Away’s The Pet Carrier is our top pick and allows pets to travel in comfort, safety, and style.
Katherine Alex Beaven is a Los Angeles-based travel, food and drink, and culture writer. Cat Kicker Toy
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Travel + Leisure / Katherine Alex Beaven
If you’re heading out on a trip with your dog or cat, there’s hardly anything more important for your animal’s comfort than picking the right pet carrier. Finding the best airline-approved carrier is one that will check several boxes for you, your pet, and the airline.
An airline-approved pet carrier is one that is designed to accommodate an animal comfortably, eradicate hassles associated with traveling with your pet, and satisfy the material and sizing requirements for most major airlines. To find the best carriers on the market, we personally tested and scored 13 popular airline-approved pet carriers based on size, quality, comfort, portability, design, ease of cleaning, and overall value.
We also spoke to two experts — Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian working with excitedcats.com, and Dr. Paola Cuevas, a veterinarian, MVZ, and behaviorist with petkeen.com — for tips and insight on how you can safely fly with your pet in the cabin or as cargo.
The Pet Carrier from Away earned our top spot with an overall perfect score across all categories, most notably shining when it came to sizing, design, and value. Curious about the other bags it was up against? We’re just getting started.
This comfortable, well-designed carrier checks all the boxes on our list and looks great, too.
It taps out at carrying any more than 18 pounds of pet.
Away’s The Pet Carrier delivers the same sophisticated look, streamlined design, functionality, and quality you’ll find with their luggage products. We particularly liked how the bag’s size makes it easy to carry and slide under the seat in front of us without sacrificing a pet’s comfort, Our tester also appreciated its interior and exterior pockets where we could stash must-grab items for both us and our pet — and the waterproofed side pocket with drainage holes meant for storing collapsible water bowls was a standout touch.
Other notable features include overall water-resistancy for easy cleanup, a trolley sleeve for easy terminal-side portability, seat belt latches, and breathable mesh side plus a retractable calming screen to give anxious pets a bit of privacy without cutting off airflow. It also comes with a removable sherpa pet bed to keep your pet comfy during travel, and leaves enough room to add their favorite blanket or toy, too.
Made from durable nylon and stylish black leather, this is the little black dress equivalent of a pet carrier — as long as your furry friend doesn’t weigh more than 18 pounds. If we could change one thing about this bag, it would be that it was available in more than one size.
Price at time of publish: $225
The Details: 18.7 x 10.8 x 10.75 inches | 4.3 pounds | Up to 18 pound pet size | Nylon and leather
It’s the gold standard of hard-sided kennels.
This gold standard doesn’t come cheap.
The Gunner G1 Kennel is a superlative hard-sided kennel with a five-star crash safety rating from the Center for Pet Safety. There have been multiple reported instances where owners have been in severe crashes and said using a Gunner kennel has saved their dog’s life. And we can see why. Worried about the plane hitting rough air? This kennel has double-wall rotomolding for extra impact protection. It’s also got a wider base for stability against tipping, comes with built-in tie-down rods, and features all-weather windows that shield your pet from nasty weather it may face while being loaded and unloaded at the airport.
Pets stay comfortable inside by adding a soft bed, while raised non-slip feet lower temperature transfer from hot or frigid surfaces. The only downside is that the larger sizes may be tough for one person to manage with a dog inside. We tested the large size, which is 72 pounds empty, though this kennel also comes in small, medium, intermediate sizes, too.
Price at time of publish: $500 for small
The Details: 24.5 x 18.6 x 19 inches (small), 29.5 x 20.5 x 23.5 inches (medium), 34 x 23 x 28.5 (intermediate), 40.25 x 28 x 33.25 (large) | 27 pounds (small), 38 pounds (medium), 48 pounds (intermediate), 72 pounds (large) | Up to 110 pounds for large pet size | Rotomolded plastic and stainless steel
The 12-inch height makes it ideal for layovers.
The narrow width may not be comfortable for girthy pets.
We found the Love Thy Beast Nylon Pet Travel Carrier to be lightweight yet sturdy, and flexible enough to squeeze under the seat in front of us, even though the carrier pushes the limits when it comes to height. Some airlines may eyeball it at check-in, but this tote-style carrier can also be used during layovers to give your pet more head room. It also comes with a leash tether so you can confidently carry your dog with the zippers down, and it’s possible to slip the bag onto the handle of a suitcase or a seat belt as the back pocket converts to a luggage sleeve when unzipped.
This bag has a sturdy, removable platform on the bottom that makes for easy spot cleaning, and an extra-large zippered pocket on the front (in addition to that smaller, convertible luggage sleeve pocket on the reverse). The tight-knit mesh sides allow for one-way pet privacy to aid anxious pets as well. We tested this carrier out with an 8-pound dog who fit comfortably inside (as did a slim 12-pound pup), though it’s quite likely a wider-framed pet would find this 8-inch wide carrier too narrow.
Price at time of publish: $160
The Details: 17 x 12 x 8 inches | 2 pounds | Up to 25 pound pet size | Nylon
It’s loaded with thoughtful features throughout and can be carried five ways.
