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Which seat works best with an in-cabin dog? [Virgin America A320]

We just returned from a trip to the Bay Area via Virgin America, so I had two chances to check out Virgin’s A320 under-seat measurements. Unlike JetBlue, which also flies A320 planes, Virgin America divides its A320s into two classes (First and Main). First Class has two seats on each side of the aisle, while the main cabin has three seats on each side of the aisle.

There is a bulkhead between the two classes, and you are not allowed to sit there with a dog. There is also a bulkhead in front of the first First Class row, and the same goes there.

The only First Class row that has under-seat space, in fact, is Row 2. However, although I couldn’t get close enough to get you exact measurements, I can assure you that the only dog that would fit under a First Class seat is a teacup-sized dog in a purse-style carrier lying on its side. If you have an in-cabin dog, the main cabin is the only way to go. [4/22/10 My husband just traveled First Class on a Virgin America A320, and confirms that there is no under-seat space in First Class. All your carry-on items have to go in the overhead compartment.]

Your best choice is an aisle or middle seat. All three seats carry a life vest packet enclosed in a firm plastic container, so the under-seat height is a fixed 8.5 inches. The aisle seat space is 18″ wide (that is, measured left to right), and so is the middle seat space, even though there is a box for electronics on one side. The window seat space is slightly narrower, at 17″ wide.

Although my carrier was 10.5″ tall, it flexed just enough to squeak under the seat. This is another place, however, where I would have liked to have been using our SturdiProducts carrier, which flexes more easily.

This post is part of an ongoing series recording under-seat measurements of the various planes we fly on. 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).


  • Rod@GoPetFriendly

    I imagine that a lot of people traveling with small dogs really appreciate your airplane under-the-seat reviews. And I wonder what they must think when they see you bending over with a tape measure and taking notes! Do you get a lot of questions? What do you say?

  • Hi, Rod! I’ve been lucky so far — on a couple of trips I’ve arrived first at my row and had a minute to fling myself on the ground. On our last trip I was caught in the act by a seat-mate, but he accepted my explanation (“I have this dog travel blog, and….”) with phlegm — and even offered me a proper tape measure (I was using a seamstress’ measuring tape)!

  • Michele

    Great advice. I would think that this would apply to flying with a cat too, since the size can be similar. I don’t recommend taking cats on trips because they are territorial and prefer staying home. However, if you are relocating, this is good to know.

  • You’re welcome, Ruby’s Raiser — and I’m loving your site! Reading about how you coped with the disco ball was inspirational.

  • Thanks, Michele! I agree about traveling with cats — we’ve only taken our cat Otto in-cabin once, to relocate him from Ohio to Seattle. I wish, however, we’d done the same when we relocated several years ago — we had our two cats shipped up to us by a relocation service, and the trip in the cargo area shattered them. If we have to do it again, they’ll come in-cabin with us, or we’ll drive. Never, never the cargo area again.

  • Cathy

    Hi! I really appreciate all of the info on your site! We are flying from SFO to BOS next Sunday and are bringing our min pin. This is our first time flying with him, but would hate the idea of leaving him! Anyway, we have the medium sized sherpa, but it is mostly for the cats. What did you put your dog in for your Virgin flight? That is who we are flying and I just want to make sure that he has as much room as he can get.

    Also, have you ever had an issue with weight? Our dog is 19 lbs, and with carrier will be slightly over the 20 lb max, but we are taking the risk.

    Thanks so much!!


  • Hi, Cathy! I realize only now that your flight was…yesterday, darnit. I do hope it went well. If I had responded in time, I would have told you that your medium Sherpa bag will work beautifully, and that VA has never weighed Chloe. She actually travels in a large SturdiBag carrier, which is considerably larger (but also more flexible) than the medium Sherpa. It has always worked for her, but it is larger than most official maximums, so if you are risk averse and your dog fits in a medium Sherpa, I’d stick with that. I’m so sorry to have answered this too late to be of help.

  • KIm

    A fantastic site! I can’t thank you enough for all the great info. This is the first time I’ll be flying to LA from NY with my precious 20 mo. old Maltese, Maximus. True to his name, he is a big boy for a Maltese, weighing in at 9.5lbs,11″H, 15″L. Like the previous poster, I intended to use the Sherpa M delux, but having read your blog, I’m inclined to purchase the L Sturdi-bag, especially for the added height among other features. I am just a bit anxious about the 8.5 under seat height and how he will take to a long flight. He really hasn’t spent much time in a carrier, although I’ve been following your instructions for preparing Maximus. I did notice that you mentioned Virgin does not say anything specific about putting the carrier on the lap and to give it a try. Again, thanks for all the wonderful advice.

  • Hi, Alex! Sherpa has shortened its large bag to a more manageable 19″, which I think would work if you put the carrier front-to-back under the seat. The top of a Sherpa bag isn’t terribly flexible, though, so I think you might run into trouble there. If your dog fits in a medium Sherpa, that’s always going to be a less anxious choice — or, as I always suggest, consider a large SturdiProducts carrier (which is the one Chloe uses, and will use on her VA flight tomorrow).

  • Megan

    Thanks for the great recommendation. Flying to San Francisco from the East Coast on Virgin, and just ordered the Large SturdiBag in black. My Cavalier is 15 pounds, so I’m crossing my fingers that it works. I put him in a medium Sherpa bag today, and it looked uncomfortable, although doable. SturdiBag looks like a better solution, so he can stretch out during the flight. Great work on the blog.

