Today we’re giving you an in-depth guide on dog travel crates for the cargo hold. We’re covering:
- Airline Approved Dog Crate Requirements
- Popular Dog Travel Crates: Reviews & Ratings
- Pet Air Travel Tips
- Pet Travel Requirements for Specific Airlines
Air travel is stressful for pets, but with these guidelines and suggestions, we’ll help you ensure that your pet’s upcoming airplane trip is as easy as possible.
Looking for in-cabin carriers? Check out our post detailing the best airline approved pet carriers (for in-cabin flying).
These rules apply for international travel as dictated by the International Air Travel Association (IATA). Domestic travel sometimes allows for slightly more relaxed requirements, but to be safe, it’s best to follow the official international guidelines. Here are some important elements to consider:
- Sizing. For international travel (and most domestic flights), pet travel crates are required to be the pet’s length + half their leg, providing plenty of room in front and back of your pet. IATA requires height to be tall enough so that the dog’s ears cannot touch the top of the kennel while they are standing. Pets must be able to turn around and lie down comfortably.
- Metal Nuts and Bolts. Some dog travel carriers will include plastic nuts and bolts for assembly, but metal nuts and bolts are required for all air travel. (Note: some crates come with metal bolts that have plastic caps – these are allowed).
- Single Metal Door. Many airlines (although not all) require that the travel kennel door be in a single whole metal piece (rather than some models that have a plastic fold in the middle for easy packing. Dogs can potentially pull the door in and collapse it, which is why many flights require one whole metal door.
- Food and Water Dishes. Airplane crates are required to have two separate food and water dishes attached to the crate door, rather than the sides. This is because the airlines must be able to have access to the dishes without opening the kennel door. This allows them to feed and water pets during the flight without opening the kennel door.
Note: Classic water dishes are not recommended, as they can easily spill during the flight. Instead, freeze the water to avoid a mess, or opt for a dispensing crate water bottle.
- Document Info and Feeding Instructions. On your dog’s travel crate, include your pet’s important information – name, medications, your phone number, address, etc, plus your final destination, flight number, and contact info of someone at your destination. Also attach feeding and instructions, plus a bag of food, to the top of the crate.
- Kennel Doors Must Be Zip Tied Shut. Travel crate doors must be zip tied shut to prevent door accidentally coming lose and opening during the flight.
- Safety and Carrying Side Rim. Airlines require a spacing rim of at least 3/4 on all sides with ventilation openings. This is to prevent dogs from biting cargo handlers, and allowing two cargo handlers to carry the kennel on each side.
- Crate Lining. Dog travel crates must be lined with cushioning and absorbent papers for potential accidents during travel.
- Live Animal Stickers. Airline kennels are required to have “live animal” stickers and “this way up” stickers on all sides. Many airlines will provide you with stickers – call ahead of time and make sure, or bring your own.
- Air Holes. For international travel, air holes are required on all four sides, at least halfway on each side of the dog travel crate. Domestic flights only require 2 vent sides (in addition to the door), but for optimal airflow and pet safety, we recommend kennels with air holes on all four sides regardless of requirements.
For more info, read the complete IATA container requirement guidelines here.
- No Top Opening Doors. Kennels with top opening doors are not permitted.
- No Plastic Front Doors or Latches. Travel dog crates cannot have plastic doors or plastic side latches securing the top and bottom of the kennel together without additional hardware (such as metal nuts and bolts).
- No Wheels / Detachable Wheels. The crate must have wheels that are detachable or must have no wheels at all.
- Cannot Be Made Of Unstable Materials. The dog travel crate can not be made entirely of wicker, wire mesh, and cannot be soft-sided.
We’re reviewing the most popular dog travel crates, giving you a breakdown of each crate’s features, pros, cons, and telling you whether these are IATA approved dog crates.
About: This heavy-duty Petmate Sky Kennel is a great choice for dog air travel, meeting all IATA airline requirements for cargo hold (with one minor exception).
- Recycled Materials. Made of 25% recycles materials.
- Pre-Drilled Zip Tie Holes. This is another huge benefit (which most crates do not have), as airlines require you to zip tie the kennel doors shut. We recommend these cable ties, as they are also quick release.
- Has Single Metal Door. The kennel door is made of one whole, single piece of metal, preventing a dog from potentially pulling the door inwards and collapsing it.
- Live Animal Stickers. Comes with live animal stickers to put on kennel.
- Approved by the USDA and IATA.
- Protruding Rim Handles. Extended handles/rims on the sides of the kennel meet airline requirements for rim spacing.
- Air Holes On All Four Sides. This crate has metal grates and air holes on all four sides of the kennel.
- Two Attachable Food and Water Dishes. This kennel contains two separate food and water dishes which can be clipped to the kennel door.