The soft-lined interior quickly becomes covered in cat hair.
The Travel Cat The “Transpurrter” Ultimate Calming Convertible Cat Carrier is a sturdy and durable cat carrier with five options for carrying — over-the-shoulder, by side handles, via the trolley sleeve, as a crossbody, or as a backpack. One of our favorite features is the number of access points you have to reach your pet. It opens at both ends and the top, plus one full side panel opens up completely to give your cat more space while waiting at the gate. (We clipped them onto the bungee tether and opened it up so our cat felt less confined.) It also has calming privacy flaps, two stretchy slip pockets, one pocket loaded with several organizational pockets, a slide-out lined basket, and anti-scratch mesh on three sides. We’ve flown several times with this carrier and it still looks brand new, except for the inside, which immediately became covered in cat hair (though that actually helps our anxious tester feel more at home).
Price at time of publish: $170
The Details: 19 x 10.5 x 11 inches | 3.4 pounds | Up to 30 pound pet size
Travel + Leisure / Katherine Alex Beaven
It’s a basic but solid crate-style kennel that meets FAA standards.
There aren't any extra pockets or storage features, it’s just the kennel.
This hard-sided kennel is a great value bang-for-your-buck. There are no extra fancy bells and whistles, just your basic heavy-duty plastic kennel that is approved for domestic air travel in the U.S. You get three-sided ventilation, a stainless steel door with squeeze latches to prevent accidental opening during flight, and a spacious interior that will easily fit your animal, food and water bowls, and your pet’s favorite blanket and toy (if allowed). The darker bottom helps activate a dog or cat’s natural burrowing reflex, helping them to relax. The kennel can also be taken down and put together quite easily for storage or transportation. We do wish there were at least some kind of storage area, though, to hold important papers or treats, but overall we can’t complain because this carrier ticked all the necessary boxes to make our pet comfortable and our travel day swift and easy.
Price at time of publish: $113
The Details: 28 x 20.5 x 21.5 inches (small), 32 x 22.5 x 24 inches (medium), 36 x 25 x 27 inches (large), 40 x 27 x 30 (extra-large) | 9 pounds (small), 14 pounds (medium), 19 pounds (large), 24 pounds (extra-large) | Up to 30 pounds (small), up to 50 pounds (medium), up to 70 pounds (large), up to 90 pounds (extra-large) pet size | Heavy-duty plastic and metal
Fiber rods in the frame can be removed for extra flexibility to fit under the seat in front of you.
The carry handles would benefit from a bit of padding.
The Petsfit Expandable Pet Carrier’s dual expandable, scratch-resistant mesh sides are great for giving your pet extra room while waiting at the gate or during layovers without officially letting them out of the bag. We also hacked this feature while testing, unzipping the sides while our pet was under the seat in front of us, to give our furry passenger a tad more space on both sides. Plus, the carrier is collapsible, and the fiber rods in the top frame can be removed for extra “give” to squeeze under the seat. The bottom of the carrier is lined with a soft material for pet comfort. This bag is lightweight and portable, but our hands hurt after carrying it via the handles after just a short time (we didn’t have the detachable crossbody/shoulder strap with us); padded handles would be a welcomed addition but it’s hard to knock the bonus space with this style.
Price at time of publish: $48
The Details: 16 x 10 x 9 (small), 17 x 11 x 11 inches (medium), 19 x 12 x 12 inches (large) | 2.1 pounds (small), 2.5 pounds (medium), 3 pounds (large) | Up to 9 pounds (small), up to 13 pounds (medium), up to 18 pounds (large) pet size | Polypropylene
It takes the guesswork out of wondering if the carrier will fit under the seat.
This carrier will only comfortably fit small dogs and medium-sized cats.
The JetPaws Official Carrier of JetBlue Airlines carrier is specifically designed to adhere to JetBlue’s strict size rules and fit under all of the airline’s seats. This makes it a shoe-in for complying with almost all other airlines’ size requirements, taking the guesswork and anxiety out of wondering if your carrier will fit. The colors may be a bit of an eyesore, but the bag’s many features are a good balm. This featherlight carrier comes with five pockets for storing necessities (some of the most we’ve seen), and a detachable padded shoulder strap for carrying (though no trolley sleeve). The carrier itself is made from a durable, undisclosed material that is easy to wipe clean. Our tester pet seemed right at home in this carrier and didn’t even seem to mind that his usual plush padded bed had been replaced with a simple soft lining. As one might expect with a little carrier, it can only accommodate small pets.
Price at time of publish: $55
The Details: 16 x 8.5 x 10 inches | 2 pounds
Travel + Leisure / Morgan Ashley Parker
Travel + Leisure / Morgan Ashley Parker
Travel + Leisure / Morgan Ashley Parker
A few pet carriers we tested didn’t quite make the list for the best airline-approved pet carrier but grabbed enough of our attention and admiration for an honorable recommendation as pet carriers that may work well in other travel situations.
Diggs Passenger Travel Carrier: At 4.5 pounds this is the heaviest (and largest) soft-sided carrier we tested. Since it felt heavy before we even put our dog in, and because its large size seems likely to get flagged at check-in, it didn’t make the list. However, its five-star crash test rating, custom seat belt and buckle clips, pee-pad-friendly design, and a zip-down fourth wall side plus interior tethering clip make it an excellent choice as a pet carrier for the car.
