Flying with Fido

Bruno has traveled everywhere with me since he was adopted in January. I’ve learned a lot of tips about flying with a dog. Here’s how I’ve done it:


Plan Ahead

All Airlines have restrictions on dogs on planes. These include the number of animals on one plane, fees, and even the breed of dog. Call the airline ahead of time – ideally when you book your flight, otherwise do this a few days before.


Here are the fees for carrying on a pet (in a carrier underneath the seat in front of you)

Alaska Airlines: $125 each way

American Airlines: $125 each way + the carrier and pet must not weigh more than 20 pounds

JetBlue: $100 each way + the carrier and pet must not weigh more than 20 pounds

Delta: $125 each way

Southwest Airlines: $95 each way

Spirit Airlines: $100 each way

United: $125 each way

Virgin America: $100 each way and pets may not be in the exit row, front row of the main cabin OR first class


How to Get Around This

Bruno is technically an Emotional Support Animal. Unfortunately, a lot of people scam this system as it is fairly easy to fake it. There are tons of websites out there claiming that after a quick registration process and fee, you’ll be given a license. This might work for some airline employees, but it is not legal.


Emotional Support Animals fall under the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act (not ADA, which I will talk about another time). For the Air Carrier Access Act, this means that if you have a disability or mental illness and have essentially a prescription from a doctor or medical professional, your dog can fly without any fees. There are also no size restrictions so you can fly a Yorkie (like Bruno) or a larger dog like a Golden Retriever as long as it fits in the space in front of your seat. Or you can be like Chelsea Handler and buy a plane ticket just for your dog (first class, no less).


How to Get an Emotional Support Animal

If you have a disability or mental illness such as depression or a fear of flying, your doctor can prescribe you an Emotional Support Animal.


Basically, you need a letter that has the following:

  1. On letterhead (this one always seems to get complaints for me as my doctor is not highly technical and has a small practice so the letterhead is very simple and some airline employees claim it is too easy to copy).
  2. The Title, Address, License Number, Jurisdiction, phone number and signature of physician
  3. The passenger has a mental health related disability recognized by the DSM-IV
  4. The passenger is under the care of the physician
  5. Letter must not be more than a year old


(information loosely taken from Delta’s website)


Some airlines (such as United and American) take it even further by requiring a specific form for your physician to fill out and STILL make it difficult to “approve” your ESA. For those reasons, I try my best not to fly those airlines even sans pet. Delta and Southwest have always worked for me so those are my preference.


The Carrier

Photo taken from Sleepypod website
Photo taken from Sleepypod website

The carrier is absolutely the most important part of traveling with your pet. Their happiness will all depend on how comfortable they are in their carrier.


For that reason, I purchased the Sleepypod Air ( It is not cheap but since I travel for work and knew I would be getting a lot of use out of it, it’s worth it.

The inside has a soft bed for Bruno and has a privacy mesh so Bruno can see out but not everyone in the airport can see him so it’s very discreet. The whole top unzips so I can easily zip just enough to put my hand in or for Bruno to stick his head out or I can unzip it halfway for him to easily get in and out. The size allows him to move around inside but also fits underneath all plane seats. The carrier also has a large pocket that fits his leash and treats and the other side has the option for a pocket or you unzip both zippers and it can sit on top of your suitcase. I’ll use that until the bags are checked and then I will zip up the bottom zipper and use the pocket for my boarding pass, cell phone and iPad for easy boarding.


There are other great carriers out there and if you’re looking for a one time use the cheap carrier from PetSmart might work for you.


Before your trip, get your pet comfortable with the carrier. Have it out in the house with access inside so your pet can sniff around it. Put treats inside so they associate the carrier with something good.


Once your pet is comfortable around the carrier, start taking your pet on adventures using the carrier. We would take Bruno in his carrier to the park, to PetSmart, on short and long trips, so that he would know that the carrier meant he was going to go somewhere fun. He got comfortable sleeping inside it and going in and out. This worked!


Getting used to the carrier
Getting used to the carrier


The Airport

Research animal relief areas ahead of time. Signage at airports is not always great. You can try the airport’s website or the following two websites also give a great rundown of pet relief areas at all of the US airports:


Unfortunately, not all pet relief areas are great and most are pre-security. Most are located on the Baggage Claim level and are usually off to the side. Some are fenced in and some provide poop bags and trashcans.

Pet Relief area at Midway Airport
Pet Relief area at Midway Airport

My best bet is to usually arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before, check my bags and then head down to the Baggage Claim level to walk Bruno. I’ll usually take him out right away and let him walk along the sidewalk. Yes, he will pee on trashcans or columns but it’s also generally filthy down there anyways. Airports like Chicago’s Midway or Cincinnati (CVG) have fenced in areas where I can let Bruno run around sans leash (albeit it is small).


After a healthy walk (15-30 minutes), we’ll go through Security. With the dog, you must go through the metal detector. Put all of your items on the belt and then take out your dog last (be careful a pushy TSA agent doesn’t try to push your carrier and dog through!). Cross through the metal detector and then you must wait for a hand swab which is testing for traces of explosives. While you wait, you may NOT touch your belongings or put your dog back in its carrier. It’s fairly quick and honestly the whole process is probably must quicker than going through the scanner. Then you’re on your way!


The Terminal

Occasionally I will allow Bruno to walk along the terminal depending on how busy the airport is. He’s a good walker but also loves to stop for sniffs and is small so if the airport is crowded, I will refrain. I try to find a quiet spot at the gate or I’ll find an empty area a few gates down as Bruno gets antsy with a lot of movement.


I’ll let him out on a leash and give him some water using a collapsible bowl. Sometimes we’ll work on his tricks using treats, which focuses him while also tiring him out for the flight. Once boarding starts, he goes back in the carrier and off we go.


On the Plane

As an Emotional Support Animal, Bruno is allowed to sit on my lap. However, he has learned that sometimes I will let him out and therefore now barks or scratches at the zipper until I let him out. DON’T. For the enjoyment of everyone else on the plane, leave the dog in the carrier and ignore them. They will soon learn that this is nap time and stay quiet the whole flight.


I have also learned the hard way about letting Bruno out when he got out of my reaches and ran all the way up the aisle to first class. While yes, very adorable, and it did make me laugh, it was also mortifying. So Bruno will be staying in the carrier from now on!


I have also used Rescue Remedy Pet on a treat to calm Bruno and I hate to admit, a bark collar. Remember, everyone hates a crying baby so they will equally hate a barking dog.



Once I grab my bags, I take Bruno out for a nice walk and then a cab to our next destination.


Do you travel with a dog? Any tips for flying with them?


FREE packing list

Pet travel packing list copy

Subscribe to get our latest content by email & receive your FREE pet travel packing list.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

1 comment / Add your comment below

  1. Hey! Moseley (my mini dachshund) travels as an ESA as well. I too have had trouble with the whole letterhead not being fancy enough business. The worst was the first time where they let me through with no problem at Oakland on a roundtrip ticket but then I always seem to have problems leaving Midway. I actually started having an anxiety attack in front of all the people waiting to board b/c the attendant preboarding wanted to see my note again (which as you know they shouldnt need to as you’ve shown it when you check your bags and at the gate to get your preboarding slip). Needless to say I now get stressed leaving Midway b/c I swear something weird has happened every time. It ends up being ok but unnecessarily stressful. The other important thing as you may have seen is that SW seems to be the only airline I’ve tried that doesn’t require a Mental Health Professional’s letter and will accept your GP. So I have only flown SW with Mose. Mose sits on my lap but he’s a freak of nature because we put a blanket over him and he will seriously just pass out for the whole flight (one of these days I am going to jinx that). It’s fun to read and check out what you’ve been through as well and I definitely recognized that Animal Relief area at Midway. LAX’s is hidden between construction with no lighting and Oakland is just a patch of grass off the street. I remember SFOs being nice though (I’m sure you’ve been to way more). Let me know if you learn anything else randomly that you might need to pass on. We usually do Christmas which is always ridiculous b/c I swear there are more animals than there are people on those flights. As you know, ESAs do not count against the “tally” of dogs/cats etc allowed on the plane so if everyone has one it becomes a zoo :). Mose is 13 pounds so I think my carrier is a little larger but we totally had the issue the first time around that ours was too big (which luckily didn’t matter since he sits on my lap). Let me know when you’re in LA again, I’m sure Mose would love to meet Bruno!

Leave a Reply