The 6 Best Airline-Approved Pet Carriers of 2023, Tested and Reviewed

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Commerce Photo Composite

The Spruce Pets / Lecia Landis

When it comes to air travel with a pet, having the right-sized carrier—one that is comfortable for you and your companion—will streamline your trip. 

The requirements for in-cabin and cargo use vary among airlines, but you can find links to dimension and other guidance from several prominent airlines in the "What To Look For In A Pet Carrier" section below. These restrictions typically do not apply to service animals.

To help you select the best carrier for your next expawdition, we purchased and tested 13 airline-approved pet carriers. Each one was taken on a least one roundtrip domestic flight with a cat or dog on a major airline.

After testing, our favorite airline-approved carrier is Away's The Pet Carrier, which features a removable liner, mesh ventilation on three sides, and a trolley sleeve for easy use with your handled luggage. Plus, it's crash test certified.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall

Away The Pet Carrier

Away The Pet Carrier


What We Like
  • Crash test certified by the Center for Pet Safety

  • Water-resistant lining

  • Removable and washable bed

  • Trolley sleeve for seatbelt or suitcase handlebar placement

What We Don’t Like
  • Not suitable for pets over 18 pounds

The Away Pet Carrier is sturdy, sleek, versatile, and easy to clean. Plus, it meets the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) so it’s suitable for in-cabin use on most major airlines (always check with your flight provider). 

During the testing period, our Chihuahua-mix participant was comfortable and secure for the duration of a six-hour flight. The Away carrier's leather and nylon exterior is structured enough to offer protection and stability, but has enough flexibility to squeeze into tight under-seat spaces. We also found it easy to carry by hand or over a shoulder, with double straps similar to a gym bag. 

The Pet Carrier has both internal and external pockets, including a side pocket with a waterproof lining and drainage holes—ideal for a collapsible water bowl. Mesh panels on three sides make for excellent ventilation, and each can also be unzipped for quick access to your pet, or covered with privacy panels to block external stimulation. The interior has a padded, fuzzy bed that is both removable and machine washable.

The carrier has a weight maximum of 18 pounds, which is lower than others on our list, but keep in mind that some airlines have a 20 pound weight maximum for pet and carrier combined. Airlines may weigh pets with their carriers on the luggage scale, and an 18-pound dog combined with the 4-pound Away travel carrier might lead to travel disruptions, so it's a limit you'll want to be conscious of before traveling.

This bag is more expensive than others that made our list, but we found the craftsmanship of this pet carrier to be superior. Away provides a warranty for one year after purchase. It also comes with a dust bag for storage between flights. And to top it all off, this carrier received a five-star crash test rating certification from the Center for Pet Safety.

Price at time of publish: $275

Dimensions: 18.7 x 10.8 x 10.75 inches | Size Recommendation: Pets up to 18 pounds | Colors: Black, Blue | Materials: Nylon, leather

Best for Small Dogs

Wild One Travel Carrier

Wildone Travel Carrier

Wild One 

What We Like
  • Versatile design includes a shoulder strap that can be used as a leash

  • Easy to wipe clean

  • Folds flat when not in use

  • Can be personalized with your dog’s name

What We Don’t Like
  • It was a very snug fit under the seat on a Delta flight in coach

  • The carrier’s measurements exceed limits for some major airlines

  • Not all small dogs can fully stand up when the carrier is closed

This versatile pet carrier has an internal padded mat that can be unfolded to expand giving your dog a cozy space to nap once you arrive at your destination. The bag has a cylindrical shape that does not allow for all small dogs to stand up inside when fully zipped up but does offer more space horizontally for them to spread out. Our tester dog, an eight-pound Pomeranian, had space to lay down, put their head up, and get comfortable, but if you’ve got a short-legged friend, like Dachshund, or a very petite pal, like a Chihuahua, then they’ll fit right in. 

The carrier is well made with durable zippers, allowing for flexibility in use and mesh paneling for airflow and to keep your dog in view. To get your dog acclimated to the bag, you can open up one of the sides to let them come in and out as they please, and when you are on the plane, you can unzip just the top to slide in a treat. The shoulder strap can be removed and used as a leash, and there are two additional padded handles for a comfortable and secure grip.