Arlo Skye The Pet Carrier: We found that this bag (which comes in heights of either 8.5 inches or 10 inches) felt a bit too snug for our dog, and the smaller size would be best suited for teacup-sized breeds. However, if your pet is on the tiny side, standout features include four-sided mesh ventilation, an included memory foam travel pad, and a sturdy trolly slip for easy portability atop your carry-on.
Wild One Travel Carrier: This lightweight and smaller-sized bag is loaded with thoughtful travel features, from its dual-sided zippers and calming fold-down side panels to the lie-flat breakdown design that makes it a cinch to spot clean and built-in option to use a strap as a leash. Since we couldn’t zip the 10-inch high bag closed unless our 8-pound dog was laying down, it felt like too much of a squeeze when placed under an airplane seat.
The T+L team tested 13 airline-approved pet carriers in real world traveling situations with our own cats and dogs. After measuring, weighing, and assessing the overall quality of each bag — and making sure our furry travel friends were comfortable with the carriers — we took to the skies to test how well the carrier stacked up when it came to carry comfort, pet comfort, durability, cleaning, overall design, size, and relevant features.
To see how they functioned, we traveled with our pets on roundtrip domestic and international flights on U.S. major airlines, including JetBlue which has some of the smallest general size restrictions for in-cabin pet carriers. We took notes along the way on how easy it was to get through security, wait at the gate, slide under the seat, and transport through the airport, checking on our pet’s comfort before, during, and after the flight. We also considered how easy it was to access our pet during the flight and the traveling process. Scoring was largely based on pet comfort, portability, features, price, and performance of purpose in order to select the best airline-approved carriers for this roundup.
The best size carrier will depend on your pet’s mobility, weight, and body frame. Remember, in-cabin pets must be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably in a carrier. Do not try to squeeze your pet into a smaller carrier just to meet an airline’s sizing rules.
Always check the rules and requirements for pets and pet carriers of your specific airline and general FAA requirements before purchasing a new carrier. Many train lines will also have their own pet carrier policies as well. If riding in the car with your animal, consider crash safety when shopping for a pet carrier.
Soft-sided carriers, such as dog backpacks, are a bit more flexible when it comes to fitting into several under-seat spaces, and many airlines allow for larger soft-sided pet carrier dimensions because of this. Pets transported as cargo will have to be inside of a hard-sided carrier for their safety in the hold of the aircraft. Owners traveling with heavier and/or larger in-cabin pets may also want to consider a hard-sided carrier as it provides better support for the animal.
Remember that your pet’s comfort is paramount, so give extra points to carriers that have comfort features such as breathable mesh, supportive and strong bottoms, several opening/access points, multiple pockets to hold treats, water, and clean-up supplies, or calming blackout panels. Most airlines will also require your carrier to have a waterproofed bottom in case of accidents.
Opening the pet carrier, placing it in your home, and allowing your pet to become comfortable with it or even sleep in it is a good first line way to get them acclimated. Next, try taking your pet on short rides in the car while inside the carrier, going a little bit longer each time (and not just to the vet), and then reward with a treat. You can also line the carrier with their favorite blanket or toy to make it feel more welcoming and familiar.
Dr. Bonk explains that it's safe for most pets to stay in an in-cabin travel carrier for six to eight hours, as long as the carrier is appropriately sized for your pet. She says dogs traveling in cargo may be able to stay a little longer as long as they are comfortable and/or have access to pee pads, food, and water. Dr. Cuevas suggests it’s best if your pet can have a bathroom break every six hours, something that is only possible if you’re booked on a shorter flight or hire a private pet transport service.
While there is nothing you are required to pack for in-cabin pets, both vets suggest having food and water (or treats) for the journey, any medication your pet may need, and any necessary paperwork such as vaccination records that may be required for boarding or landing. Lining the carrier with an absorbent pad, tossing in a scent-soaked item (e.g., something familiar that smells like them or you), and adding their favorite toy can help make the journey easier.
There are several rules that come with bringing your pet on a plane — including specific carrier size and weight rules, pet fees, how many pets can travel on any plane, weather restrictions, and what documentation is needed. It’s always best to check with your specific airline about your specific flight and both departure and arrival destinations.
A few guaranteed rules to remember include that in-cabin pets will count as your carry-on or personal item depending on the airline, that pets are not allowed to be taken out of their carrier at any point during the flight, that carriers must remain under the seat in front of you for the duration of the flight (on most airlines), and that pets traveling as cargo cannot be sedated.
For this story, Katherine Alex Beaven spoke with two vets to get tips on how to safely and comfortably travel with your pet, in cargo or in the cabin. She also crunched testing insights from our T+L testers and pets, which included Alex and her 15-pound nervous travel cat @hellomisterbo. In researching airline-approved pet carriers, we spoke with Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian with excitedcats.com, and Dr. Paola Cuevas, a veterinarian, MVZ, and behaviorist with petkeen.com.
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