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Which seat works best with an in-cabin dog? [Southwest 737-700]

In an earlier post, I advised you to choose a middle seat, since they generally have the most room to stow a dog in a carrier. Not long afterwards, I encountered a middle seat under which I really couldn’t stow Chloe because a significant portion of the space was occupied by a box for electronics. Happily, this wasn’t a plane with one of those railings that cuts off a big chunk of the storage space under the aisle seat, so I stowed her under my husband’s feet.

It raised the point, though, that under-seat space varies by plane, and  therefore choosing a seat for your flight with an in-cabin pet is more complicated than I first thought. I’ve started making notes about which seats, on which planes, best accommodate a pet in a carrier. This post is the first in the series. Keep in mind that most domestic and international airlines have rules about the maximum size of in-cabin pet carriers they allow on board (see Dog Jaunt’s handy charts under the “Taking your pet on a plane” tab above).

Southwest 737 (-700 series)

Southwest has published its under-seat dimensions, and I applaud them for doing so, but I don’t think their measurements tell the whole story. We just traveled on a couple of Southwest 737 (-700 series) planes, and here’s what I learned.

The plane has only one class of seats, so no need to worry about the dimensions under first/business class seats versus coach seats. There’s only one bulkhead, in front of the first row. It has no cut-out in the bottom, so you won’t be able to travel there, nor will you be able to travel in the exit row seats.

The middle seat was the best choice for a pet carrier, being a full 19″ wide. The window seat was slightly narrower — just shy of 18″ wide. The aisle seat had a railing that made it very narrow indeed — between 14″-15″ wide. [9/7/10 We traveled today on a Southwest flight and I finally remembered to measure the under-seat height, which is 11 inches. Why Southwest tells you it’s 8.25 inches is a mystery to me.] [12/4/10 But see a reader’s comment, below, reporting that the under-seat height on his flight was, in fact, 8.25 inches. We’re scheduled to fly on five more Southwest flights in the coming month, so I’ll measure more under-seat spaces and report back.] As you can see from the crossed-out text, the under-seat height measurement wasn’t straightforward, but I think I have it sorted out now. Put briefly, a hard plastic life vest container reduces the under-seat height to 9-9.5 inches — but the container is set well back under the seat, and doesn’t interfere with the large SturdiBag we use, though it might well pose a problem for a large, rectangular carrier with inflexible edges.

Comparing my measurements to Southwest’s published measurements, you’ll see that the window seat on our planes was wider than advertised. Perhaps Southwest’s 737s in other series (-300 and -500) have narrower window seats, and the airline chose to lump all the series together in its calculations.

This discussion of widths may seem pointless to you since the length measurement provided by Southwest (what I’d call “depth” — that is, measuring front to back under the seat) is 19″ for all of its seats, and surely that’s generous enough to cover most carriers. In my experience, though, a carrier inserted front-to-back under the seat pokes a few inches out into your legroom area, and flight attendants hate that.

You may get away with it — my neighbor on the last flight had a Bichon Frise in a huge Sherpa carrier under her seat, and did a remarkable job of concealing the fact that she had no leg room left by crossing her legs and draping a sweater casually over her knees — but be prepared for objections from flight attendants. To avoid them, choose a seat that can accommodate your carrier side-to-side — for most of us, that means the middle seat, or, if you’re lucky, the window seat.


  • How about the large Kobi carrier? (The same one that’s currently a giveaway on the site.) It does have a top panel that unzips — it’d be a tight fit, but you might be about to insert her through it. The carrier itself is good-sized, and becomes longer when you unzip the end gusset, which might be perfect for your girl.

  • Chloe

    Thanks for the response! I was looking at the kobi carrier and had read your review. I was contemplating buying one and trying it out. I have bought 3 bags that we have been experimenting with carrying her in and taking her in th car in. We are actually doing a little better with the large sturdibag so I think if I keep practicing, we might be able to make it work. I really like the sturdibag construction and carrying strap. It’s so sturdy with her in it and doesn’t flop around like other cheaper bags. Thanks for all the info on your blog. Has definitely made me more confident that my large small dog will be just fine flying.

  • Don Rogers

    Has anyone been denied boarding with a carrier taller than 8.5 inches on southwest?

  • I don’t know the answer to that one, Don — we routinely travel on Southwest (say, twice a month on average) with our large SturdiBag, which is 12″ tall, though very flexible.

  • connie blackwell

    I have been researching carriers for a Southwest flight coming up, there has been different people that had good luck with sturdibags. Havent seen any that fit the exact dimensions for Southwest. But I just saw kobi carriers. I even called the sturdibag company about traveling with Southwest airlines , he said he hasnt had any complaints (never know really). I bought one from petsmart , the flexiblility is what had me interested but we will see. The difference in the height is what has me concerned dont know if it really does what they say. If anyone has any experiences with this bag I would like to hear from you.

  • Kayla

    Do you think they are strict about the dog being able to stand up in the carrier? I have a Jack Russell who is 18 years old (but in VERY good health, nothing wrong other than a little bit of arthritis and we don’t want to leave her anymore when we travel) and I would by no means stuff her in if I thought it was too small for her to be comfortable, but she is a little bit too tall to stand up and walk around. I just wouldn’t want to be turned down after arriving at the airport.

  • They typically aren’t, Kayla, if a quick glance reassures them that your dog is a reasonable size and fits in a reasonably-sized carrier. I don’t know what kind or size of carrier you have for your Jack Russell, but generally speaking, Jacks are a good size for in-cabin travel. I wouldn’t hesitate to put one in Chloe’s large SturdiBag and head out, for example. I hope that helps!

  • Hello, Connie — We use the large SturdiBag for Chloe on Southwest all the time (and we fly on Southwest very frequently). It’s a splendid bag and works well. Type “large SturdiBag” into the search bone on the blog, and you’ll see that lots of other readers use that carrier too. Good choice!

  • Jana Hunter

    Hi. I am moving to Georgia from Arizona and taking a Southwest flight on a 737-700. I’m trying to find a carrier for my cat who weighs less than 8 pounds (closer to 7). The Southwest carrier that I saw had the dimensions of 17X9.5X10 but said for other carriers you are allowed 18.5X13.5X8.5. So, it appears as if the max height is only 9.5! Most of the smaller carriers I have seen on Amazon are at least 11″ high. Do you know or have you heard if this will actually fit? I think most of the softer ones can “squish” and from what I’ve read, it’s doubtful the airlines will pull out a measuring tape! Thanks for any help you could give me!

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