t decided yet if I will take him out of the quarantine office or just have him stay at the Humane Society’s Animalport which takes care of pets in transit. I believe I might save some money by paying their fee vs. paying the direct release fee of $165. Either way, at least my dog has a break in between the two long legs of our journey.
    Why am I commenting here? to update Alaska Airline’s policy on carry on baggage and pet carriers. Here’s what’s on their website as of today:

    “When traveling with your pet in the cabin, the pet carrier counts toward your carry-on bag allotment. You may bring either a pet carrier and a personal item, or a pet carrier and a standard size carry-on bag. You may not board the aircraft with a pet carrier, a standard size carry-on, and a personal item.”

    I think that’s pretty nice of them!

  • I’m so pleased to have been helpful! And thank you for the further details and thoughts — may I put the first part of your comment as a comment on the Hawaii post also? And thank you, too, for the carry-on policy update — I appreciate it (and LOVE it when airlines are so clear about what’s allowed!).

  • EcoDog

    Just a follow up from my previous post about flying Allegiant last November. I carried on the pet carrier ($100 each way), my rolling suitcase (which I paid $25 for each way), and my husband claimed my purse as his personal item.

  • Hannah, thanks so much for your comment (which I totally lost track of until TODAY). As you can see from the updated chart, the situation on Delta is really unclear, so it’s helpful to hear what a Delta employee says. In my experience, the answer may vary from one employee to another, but the fact that he has a dog of his own is likely to have made him a little more attentive to the issue than most!

  • Hannah

    Hi Mary-Alice! Our flight went really well, but I was pretty stressed in the days leading up to it.

    Here’s the full story:

    I called Delta back regarding my dog and carry-ons two days before my flight. The first person I talked to said that I could NOT take a carry-on suitcase (wheelie bag) and my dog- I could only take my dog and a “personal item.” This, of course, made me freak out since I needed to transport thousands of dollars of camera equipment and electronics in my wheelie bag. I’m one for calling airlines twice in a row since their reps usually give different info, and I’m glad I called back on this one. The second time I got a more experienced and helpful rep who actually double-checked in a rule book about the issue (the first rep “asked [her] supervisor,” and still came up with WRONG information). The second rep said that I could take my dog and my wheelie bag, since I would be putting the dog under the seat and the wheelie bag in the overhead compartment. That made me feel much better.

    My experience in airports has taught me that no one actually polices carry-ons. (Do they? They have those FAA announcements, but I’ve never seen or heard anyone getting in trouble for having too many). Since I had so many treats and things for Oliver, I decided just to risk it and carry my purse, along with the dog carrier and my wheelie bag. If someone said something, I’d just play dumb. I tried to make it inconspicuous, and no one noticed for the whole journey. In fact, I saw a couple of other passengers with three bags/items. I had plenty of room under the seat for Oliver (we have a SleepyPod) and my purse (which is pretty soft, flat, and floppy- I wouldn’t recommend doing this with anything structured). He wasn’t cramped at all. I think we were on a Boeing 777, and it was worth it to pay a bit extra for Economy Comfort. On the second flight (only 30 minutes on a smaller plane), he still had enough room down there with my purse.

    Before the flight my I put together 40-50 ziplock bags with Hershey Kisses and a little note about Oliver to give to passengers in my section. Everyone loved it and was super friendly about his whining (they could barely hear him anyways). No one even minded when we had a little escape incident (I like the SleepyPod and Oliver LOVES it, but it is pretty easy for him to nose his way out if it’s open a crack or if my hand is in there). The flight attendants were happy to get chocolate, and they made sure I had plenty of wine in exchange! One flight attendant offered to give me newspaper so he could potty in the lavatory. The baggies really put passengers in a good mood at the beginning of the flight, and everyone started sharing stories about their dogs. One lady had two of her dogs flying in cargo on the flight, so it gave her a change to talk about them. I’d recommend this to anyone flying a long-haul. I didn’t give out the bags on the short flight (I was too mentally and physically exhausted to engage people) and everyone was quite crabby and grumbly about Oliver whining under my seat. I think it’s a great idea for short flights as well!

    Here’s the note I included:

    “Hi! My name is Oliver. I’m a little mutt from the streets of Korea. Then I was sick and lonely in doggie prison until some humans came and rescued me. My human mom is taking me to America where I can run and play in a yard with grass. I don’t really know what that is yet, but she says it’s fun. She’s doing everything she can to make me be quiet during this flight, but I’ve never flown before and I’m pretty scared. I’m sorry if I whine or bark. If I could get out of this carrier, I’d give you LOTS of kisses. Since I’m trapped, here are some chocolate kisses for you!
    Love,
    Oliver
    p.s. My human mom is named Hannah. She’s in seat 32D (to Detroit) or 6B (to Columbus) and has earplugs in case I bother you too much!”

  • Thank you so much, Hannah, for your report, and for letting me turn it into a blog post. Your idea of distributing treats and info to all the passengers around you is just so SMART.

  • Michele Bachi

    I just wanted to add to the comments on this post…I finally bought our tickets for LA on Tuesday, flying with United (after a horrible debacle with Spirit Airlines involving making and canceling a reservation within 6 hours after seeing their terrible reviews on Yelp…). Prior to buying with United, I called to make sure all in cabin spots hadn’t been taken on the flights I wanted. I also confirmed how Lilly will count toward the carry-on/personal item allowance. The agent said that since we had to pay for her reservation too, she doesn’t count toward what else we could bring on board, we each still get 1 free carry-on and 1 personal item. United has been 100% better customer service wise than Spirit, I hope that carries over to the flights themselves as well. The plane to LA is a 757-300, return trip is a 757-200.