A slotted panel on the back allows you to place it on the handlebars of your suitcase or secure it in a car by passing a seatbelt through. However, unlike our selection for Best Overall, the Away Pet Carrier, this bag has not been crash test certified by the Center for Pet Safety. The carrier is available in black, green, and tan, and folds up flat for storage.

Price at time of publish: $125

Dimensions: 17.5 x 11 x 10 inches | Size Recommendation: Pets up to 16 pounds | Colors: Black, green, and tan | Materials: Neoprene, mesh, polyester

Wild One Travel Carrier

The Spruce Pets / Anna Mejorada

Best Budget

Petsfit Expandable Pet Carrier

Petsfit Expandable Pet Carrier


What We Like
  • Plush liner can be unzipped and removed for cleaning

  • The expandable side gives pet more room to spread out

  • Includes external pocket and and a loop for wheeled luggage handles

What We Don’t Like
  • Handles are not padded and can become uncomfortable

The Petsfit Expandable Pet Carrier offers extra space for your pet at a reasonable price. The small-sized version is a fraction of the cost ($48 at the time of publish) when compared to the Away Pet Carrier, our Best Overall choice ($275 at the time of publish). 

The wire-framed structure of the carrier allows for flexibility when placed under an airline seat. While you wait to board, a zippered mesh encasement can be opened up while keeping your pet fully contained. Pets are usually required to stay in their carriers unless you are in a designated pet area of the airport. With this carrier, a zippered mesh encasement can be opened up while giving your pet extra room to stretch while keeping them fully contained. Our participating dog could not fully stand in the small-sized carrier, but they did have room to move around and get cozy. The carrier comes with a plush pad that can be unzipped and fully removed for cleaning. 

The carrier has a padded shoulder strap and two unpadded handles. We found the latter to be slightly uncomfortable when holding for a longer duration (e.g. waiting in line to deplane). To give your hands and shoulder a break, there is a loop on one side to slot through the telescopic handlebar of a suitcase. 

Price at time of publish: $48 (Small)

Dimensions: Small: 16 x 10 x 9 inches;  Medium: 17 x 11 x 11 inches; Large: 19 x 12 x 12 inches  | Size Recommendation: Small: pets up to 9 pounds; Medium: pets up to 13 pounds; Large: pets up to 19 pounds | Colors: Green, black, gray-brown, light gray | Materials: Nylon, mesh

Petsfit Expandable Pet Carrier

The Spruce Pets / JT Wilde

Best for Cargo

Gunner G1 Kennel Intermediate

Gunner G1 Kennel Intermediate


What We Like
  • Lifetime warranty

  • Back wheels make the heavy carrier easier to transport

  • Small, Medium, and Intermediate sizes are 5 Star Crash Test certified by the Center For Pet Safety

  • Reinforce sides absorb impact and regulate temperature

What We Don’t Like
  • Very heavy and typically requires more than one person to move

If your dog is too big to fly in the main cabin—which for most airlines is around 20 pounds—then they will have to ride in the cargo section of the airplane. The best option we found is the Gunner G1 Kennel. It’s designed to keep your dog as comfortable as possible, with rotomolded double walls to regulate the temperature and absorb the impact for any bumps that may occur during takeoff, in the air, and when landing. You won’t be able to access your dog during your flight, so it’s important to make sure they are secure prior to boarding.

Your dog will need water in their kennel for the flight, and the recessed floor for this carrier will limit any discomfort they may experience in case of a spill. You can also add an orthopedic bed designed for the kennel or your dog’s favorite blanket.

The kennels are made in the United States and come with a lifetime warranty. There are four sizes available and all except the largest received a five-star crash test certification from the Center for Pet Safety.

To find the right size for your dog, Gunner offers an online tool that takes into consideration your dog’s weight and measurements with length from nose to base of tail and height from front paws to top of the head. The kennel has rear wheels to help with transport, but we found it necessary to have two adults at a minimum for moving, especially with a dog inside. And in case anyone with hands instead of paws gets stuck inside, the door can be opened from both sides by humans. 