  • Lucy

    I’m pick up a cavalier puppy from SEA to SFO in Dec as our newest family member. I had so many concerns about air traveling with a 12 weeks old puppy and hope he will be okay by then. I have traveled with VA a lot but never with any pets. I was also struggling getting a sherpa medium or large bag VS the Sturdi large bag, it looks like everybody recommends the sturdi bag.
    Thank you for all the great info and of course all the comments down here as well.

  • A three month-old Cavalier puppy — what a dream! Please send pictures — and yes, I think he’ll be okay (pat him a lot, I’d say, but I know you’ll be doing that already), and the large SturdiBag will be a good choice. Safe travels!!

  • Brigid

    I’m planning on taking my 14 lb boston terrier on her first flight in April and I purchased the Large SturdiBag because I had heard great things about them and they fit Virgin America’s requirements (except height when not scrunched). I am flying from LAX to Dulles (DC) and I wanted to be double sure that I would have no problems getting her on the flight in that size carrier. So, I marched it up to the counter with my Sturdibag and asked the attendant at the Virgin America counter if my carrier would be allowed. He was very accommodating and not only offered his opinion but got input from several flight attendants and a captain. I’m very anxious to say… he said it was a no-go. Obviously you have had success with the same carrier on the same airline. Any suggestions for navigating the boarding process?

  • Hi, Brigid! Here’s the thing: The folks at VA are bound to follow the rules, and the official VA rules say that a pet carrier has to be no more than 8Hx18Lx15W ( ). The large SturdiBag is larger than that in the height and width dimensions, as you know. So if you ask the VA folks, they will tell you your carrier is too large. In fact, however, the large SturdiBag works fine on VA’s 320 planes, and I strongly suspect also on their 319 planes, which are the only two models they fly. Chloe, too, is a 14-lb. dog, and she’s built like a Boston Terrier. Based on my experience, I believe that your pup and your carrier will fit like a charm. The thing to do is not ask. When you arrive at the airport for real, simply tell the ticketing agent that you need to pay for your pet. If they ask to see the carrier (largely to put a label on it, but sometimes to cast an eye over it), look fondly and confidently at your dog. Say something besotted about what a good girl she is. Do not volunteer your concerns. Do not ask for advice. Convey the impression that you have done this a million times before, and you’re just waiting for the label to be tied on before you head to security. At the gate, same thing. Hand your boarding pass over and walk on. In the rare, rare instance that a gate agent asks to see your bag, usually it’s to confirm that there’s a label (i.e., that you’ve paid your pet fee). One time in a hundred, you’ll get a gate agent who worries about the carrier size. Here too, be calm and confident. You know it works (and you do, because Chloe and I have flown for you!), you can demonstrate how flexible the carrier is, and soon you’ll have a picture too, because I fly on VA on Thursday, and I’ll post a pic of Chloe’s large SturdiBag under our seat.

  • Jan Tucker

    Hi Mary-Alice: Do you think there is any difference flying on Alaska OR Virgin? I can do either from SFO to PVR. Have done Alaska with small dog and Alaska is so dog-friendly they don’t pester one much. I will be using my large Sturdibag for the first time if I travel on Virgin. Aisle seat sounds the best? Is there a place where the dimensions are posted all together as a comparison chart? Thanks for this!!!

  • Hi, Jan! I don’t fly Alaska, myself, so all I can go on are readers’ reports — my impression is that, as it has been for you, taking an in-cabin pet on Alaska has been a happy experience for folks. We fly Virgin America a great deal, however, and nearly always with Chloe’s large SturdiBag, and it’s always been an easy no-brainer. Alas, no, no single chart, just this page of collected lore: If you find yourself on a type of Alaska plane not represented on that page, please report!

  • Jan Tucker

    Hi Mary-Alice, I LOVE Virgin, so am going to try it, since you’ve done it with the SturdiBag and no problems. When I hold it up on my shoulder it certainly looks huge! But I’ll set it on the floor when checking in as suggested. I may print out your photos just to have that confidence in hand. I also have a smaller bag in my suitcases just in case. The last time I was on Alaska I measured the middle seat and it was 10Hx18Wx20L (but they tell you on the phone that it is 9Hx19Wx24L). On the website it says your carrier can’t be more than 9.5Hx10Wx17L. I’ll measure Virgin and get back to you after this trip. Thanks for all your great helpful advice! Jan

  • Mike

    Hi, we are flying this week, for the first time with our 6 month old Shih Tzu (around 11lbs) on Virgin America ORD-SFO.

    We bought the medium Sherpa carrier, which has a height of 10.5″ – VA website states 8″ is max allowable.

    We have two concerns.
    1. will be 100% for sure be allowed on the flight?
    2. The bag itself seems to be quite rigid, and we are concerned that it is not going to be flexible enough to squeeze under the seat infront. Would we be better off with a more flexible bag? If so, could you recommend one?

    Any other travel tips would be greatly appreciated!

  • Well, I am WAY too late in replying, Mike. I’m so sorry. I hope and trust that all went well — I don’t love the medium Sherpa for a couple of reasons (can’t see down into it, and its top and sides are a little, as you say, rigid), but it should have worked for your pup. The center portion of the top does bend down a bit around obstructions like life jacket containers, and your pup is small enough that there would be room in the bag for that bend to happen and not bother her. Please forgive, and safe travels!

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