  • Michele Bachi

    P.S. I also think it will help that between myself, Adam, and Seth, we will make up all three seats in our row for both flights.

  • MJ

    thanks for all the help and info – I am planning on taking Chloe to see my Mom at Thanksgiving – I just can’t believe the fees – let me get this straight – she will be under my seat – where my backpack or briefcase will be usually for FREE – but in this case will cost me $125 (American) each way… I get making a reservation – I had to listen to a woman complain on my last f light about a cat in the cabin as she was allergic…. but the fee is ridiculous – what do they do for that fee? I have to handle the pup – ensure I have the right carrier that fits, call for the reservation – just another rip off by the airlines….

  • All true, MJ — and yes, vexing. It’s a fragile privilege, traveling with an in-cabin pet — under attack by folks with allergy concerns and barking/disturbance concerns — so I comfort myself by regarding the fee as the bribe I pay the airline to keep making the option available. Because if it becomes UNavailable, I’m in a world of hurt….

  • Kilvania

    Thanks for the updated info! I am travelling internationally in a few days and I was confused with JetBlue’s policy. On one part of their site it states “FAA/TSA regulations allow each customer to take one (1) carry-on (garment bag, backpack, suitcase, pet carrier, etc.) and one (1) personal item (purse, briefcase, laptop, etc.) onboard the aircraft”(link http://help.jetblue.com/SRVS/CGI-BIN/webisapi.dll/,/?St=148,E=0000000000110884006,K=1875,Sxi=6,case=obj(633) ). If I am understanding this correctly, this statement is saying pet is your carry on + you can have a personal item. On another part of their site states “Your pet and carrier count as one personal item onboard” (link http://www.jetblue.com/travel/pets/ ). In this statement, I believe they say pet is your personal item + you can bring a carry on bag. Passengers are allowed one carry on & one personal item. You can see why the confusion. I was about to call them but first decided to do my research online & came upon your article. I will print the page from their site that states the pet carrier is the personal item just to be on he safe side. Thanks again!

  • Molly

    I had a terrible time on Allegiant. Lady who was stewerdess yelled at me the entire time. on the way home, my dog had a seizer, I went to save him and got a aviation warning. Game the stewerdes was playing a game over a dogs life. Just be cautious, I am in the process of obtaining the second ladies name, but for now, watch out for Jordan, she is an animal hater! Dark hair with fake hair pony tail. Questions call, I made this really short. Other dog owners on the airplane were crying she was so mean, and the others were supporting me stating wow, she is taking this really far. Just be cautious please! I have flown Allegiant so much and really enjoyed, BUT taking animals is risky and might kill them due to the attendents behavior!

  • Stephanie

    have you posted a picture of what it looks likes with Chole’s carrier on your roller carry on? I just bought the sturdibag and I’m so excited:)

  • I have not, Stephanie! I have one of my husband rolling Chloe behind him in her Sleepypod Air, on top of his carry-on, but that’s just not the same. I’ll take one the next time we fly!

  • Sally

    https://www.allegiantair.com/contract-carriage This link is Allegiant’s Contract of Carriage. Section 47. Animals, should answer any questions about combining a pet carrier, a personal item and a carry-on.
    47. Animals
    The Carrier will transport live animals only in the passenger cabin on flights within the contiguous 48 United States and will not transport animals as checked baggage. Live animals that can be carried on board include domestic dogs and cats only, and must be transported in a hard-sided or soft-sided, leak-proof carrier that can fit under a seat. All pet carriers may not exceed external dimensions of nine inches by sixteen inches by nineteen inches (9 in. X 16 in. x 19 in.). The CSA/GOA will determine if there is adequate room in the carrier for any pet(s). There is a one–hundred dollar ($100.00) fee for each one–way flight for a kennel or carrier treated as carry-on baggage as described above. Customers with pets may not occupy an exit row or one row forward or aft of an exit row, or in the bulkhead rows. There may be 2 pet carriers per row (1 on each side) maximum. Carriers may NOT be strapped into the customer seat. Pets must remain in carrier at all times. Passengers with a pet carrier may bring one personal item, not exceed exterior dimensions of 7 in. x 15 in. x 16 in. (17.8 cm x 38.1 cm x 40.6 cm), which may be stored in the overhead bin space free of charge. Passengers with a pet carrier who also bring a carry-on bag, not to exceed exterior dimensions of 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in. (22.9 cm x 35.6 cm x 55.9 cm) will be charged accordingly for a carry-on bag.

  • Sally

    Also, Allegiant’s website now states that pet carriers are not included in the carry-on bag limitations, so one should be able to carry on a pet carrier, a personal item, and a carry-on piece.

    https://www.allegiantair.com/traveling-with-pets
    Traveling with Pets

    What is Allegiant’s Pet in Cabin Policy?

    Allegiant accepts live animals/pets in the passenger cabin of the aircraft on flights within the contiguous 48 United States. Here are a few things you must know before flying with your pet in cabin:

    Only domestic cats and dogs are permitted.
    Pets must be transported in a soft-sided leak-proof carrier that fits under the seat.
    – The carrier may be no larger than 9 in. x 16 in. x 19 in.
    – No more than two pets per carrier are permitted.
    – Pets need to be able to stand and turn inside the carrier.
    – A pet carrier is not included in the carry-on baggage limitations.

  • Thank you so much, Sally, for these two comments. To me, it’s just not clear WHAT the phrase “a pet carrier is not included in the carry-on baggage limitations” means. The Contract of Carriage language you quoted is so very precise that I’m sticking with it. Allegiant! Always a mystery!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *