Pet Travel: How to Clear Airport Security with a Pet

Pet Travel - Clearing Airport Security with a PetYou and your pet are traveling in the cabin of an airplane together. You have checked in at the reservation desk, your pet is quietly lying down in their airline compliant pet carrier, you have tickets and possessions in hand. Everything is going according to plan. You proceed to the TSA security checkpoint. As you wait in the line, you wonder – what is coming next? How will TSA officials deal with your furry traveling companion?

PetTravel has received many questions about how people traveling with pets will be treated once they get to the front of the security line. Certainly, with all the confusion at security checkpoints and the flow of passengers intent on clearing the line and proceeding to their gate as quickly as possible, it is helpful to know how you and your pet will be cleared through security.

According to TSA: “Our security procedures do not prohibit you from bringing a pet on your flight. You should contact your airline or travel agent, however, before arriving at the airport to determine your airline’s policy on traveling with pets.”

Security Screening

More from TSA: “You will need to present the animal to the Security Officers at the checkpoint. You may walk your animal through the metal detector with you. If this is not possible, your animal will have to undergo a secondary screening, including a visual and physical inspection by our Security Officers. Your animal will NEVER be placed through an X-ray machine. However, you may be asked to remove your animal from its carrier so that the carrier can be placed on the X-Ray machine.”

There is a good chance that you will be asked to remove your pet from the carrier so that the carrier can be run through the x-ray machine. You will walk through the upright metal detector with your pet. If you are traveling with a pet who is high spirited or scares easily, you can request a room so that your pet will not escape should you not be able to contain them when out of the carrier.

There has been a lot of news lately regarding the introduction of the controversial body scanners in many airports. If the old stand up metal detectors have been replaced with body scanners, both the pet and the owner are subject to pat down. Again, you will remove the pet from the carrier and make it available to security officers should they decide to inspect your pet. Should you require a pat down, you should put your pet back in the carrier first.

Being prepared is key to traveling with your pet. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your gate. Keep your accessories (coat, purse, laptop or other items you must carry) at a minimum so you will have free hands to handle your pet at security checkpoints. Take your pet out of the carrier after you have removed your shoes, belt, etc. and put your items on the table to be scanned. Be sure and carry a leash in the carrier to loop around your wrist to be sure that your pet cannot escape when you remove them from the carrier. Even calm pets can get nervous and scared when around groups of people and in unfamiliar environments.

We would welcome your feedback about your experiences at security checkpoints. Please make a comment so that you can help others who are traveling with their pet. We appreciate your time.

More information on pet travel by air

491 comments to Pet Travel: How to Clear Airport Security with a Pet

  • We regret that we could not get back to you on time. The TSA does not care about the size of your carrier, but the airline might. We sure hope all went well.

  • Jamie – you are very much within your rights to request a screening room. If denied, ask for a supervisor. The policy enforcement by TSA depends entirely on your agent. Their regulations say that the carrier must go through the scanner, but enforcement may vary. No guarantees.

  • Anna – no, if you are flying domestically, you will be fine without a vet certificate if your airline does not require it.

  • Hey,

    Thanks for the great post. This is the first time I’m traveling with my pet and we’re concerned about the bag. It’s 2 inches longer than the standard TSA requirement and we’re worried that they’ll either measure the bag or stop us at the gate altogether.

    Is this something that has happened before?

    Also, when in the flight what are some best practices for our pet. She’s probably going to be a little stressed but she’s a pretty docile dog. I was wondering if we could let here poke her head out for air or put her on our lap for a few minutes.

    Hopefully you can get to us since we’re flying on the 13th! Thanks for your time. :)

  • Jamie

    I am moving from San Francisco to Chicago in a few months, and will be bringing my cat. We did this move in reverse few years ago, and because my cat was adopted from a shelter, getting her in the carrier is an impossible process, and once I finally get her in it I cannot take her out until we are at our final destination. Last time I did this the TSA agent in Chicago understood, and left her in it while he wiped the outside of the carrier down. Can this be requested at the airport? There is no way I will be able to take her out of the carrier -even in a secured room.