Price at time of publish: $700 (Intermediate)

Dimensions: Small 24.5 x 18.62 x 19 inches; Medium 29.5 x 20.5 x 23.5 inches; Intermediate 34  x 23 x 28.5 inches; Large 40.25 x 28 x 33.25 inches | Size Recommendation: Various; depends on height and length of dog | Colors: Tan, gunmetal, green, mossy oak, black| Materials: Aluminum

Best Tote Style

Love Thy Beast Nylon Pet Travel Carrier

Love Thy Beast Nylon Pet Travel Carrier

Love Thy Beast

What We Like
  • Sturdy base with an easy-to-remove platform for cleaning

  • Large zipper pocket on one side

  • Smaller zipper pocket also functions as a loop for suitcase handles or seatbelt

  • Lightweight and suitable for daily use

What We Don’t Like
  • Soft sides don’t provide as much protection

The Love Thy Beast Nylon Pet Travel Carrier is a soft-sided tote-style bag with two shoulder straps and a sturdy base so your pet can stand confidently. It’s made of nylon and canvas, and the internal panel, which is held in place with hook and loop straps, is easy to take out and wipe clean. It’s also very lightweight and suitable for daily use. 

Our eight-pound canine participant was able to stand up, sit, lay, and turn around inside the bag when fully zipped. The bag is designed to support dogs up to 25 pounds.

The two longer sides of the rectangular-shaped bag are opaque and each features a zippered pocket. One pocket is large enough to stash essentials such as puppy pads, a leash, and a collapsible water bowl. The other pocket is slimmer with dual zippers so it can also be used as a loop for a seatbelt or suitcase handlebars. The top and shorter sides are made from a durable mesh so you and your pet can keep an eye on each other.

We found that the mesh made it difficult for other passengers to see our furry traveler, and the bag has less structured protection than other carriers we tested, so be sure to give your aisle mates notice that your pet is inside so they can watch their step.

Price at time of publish: $160

Dimensions: 17 x 8 x 12 inches | Size Recommendation: Pets up to 25 pounds | Colors: Black, Forest, Dust, Red | Materials: Nylon, canvas | Care: Spot cleaning recommended

Love Thy Beast Nylon Pet Travel Carrier

The Spruce Pets / Anna Mejorada

Best for Cats

Travel Cat The Transpurrter Ultimate Calming Convertible Cat Carrier

TravelCat The Transpurrter Ultimate Calming Convertible Cat Carrier


What We Like
  • Stratch resistant mesh and water-resistant interior

  • Interior is designed to be calming with full blackout capability

  • Various straps allow for customization in how the bag is carried

What We Don’t Like
  • Carrier is long, limiting its ability to fit under all airline seats

  • Too unwieldy for wearing as a crossbody carrier

With scratch-resistant mesh, the Transpurrter Ultimate Calming Convertible Cat Carrier from Travel Cat is an excellent choice for air travel with a kitty companion. If you have an anxious cat or one that is new to travel, this carrier is designed to offer a calming space with a black interior and a full blackout side panel to block out external stimulation.

The versatile bag can be carried in multiple ways including as a duffle, a backpack, and on top of a suitcase. We found the bag to be easy to carry in all formations except as a crossbody bag. But the weight distribution might feel different for you with your cat inside. 

A leash tether is located inside so you can open up one of the panels to let your cat poke their head out. This is both adorable and very convenient for layovers, giving your cat the opportunity to see where they are without worrying that they will escape. To further foil any spur-of-the-moment urges to bolt from the bag, the zippers snap closed to prevent your cat from pawing it open. 

The carrier features external pockets for essentials, is easy to spot clean, and has an internal mat that can be removed and machine washed. 

Price at time of publish: $170

Dimensions: 19 X 10.5 X 11 inches | Size Recommendation: Pets up to 30 pounds | Colors: Black and teal | Materials: Nylon, mesh

Travel Cat The Transpurrter Ultimate Calming Convertible Cat Carrier

The Spruce Pets / Morgan Ashley Parker

Final Verdict

Our favorite airline-ready pet carrier is Away's The Pet Carrier, which is not only attractive but fully featured, with multiple points of entry, a trolley sleeve, lots of ventilation, a waterproof lining, and a machine washable bed. For a more affordable option, check out the Petsfit Expandable Pet Carrier instead. It's got lots of ventilation, and zip-out accordion sections that let you make the carrier a lot bigger—and more comfortable for your cat or dog—when you're not walking around with it.