- Extra-Safe Lock. Most kennels use two pins that lock into the top and bottom of of the crate. This crate’s vault style locking mechanism uses four pins that insert into all four sides of the crate, making it super secure.
- Several Sizes. Comes in several different sizes (with measurement details) to ensure you’re buying the perfectly sized airline approved dog kennel for your pet.
- Available from Amazon for purchase
Many airlines require that all holes have a bolt, which may require you to purchase additional metal nuts and bolts to fill in the tie down holes. Some airlines will let your leave tie down holes- call ahead of time to find out. You’ll need a total of 15 metal nuts and bolts to make this carrier completely up to code.
This crate is the closest thing we’ve seen to a true airline approved dog crate. Just switch out the bolts and you’re good to go!
- Wire Windows. Wire windows on two side of the kennel allow for ventilation.
- Recycled Material. Made of 25% recycled material.
- Multiple Sizes. Available in different sizes for small and large dogs.
- Heavy-Duty Bolts. This kennel comes with metal bolts with plastic caps (which are airline compliant).
- Available from Amazon to purchase
While this dog travel crate is somewhat close to being IATA compliant, you’d have to drill holes in the back of the carrier, which makes it a much less desirable choice.
- Four Sided Ventilation. This airline crate has ventilation holes on all four sides.
- Comes With Wheels. Removable wheels make this crate easy to transport and get around with.
- Available in 5 Sizes. Comes in several sizes from small (for small dogs, cats, rabbits, and other small pets) to XXL.
- Can be purchased on Amazon.
Note: Consumers have confirmed that this crate works with Delta cargo requirements.
This pet travel carrier looks great, and many buyers have traveled with it. However, there are some aspects of the carrier that I’m not 100% convinced meet IATA requirements. The larger sized versions of this crate appear to have very narrow side rims, and it’s hard to tell if there are any adequate side handles (or any handles at all).
Our Choice For Best Dog Travel Crate
We recommend the Petmate Sky Kennel for owners wanting an airline approved dog crate. It’s backed by many consumers who have successfully used this model on domestic and international flights. It also comes with extra bells and whistles like clippable food bowls and air travel stickers for the crate.
- Fly Direct. If at all possible book direct flights and avoid stop overs. You don’t want to be keeping your dog in the cargo hold any longer than absolutely necessary.
- Seasons and Time Of Day. Keep the seasons in mind when traveling with fido. In the summer months, fly in the early morning or evening, when temperatures will be more moderate. In the winter, try to fly mid-day. Avoid flying with your dog during extreme temperatures hours.
- Research Your Airline. Be sure to call and talk with airline representatives to ensure you’re meeting the individual airline’s rules. Different airlines has different policies when it comes to traveling with fido. Also call again 24 to 48 hours before your flight to reconfirm that you’ll be traveling with your pet.
- Beware Flying With Snub Nosed Dogs. Snub-nosed dogs have many respiratory issues, making air travel extremely dangerous for them. Some airlines won’t allow snub-nosed dogs to fly at all.
- Do Not Give Drugs. Do not give your dog drugs before the flight, if at all possible. Drugs can interfere with your pet’s cardiovascular system, altering how your pet’s body adjusts to flight altitudes. Drugs can also make your dog lose his balance and cause injury. Only consider drugs if your vet supports that it’s the best option.
- Do Not Leash or Muzzle Your Dog. You don’t want to muzzle your dog for the flight. Also don’t include a leash.
- Pre-Flight Preparation. To ensure your dog has a good travel experience, you’ll want to have your dog get used to the travel crate prior to traveling. Use it often and make it a fun, positive experience. To simulate the airplane experience, have your dog get into the crate and then put him in a car and drive around. This will help your pet adapt to the sensations and movement he will experience in flight.
- Watch Flight Attendants Zip Tie. Some pet travelers have recommended that owners watch flight attendants to make sure that they zip tie the kennel door closed correctly. Many are not trained in proper pet flight safety.
- Include Favorite Toy. Put your pet’s favorite toy in the dog travel crate to comfort him during the trip.
- Last Minute To-Dos Before Boarding. Before your flight, try to feed your dog 4-5 hours before the flight. Do not feed him right before the trip, as the stress and movement may upset his stomach. Don’t hold back on water though – give your dog plenty of water so that he doesn’t get dehydrated. Also make sure to take your dog for a walk before air travel to help him relax and be sure he relieves himself before entering the travel dog crate.
- American Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
- US Airways: No cargo pets allowed! Only in-cabin.
- Jet Blue: No cargo pets! Pets are only permitted in-cabin.
- Southwest. No cargo pets are permitted. Only in-cabin pets are allowed.
Do you have your own experience traveling with your pet on an airplane? Share your tips in the comments section!