Looking for the best airline approved pet carriers? That’s a tall order. While there are countless options available online, it’s hard to find the right one for your pet. That’s where we come in. See our top picks below.
What’s the Best Airline Approved Pet Carrier?
There’s a lot to consider when you’re traveling with your pet. Will they travel with you or in cargo? And if they travel with you, do you want a hard or soft shell pet carrier?
You’re probably also wondering what the best airline-approved pet carrier is. Wherever you’re going, some things don’t change.
For instance, for a carrier to be airline approved, your pet must be able to stand up and turn around comfortably in its crate. So, how do you find an airline-approved pet carrier, and how do you know it’s the right one for your pet?
A lot of factors contribute to making a particular pet carrier the best airline-approved carrier for your pet. All pets are different and may react differently to things like:
- Exposure to external stimuli
- Confined spaces
With that in mind, here are several of our favorite airline-approved pet carriers for you to consider. They won’t be best for all pets, but at least one of them should be the best for yours.
Our Picks for the Best Airline Approved Pet Carriers:
- Best Overall: Sleepypod Pet Carrier
- Best Hardshell Pet Carrier: Petmate Pet Carrier
- Best Expandable Pet Carrier: Petsfit Expandable Carrier
- Best Pet Carrier With Wheels: Coopter Pet Carrier
- Best Backpack-Style Pet Carrier: PetAmi Pet Carrier
- Best for Traveling in Cargo: Skudo Pet Carrier
- Best Multipurpose Pet Carrier: Natuvalle Pet Carrier
All of these picks meet with airline approval. But they all come with different advantages and disadvantages, too. Here’s everything you need to know to help you make your choice of the airline-approved pet carrier.
Why You Need an Airline Approved Pet Carrier
It’s a rare airline that lets you take your pet on board an airplane without a carrier. There are some exceptions, but these typically exist for:
- Service Animals
- Emotional Support Animals
And even then, the laws on service and support animals vary from state to state. That means you need a pet carrier to transport your pet.
Since not all pet carriers are created equal, if you want your pet to board the plane with you, you’ll need an airline-approved pet carrier.
Best Airline Approved Pet Carriers: Our Top 7 Picks
You’ll also want to ensure your pet’s comfort first and foremost. If the noise and stress of flying are hard on humans, think how much worse it must be for the untraveled and confused animal.
Different types of airline-approved pet carriers prioritize your pet’s needs differently. Here are some of the best.
1. Sleepypod Pet Carrier
One of the reasons we love this airline-approved pet carrier is because it’s multipurpose. A good pet carrier can be expensive, and that would be fine, except that your pet hates the purchase nine times in ten.
That’s frustrating when you’re rushing to an early-morning vet appointment, but it can be disastrous if you’re racing for a flight. Popular advice is to leave the crate out in an unthreatening space so your pet can consider sleeping in it.
But where your pet sleeps varies hugely depending on personality. If you have a cat that dislikes small spaces, it doesn’t matter where you leave that crate. She’s not sleeping there.
Sleepypod’s design considers the vagaries and whims of cats everywhere. The mesh shell of the carrier can is removable, leaving an open pet bed between uses. With the mesh on but unzipped, it suits burrowers.
Crucially, because it doubles as a bed, the carrier easily meets the stipulation that your pet can stand up and turn around in comfort. Reviewers praised the removable lining, which they say is easy to clean.
Many also report their pets are significantly more relaxed in the sleepypod carrier design than a traditional crate. Some found it expensive, but others said that for humans and pets that travel routinely, it was worth the money.
2. Petmate Pet Carrier
While soft shell airline-approved pet carriers are popular, we still favor a hard shell. That’s because it’s:
- More supportive
- Easier to clean
This last is vital since we belong to at least one animal who routinely travels sick. Petmate was the crate we used moving back to North America from Europe. It’s a good size, and we appreciated the extra protection of the hardshell exterior.
It’s also one of the more affordable airline-approved pet carriers. It also comes with all the pieces you need to transform your carrier from a run-of-the-mill crate into an airline-approved pet carrier.
The assembly is straightforward, and the instructions are easy to follow. One consistent piece of reviewer feedback is that this crate can be bulky to carry.
But they agree this airline-approved pet carrier is a good size and gives pets ample space to turn, stand and sprawl comfortably in. Note that depending on where you fly with your pet, some airlines will need you to loop plastic ties through the two halves of the shell for extra reinforcement.
3. Petsfit Expandable Pet Carrier
This airline-approved pet carrier starts as your standard over-the-shoulder carrier. But once under your seat, you can fold down the sides to give your pet the space they need to stretch, sleep or watch people.
Other features include a strap that slips over a roll-top suitcase handle for ease of transport and a self-locking zipper. However, it’s important to note that while the small and medium sizes are airline approved, the large may be too high to fit under an airplane seat.
To combat this, travelers can remove two metal rods to lower the carrier’s height, while preserving their pet’s comfort.
Reviewers advise that because space under the airplane seat can vary wildly, there are instances where the medium carrier barely fits. They also stress that things like lifejacket location affects the carrier height.
In this instance, the side extensions are vital as they make up the height deficit with more horizontal room for your pet. Vagaries of airline seating aside, it’s a compact pet carrier that’s:
- Easy to store
- Easy to transport
- Facilitates interaction with pet through mesh
4. Coopter Dog Carrier
One of the main attractions of the Coopter Dog Carrier is that it’s a wheeled pet carrier. That means that in addition to being an airline-approved pet carrier, it’s easy to transport.
For humans who prefer not to roll their pets along, the carrier can perch on top of another suitcase and be transported that way. Inside, the wheelie pet carrier offers ample space for a small dog or cat to turn around while the mesh windows provide a glimpse of the outside world.
