It’s Now Easier to Bring Small Pets Aboard American Airlines Flights—Is That a Good Thing?

Previously, travelers flying with an in-cabin pet could carry on only another small personal item. Now, there are new rules.

A small black miniature pinscher with a blue collar sitting next to an airplane passenger on a plane

One airline observer said he hopes the new policy will help temper a surge in false service-animal claims.


It’s now less of a hassle for some pet owners to bring their furry family members on American Airlines flights.

On March 28, American Airlines quietly updated its website to say that on flights, pet owners can “bring one pet carrier as a carry-on if: You pay the carry-on pet fee; Your pet stays in the pet carrier and under the seat in front of you the entire flight.” Also, per the Fort Worth, Texas–based carrier, travelers can bring one additional item on board with their pet, including either a personal item or a carry-on bag (but not both).

Previously, travelers flying with an in-cabin pet were allowed only a small personal item. Carry-ons had to be checked for $35 (or $45, if they’d already checked another bag).

“You had to pay twice, first in the fee and second in giving up a carry-on bag,” Gary Leff, an industry analyst and creator of the View From the Wing site, told AFAR. “You paid more but didn’t get to bring on more. That’s still true to some extent under the new policy, but it’s more flexible, and you don’t have to give up as much.”

While the new policy allows fliers to bring a carry-on with them in the cabin—which, if they travel with just a carry-on, saves them money—the fee for bringing a pet aboard has not changed. It’s still $150.

Also, the rules about larger dogs remain the same. In-cabin dogs (unless they’re service dogs, who are allowed to sit in their owner’s foot space) have to be able to comfortably fit in an 18 x 11 x 11 inch carrier that fits under the seat in front of you (they also need to meet specified requirements for age and breed). Dogs that are too big are supposed to be checked into the belly of the plane. For American Airlines passengers (who are not relocating military members), that means booking the animals as cargo, and the rates depend on the animal’s weight, the size of the kennel, and the distance flown (for some context, this writer once flew a 65-pound labrador retriever mix one-way from Minneapolis to Anchorage and paid roughly $900 to be able to do so—American Airlines Cargo accidentally sent the dog to Phoenix for 24 hours, so mistakes can and do happen with pets flying as cargo).

Over the years, the cost of flying with pets in the cabin or shipping them as cargo has caused a surge in people falsely claiming their canine is a service dog (some of which had accidents on the plane or attacked people or true service dogs). Leff said he hopes the new policy tamps down on fraudulent four-legged fliers.

“It does make bringing a pet on ‘the correct way’ less of a hassle, so, at a certain margin, should mean less faking service animals,” Leff said.

Time will tell if the other major U.S. airlines will follow suit and amend their cabin pet policies.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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