Traveling with pets requires a decent amount of preparation (like making sure they’re up-to-date on vaccines and gathering all of the required paperwork), but you should also take the time to choose the right carrier. And if you plan on bringing them in the cabin of the plane with you, make sure you pick an airline-approved pet carrier that’ll keep your furry friend 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. While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says your in-cabin carrier “must be small enough to fit underneath the seat without blocking any person’s path to the main aisle of the airplane,” after that it’s entirely up to the individual airline. For example, American Airlines requires water-repelling materials and mesh ventilation on at least two sides, while Delta’s pet policy states the carrier must be leakproof with ventilation on at least three sides. Then there’s United, which lists 18 x 11 x 11 inches as the recommended dimensions for soft-sided carriers but notes that they can slightly go over and still fit. (There’s much more leeway across the board for soft-sided carriers since they can compress to fit under the seat.) But to be safe, always double-check your airline’s requirements for your specific flight.
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Since there are so many different types of pet carriers on the market, we scoured thousands of customer reviews with those guidelines in mind to find the ones actually worth buying. From a wheeled option that easily rolls around to the stylish one seen all over Instagram, these are the best airline-approved pet carriers in 2021:
- Best Overall: Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe Airline-Approved Pet Carrier
- Best with Wheels: Snoozer Roll Around 4-in-1 Pet Carrier
- Best Expandable Option: Mr. Peanut’s Expandable Airline-Approved Pet Carrier
- Most Stylish: Wild One Travel Carrier
- Best with Accessories: Morpilot Pet Travel Carrier Bag
- Best Splurge: Away The Pet Carrier
- Best Backpack: PetAmi Deluxe Pet Carrier Backpack
- Best for Anxious Pets: Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier
- Best for Cargo: Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier
Since flying is a brand-new experience for many pets, it’s important to prepare them beforehand so they feel calm day-of. Mary R. Burch, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist and the American Kennel Club’s family dog director, recommends recreating part of the airplane experience at home. For example, you could teach your pet to sleep in their carrier for hours at a time before taking a trip, she previously told Travel + Leisure.
You can also look for specific features in airline-approved pet carriers that will make traveling more comfortable for you and your pet. Multiple ways to hold the carrier (like wheels, luggage sleeves, and shoulder straps) will be a lifesaver if your arms easily get tired. There are even expandable carriers that give your dog extra space to stretch out before boarding, and space-saving carriers that fold up when not in use.
Keep reading to learn more about each of the best airline-approved pet carriers that make traveling with your cats and dogs a breeze.
Best Overall: Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe Airline-Approved Pet Carrier
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 depending on how big your pet is, so don’t forget to measure them first. “The bag is squishy enough that if you need to push the sides in a bit or maneuver it into a space, it has the ‘give’ to do so, yet retains its shape and doesn’t fall in on your pet,” one customer wrote. “I was surprised at how effortless it was to carry with the cat.”
To buy: amazon.com, from $37
Best with Wheels: Snoozer Roll Around 4-in-1 Pet Carrier
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). The airline-approved pet carrier 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 fit under seats more easily. Shoppers love that their pets can look around through the top of the carrier while rolling through the airport. “Our dog doesn’t like to be enclosed in any sort of crate, so it was good that he was able to sit upright the whole time and pop his head out,” one wrote. “The only time we had to lay the bag down horizontally was during the flight.”
To buy: amazon.com, from $120
Best Expandable Option: Mr. Peanut’s Expandable Airline-Approved Pet Carrier
The best part about expandable pet carriers (like this airline-approved one from Mr. Peanut’s) 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. Plus, Mr. Peanut’s is a family-owned business that gives back a portion of its sales to animal welfare organizations. One customer said the expandable pet carrier made a “stressful airport experience with a cat a little less stressful,” writing, “It’s a soft carrier, but it’s durable and fits under the seat. The expandable side pocket is fantastic and gave my little buddy a chance to spread out a little bit while we waited to board.”
To buy: amazon.com, $52
Most Stylish: Wild One Travel Carrier
You’ve probably seen Wild One’s trendy pet carrier all over Instagram. The brand is known for its stylish pet accessories, and this airline-approved 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 travel pet carrier also has a luggage sleeve so you can stow it on top of your suitcase, and the zippers have genius snap buttons for extra security (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. It’s meant for dogs up to 16 pounds, but there are people in the reviews section who mention successfully using it for slightly heavier dogs and cats, too. One customer called it “one of the best-looking travel carriers out there,” while another said they “get compliments on it left and right.”
To buy: wildone.com, $125
Best with Accessories: Morpilot Pet Travel Carrier Bag
Shoppers love that the Morpilot pet carrier comes with extra accessories that make it “well worth the money.” There’s a collapsible bowl that’s great for giving your pup food and water while on the go and a machine-washable bed that’s comfy enough to use at home, too. 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, then you’ll also appreciate the seat belt loops that keep the carrier in place. “I keep this on my floor and my cat likes to just hang out in it during the day sometimes and nap, which makes her more relaxed towards it when I have to put her in it for travel,” a customer wrote.
To buy: amazon.com, $38
Best Splurge: Away The Pet Carrier
Away’s airline-approved pet carrier is the most expensive option on this list, but it’s worth the splurge if you’re already obsessed with the brand’s luggage. It’s designed to seamlessly attach to your Away suitcase, and it also has latches that fasten onto car seat belts. With 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. And since traveling with pets can be unpredictable, the airline-approved carrier 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 (CPS).
To buy: awaytravel.com, $225
Best Backpack: PetAmi Deluxe Pet Carrier Backpack
If carrying your furry friend on your back through the airport sounds appealing, opt for this popular pet backpack from PetAmi. Over 3,600 customers gave it a five-star rating, and many rave about how much easier it is to travel with than traditional plastic crates. The carrier has three extra compartments to stash water bottles or treats, and the chest and waist straps provide additional support and stability. Even though it only comes in one size for pets up to 18 pounds, it’s available in 12 different colors. “My cat had plenty of room to sit while the bag was upright and ample room to lay out when the bag was on its side,” wrote a shopper. “Because it’s tapered, it slid under the plane seat without any hassle, and the rigid edges helped keep the shape of the bag so the cat wasn’t smooshed by a collapsed bag.”
To buy: amazon.com, $40
Best for Anxious Pets: Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier
Sleepypod’s travel pet carrier is another option certified by the CPS, and customers love it so much that one even called it the “Tumi of pet carriers.” Thanks to the dark interior fabric and optional privacy shield, the carrier has a “cave-like effect” that customers say helps keep their cats and dogs calm throughout the duration of their flight. It compresses about six inches shorter to fit under airplane seats and folds up flat for storage. “I just moved from the USA to Germany and flew with my cat in-cabin in this carrier,” a customer wrote. “The dark inside and optional blackout cover kept my cat calm in the airport. This was a huge plus because she’s a very anxious traveler.”
To buy: amazon.com, $167
Best for Cargo: Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier
This Petmate kennel is a great airline-approved carrier if you’re shipping your pet as cargo instead of bringing them in the cabin with you. It’s available in six sizes ranging from 21 inches to 48 inches in length. Depending on which one best fits your pet, the durable plastic carrier might have a top handle for carrying or a four-way lock that prevents 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. “I had to place my 75-pound black lab in cargo because he is way too big to bring in the cabin,” a customer wrote. “This kennel worked like a charm on our cross-country flight with a short layover.”
To buy: amazon.com, from $60
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