Customers enjoy the look and style of the crate but say that the wheels must come off for this airline-approved carrier to fit comfortably under your seat. Even then, it can be tight.
They also warn that because the handle starts from underneath the carrier, using it to manipulate the crate causes it to tilt. While not all pets mind the slight angle, it may disconcert more nervous personalities.
5. PetAmi Pet Carrier
If you find a wheeled suitcase awkward and a hardshell carrier too bulky, then an airline-approved pet carrier you can wear like a backpack might be the answer. This carrier is ideal for small cats and dogs.
Ventilated on four sides, it easily conforms to the under-seat area of various airplane designs. There’s a Sherpa-lined bed at the base for your pet’s comfort, a leash tether, and drainage for a water bottle.
Reviewers say that while the straps are padded, the lower part of the carrier is not. This can be uncomfortable over long periods because of the strain the backpack puts on the lower back.
However, they say that by folding the cushion inds free and say that the top-loading design simplified the loading process. Having wrestled our share of cats into sideways crate entrances, we can believe that.
6. Skudo Plastic Pet Carrier
Not all pets are small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. Larger animals often travel in cargo, and that comes with its own considerations. Softshell crates are convenient for cabin travel, but when it comes to putting your pet in cargo, you need something sturdier.
We like Skudo’s airline-approved pet carrier for cargo because it’s more than just a crate. It comes with several add-ons you don’t always see on hardshell cargo carriers, including:
Both of these make transporting a large, crated dog drastically easier when navigating the airport. The only inconvenience is that you’ll have to buy those add-ons separately.
But for ease of travel, we think it’s worth it. Reviewers say it’s easy to navigate and alleviates back strain, especially for owners transporting more than one pet in the kennel.
7. Natuvalle Pet Carrier
Lightweight and affordable, the great thing about Natuvalle’s airline-approved pet carrier is its versatility. Its straps adapt so that it can be worn as a:
- Shoulder bag
- Front pack
- Two-position carrier
- Car seat
It’s sturdy and well-ventilated, ensuring it keeps its shape in transit while still giving your pet the air it needs. There are multiple pockets for your travel documents and an interior leash latch to keep your pet secure at all times.
We also like the reflective light strips. You may not be thinking about extra visibility when traveling, but it’s a bonus if you arrive in the dark and have to navigate an unfamiliar environment while juggling bags, pets, and safety concerns.
In reviews, some women experience difficulty keeping the chest strap in place and say they appreciate the versatility of the carrier for this reason.
Others wish it had a bit more height for animals that prefer to sit rather than lie in a carrier. Otherwise, they agree it’s a sturdy, flexible crate that transports pets comfortably by train, plane, or automobile.
Finding the Best Airline Approved Pet Carrier for You
While many airline approved pet carriers meet the safety requirements for travel, they all meet them differently. As you look for the perfect airline-approved carrier for your pet, here are some things to consider.
Hard Versus Softshell
The hard versus soft shell carrier debate is an old one. Softshell carriers are:
- More flexible
- Easier to fit under seats
- Easier to carry
While hard shells offer:
- More protection
- More stability
- Easier to clean
Both have their selling points and what you choose ultimately comes down to what kind of carrier you feel safest transporting your pet in. Pet comfort is another significant factor.
If your pet needs the extra comfort of a lined, soft-shelled carrier, don’t hesitate. If you worry a clever cat might scratch his way out of the mesh, consider a hardshell carrier instead.
Whatever side you come down on in the hard or soft shell debate, all airlines agree your pet must be able to comfortably stand up, turn around and sit down in their carrier. So, when you’re picking out a crate, ensure you consider the interior as well as exterior dimensions.
Another consideration when you’re shopping for the perfect airline-approved pet carrier is windows. Some animals love looking out at the world, while others find it overwhelming.
You know your pet best. If you belong to a nervous animal, look for well-ventilated crates with minimal viewing windows to help them feel safe and secure in transit.
Travel Dishes: Yes or No?
Many carriers can accommodate clip-on-style travel dishes for your pet. But while water is advisable to keep your pet hydrated, most pet handlers and vets recommend your pet abstain from food in flight.
That’s because inevitably, what goes in must also come out, and your pet will have to sit in a soiled carrier if that happens. But fasting may not be practical on longer flights. If you do decide your pet needs travel dishes, look for ones that:
- Don’t spill
- Attach securely to the carrier
Also, bear in mind that if you use a water dish, you’ll want an airline-approved pet carrier with drainage so that even if there are spills, your pet doesn’t have to sit in a wet crate.
Cargo or Cabin?
Sometimes the size of the animal decides this one for you. Unless your Labrador is a service dog, it’s reasonable odds you’ll have a hard time fitting him and his crate under the seat in front of you. But sometimes, you get a say.
If you have a smaller animal, keep in mind that they will count as your carry-on luggage. Temperature also makes a difference. At certain times of year, it’s too cold or hot to comfortably fly your pet in cargo.
This is why, when you travel, airlines require an acclimation certificate. There are slightly different acclimation requirements for snub-nosed dogs due to their atypical nasal passage and noses.
So, What Is the Best Airline Approved Pet Carrier?
Our favorite airline-approved pet carrier is sleepypod. It’s multipurpose, easy to store, and easy to clean. It also meets airline-approved standards of pet comfort.
But different pets have different needs. As you look for an airline approved pet carrier that suits you, consider:
- Your pet’s reaction to external stimuli
- What makes you and your pet feel safe
- How much internal space does the carrier offers
Trust your instincts, know your pet, and you won’t go wrong. Safe travels.