The Best Airline Pet Carriers

At Petswelcome, we get many calls about taking pets on a plane. That’s because a lot of people fly with them–over 2 million domestic pets and other live animals are transported by air every year. And while it’s often not the preferred way to travel with a pet (it’s often stressful, not cheap, and requires a lot of planning), it sometimes is the only option. If you’re crossing an ocean or otherwise traveling a long distance, you really don’t have a choice.

Now that the holidays are upon us and people (and their favorite animals) are heading into the wild blue yonder in huge numbers, we thought it would be a good time to review the best airline pet carriers. For this article, we are focusing only on carriers to be to be used in airplane cabins (as opposed to crates for pets in cargo which we’ll be reviewing separately). We’ll the present choices first and then discuss how to choose the one that’s right for you and your pet.

The Best Airline Pet Carriers

Sherpa Original Pet Carrier

Sherpa Original Deluxe Pet Carrier

Many of us at Petswelcome have used this one for our own pets and have found it to be a great carrier. It comes in three sizes and is approved by most airlines in the small and medium sizes. It has a washable faux lambskin liner, lots of mesh panels so your pet can breathe easily and includes a shoulder strap, locking zippers and a rear storage pocket. It also has a spring wire frame so that the back of the carrier can be pushed down to fit under the seat.

Sizes: Small-15 x 10 x 8.5 inches; Medium-17 x 11 x 10.5 inches; Large-19 x 11.75 x 11.5 inches

Sherpa Ultimate Pet Carrier

Sherpa Ultimate On Wheels Pet Carrier

Outfitted with the same accessories as the Sherpa Original, this carrier also offers the convenience of four swivel wheels and a pull strap that allows you to manage a busy airport by toting your best friend behind you with little effort.

Size: 19 x 11.75 x 11.5 inches

Frisco Premium Travel Pet Carrier

Frisco Premium Travel Pet Carrier

Designed to comply with most airline’s seat under-seat requirements, it features locking zippers and top and side doors that make it easy to remove your pet and stay in contact during the flight. It also is foldable and comes with luggage straps, a back pocket, and fleece-lined flooring.

Sizes: Small-15 x 10 x 8.5 inches; Medium-17 x 11 x 10.5 inches; Large-19 x 11.75 x 11.5 inches

Mr. Peanut's Gold Series Dog & Cat Carrier

Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Airline-Approved Soft-sided Dog & Cat Carrier

This luxury carrier holds pets up to 15 lbs. It was designed to fit under most airplane seats and has mesh windows on top and all sides, as well as a zippered mesh pocket and a padded shoulder strap. Other features include an interior leash, safety seatbelt attachments and an ID tag holder. At only 2.8 pounds, it’s an easy carry and best fits pets who measure approximately 16 inches long. It also comes in a less expensive Silver Series version or a more up-scale Platinum Series that expands on both sides.

Size: 17 x 11 x 10.5 inches

PetsFit expandable pet carrier

Petsfit Expandable Travel Dog Carrier with Fleece Mat

The key feature in this carrier is an expandable compartment that gives your pet the room she deserves. It’s covered with mesh windows, has a fleece mat, shoulder straps and folds down for convenient storage. It can also be used in a car while secured to the headrest. This carrier works bests for small/medium breeds.

Size: 19 x 12 x 12 inches

Pawfect Pets soft-sided pet carrier

Pawfect Pets Soft-Sided Pet Carrier Backpack

We love backpacks because of the way they distribute weight across your back and make toting anything—especially your best friend—a breeze. It features adjustable shoulder straps, two removable fleece pads, claw-proof mesh and a leash tether to keep your pet from hopping out while the top is open.

Size: 11 x 11 x 17 inches

Now that you’ve seen the choices, here’s how to pick the one that works for you.

Size Matters

If you’re bringing an animal in the cabin, your pet obviously must be on the smaller side. Most airlines have a limit of 20 lbs. That limit can usually vary a pound or two above the limit but, in general, it’s a pretty hard and fast rule. That’s because your carrier will need to fit under the seat in front of you and, if it doesn’t, or your pet’s too big, you won’t be able to take him on the flight.

With regard to the size of the carrier, each airline has its own requirements. There are no standardized dimensions that will work for all of them. For example, Jet Blue requires that carrier not exceed 17 in. X 12.5 in.  X 8.5 in. while Alaska Airlines size policy is 17 in. X 11 in. X 7.5 in. (for a soft-sided carrier). While the difference seems trivial, you want to make sure your carrier’s dimensions do not exceed the particular airline’s requirements or, as mentioned, you might not be able to get your pet aboard. We strongly advise using soft-sided carriers as they are more flexible and can be tamped down to fit under the seat.

When figuring out what size carrier you need for your pet, you should measure him from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail. Then measure across your pet’s shoulders. With regard to height, measure from the floor to the shoulder when your dog is standing. Your carrier should have enough room—with some to spare beyond your measurements—to allow your dog space to lie down comfortably without being too constricted. The reality is that plane travel is cramped, so your pet might not be able to fully stand while it’s under the seat. A good approach is to use the largest in-cabin carrier that the airline allows and make sure your pet can be comfortable within those constraints.


Obviously, your pet’s comfort is an essential consideration. Taking an animal aboard a plane is a stressful undertaking for all parties involved even under the best conditions. That’s why you want to reduce your pet’s anxiety and make sure he will be as relaxed as possible. Just as we recommended soft-sided carriers for size flexibility, we also recommend them because they offer the most comfort. Hard carriers are not as forgiving with regard to your pet being bumped around. Also, most soft-sided carriers come with come with accessories not found in hard carriers, including fleece liners and mesh panels for visibility and easy breathing. Many also offer conveniences such as pockets and zipped storage to hold other supplies.

Other Considerations

How Do You Want to Carry Your Pet?

Soft-sided carriers have wide variety of styles that allow you to choose the way you transport your pet.  These style include standard luggage style carriers, carriers with wheels, and backpack carriers. Each one offers its own advantages so think about what works best for you.

Type of Carrier

Beyond how you personally transport your pet, you should also consider the carrier that works best for you with regard to other options that are offered. These include the number of openings and expandability. If you want to have more contact with your pet, then you might want to consider a carrier that has numerous zipped doors, as well as a variety of mesh windows and vents. If you would like the option to make the carrier roomier while you’re waiting for your plane, then an expandable carrier would be a good selection.

Though traveling with a pet on a plane can be a fraught experience, there are now a diverse array of airline pet carriers on the market that will help make the trip much more more manageable for you, comfortable for your pet and, maybe, even enjoyable for you both.  Bon Voyage!




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