What To Look For in an Airline-Approved Pet Carrier

Size Guidelines

The exterior measurements of the carrier you select must fall within the sizing guidelines provided by the airline provider for your flight. A typical limitation is that pet carriers need to be within 18 inches long, 11 inches wide, and 11 inches tall to fly in the cabin. Some airlines also have a maximum weight for your pet plus their carrier, but this varies between airlines, so we recommend using the guidelines provided by the airline you intend to fly with your pet most frequently. Here are the restrictions for some popular airlines:

Beyond requirements, the interior of your carrier should be spacious enough for your pet to stand (even temporarily), turn around, lie down, and adopt multiple positions.

Easy Carrying

If your pet carrier will be your personal item on a flight, then it's likely you'll also be juggling a piece of carry-on luggage. If you have a piece of wheeled luggage with a standard handle, then look for what's called a "trolley sleeve" when shopping for a carrier. A trolley sleeve is a tight band that attaches to your luggage handle, allowing your carrier to ride on top of your luggage.

While most carriers feature two handles, you may also want to seek out a carrier with a third, cross-body shoulder strap. This can make it easier to tote a carrier through airports, leaving your hands free for additional luggage. Many of our favorite carriers have a removable shoulder strap, which can be left off if you're trying to save a little weight.

Hard-Sided vs Soft-Sided

The carriers that made our list tend to fall in between hard and soft, offering structured yet flexible coverage for your pet that is just malleable enough to accommodate under the seat dimensions on an airplane. The softest of our selects, the tote-style Love Thy Beast Nylon Pet Carrier, has firm base which is important for your pet to feel steady while being carried. If you dog is too big to fly in cabin, then you definitely need a hard-sided kennel, like our Best for Cargo choice, the Gunner G1 Kennel

How We Tested

We researched and selected 13 pet carriers for real-world testing on flights with a cat or dog. 

Each traveling duo gathered insights and made notes about their shared experience, mainly traveling during the peak holiday season, and then provided their feedback within the following categories: size, design, portability, ease of cleaning, comfort, quality, and value.

Equipped with this first-hand information, we ranked and categorized our top picks to simplify your search for the perfect pet carrier to suit your needs, habits, and preferences.

  • What sized pet carrier is allowed on airplanes under a seat?

    There is no standard among airlines so you have to check the guidelines with your flight provider for each flight. All of the carriers on our list have been approved by at least one major airline provider based in the United States, including Delta, United Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest, or Jetblue, but each has its own pet policy.

  • What is the weight limit for pets in the cabin on airplanes?

    Some airlines have a maximum weight of 20 pounds, which typically includes both your pet and their carrier. But each flight provider has their own pet policy.

  • What should I put in a carrier along with my pet?

    It’s important to give your dog or cat as much space as possible but you can offer a few comforts. A small treat or toy to reinforce good behavior, and a small blanket can make the interior a little cozier. Introduce your pet to the carrier at least a few days before your flight to help them get accustomed to the space. 

  • How do I keep my pet calm inside their airline carrier?

    Introduce your pet to the carrier at least a few days before your flight to help them get accustomed to the space. Place a treat inside so they build a positive association with the carrier. Before you board, make sure your pet has the opportunity to pee–no one likes to be contained with a full bladder. Try to remain calm and upbeat, pets pick up on the emotions of their humans very quickly, so if you are relaxed, they are more likely to be relaxed. If anxiety is a reoccurring issue for your pet, speak with your veterinarian about the appropriate options for your cat or dog.

Why Trust The Spruce Pets?

This story was written by Anna Mejorada, a writer for The Spruce Pets, who shares her home with a happy pomeranian named Gidget. From NYC, Anna and Gidget have flown to various locations including Aruba, Nantucket, and San Francisco. Before researching and writing about pet products for a living, Anna embarked on a self-mandated, ongoing quest to find the optimal items for her dog. She is now delightfully devoted to helping humans discover and select the most favorable products for their pets.