  • Anna

    Hi – We will be flying from Massachusetts to Washington State and then back to Massachusetts in a couple months on Southwest. The airline doesn’t require a veterinary certificate, but will we need one to enter the states on the way there or back? And if so, where in the process should we expect to be asked for it, if not by the airline? Thanks.

  • Jessica – Atlanta is a large airport with all sorts of facilities. Customs agents may want to inspect your kitty, but probably not. Cats pass through customs pretty easily as there are no vaccination requirements for them. If you are traveling with a current health certificate, you should be fine. If you should be required to remove your cat for inspection, there are rooms available for that. If anyone hesitates, ask for a supervisor.

  • Jessica

    We will be moving back to the US from Chile. We will have a 4-hour layover at ATL. We are planning on requesting a private screening for our cat who will be travelling with us in the cabin. Have you heard of positive/negative comments for that specific airport ? What should I expect at the customs in regards of our cat ? Will I have to take him out of his bag again ?

    Thank you.

  • Paola – if your pet is traveling in the cargo hold as accompanied checked baggage, you need to contact Qatar Airways to inquire as to whether they will hold your pet in Doha. This is important because, if you have to claim your pet and recheck it due to the length of the layover, then it will most likely cause you to have to enter Qatar and conform to their regulations. If your pet is traveling as manifest cargo, then you still need to ask the question to the cargo department. Some airlines will allow you to see your dog, but this depends on the facilities they have available at a given airport.

    If your pet is traveling as accompanied checked baggage in the hold, then you will claim your pet at baggage claim and pass through customs with them. If it is traveling as manifest cargo, then you will get his paperwork from Qatar’s cargo facility and clear him in customs located in another building nearby.

  • Paola

    I will be traveling with my cross breed dog from Arusha, Tanzania to Miami on Qatar Airways next week.
    I would like to know how good is this airline on transporting pets. In this case the route will be JRO-DAR-DOH-MIA with a layover of 8hrs in Doha. It is true that they will take care of the dog during the layover – taking her out of the kennel for stretch and walk and provide her water and food – ?
    Once we are in Miami, what will be the procedure to collect her and where will she inspected?
    Is my first time traveling with her to the States, so I really appreciate any help!

  • Dana – you will need to contact each airline separately to tell them that you are traveling with a cat as checked baggage in the cargo hold. There will be separate fees for traveling with a cat.

    You will clear customs with your cat in New York. If your friend’s cat is traveling in the cargo hold, then you will claim it at baggage claim and clear customs. After doing that, you will check in at the JetLite check-in counter for the next part of your flight to Miami. The documents you have to enter the US will be fine for JetLite. You should travel with proof of rabies vaccination and a health certificate issued by a licensed vet within 10 days of travel.

  • Hi Leslie – there should be no charge to custom clear your dogs in Miami.

  • Leslie

    Hi, I am trying to fly my dogs from the Caribbean to LAX. I realize they have to be checked in customs at the first port of entry which would Miami. Is there an import fee?

  • Dana

    Hi, my friend ask me bring his cat from Kazakhstan to Miami, He live in Miami. I will travel via transavia at first to New York, then via JetLite to Miami
    How I can registrate cat if I will have 2 different air companies in my flight.
    I have all documents passport and all vaccination. Do I need special documents when I will travel from New York to Miami?
    Thank you in advance!

  • Maria – 1 1/2 hours will probably won’t be enough time unless you carry the original documents with you and know where the customs office is at LAX. Your dog will not be taken
    out of the crate during this process. There should be representatives available to help with the giant crate or at the least they will provide you a cart. You should probably allot more time to the customs clearance process as it is difficult to predict delays.

  • Maria

    My sister is bringing my dog back to me from Guatemala to Salt Lake City. He is a LAB mix 65 lvd dog. It is the first time he will be flying as checked bag (I sent him to Guatemala as cargo). She is flying via LAX and has 1:30 lay over. Is this enough time to clear customs and re check the dog to get him to the connecting flight? Is there people at the baggage claim that can help her with the luggage and Giant size crate (he is a heavy dog). Do they take the dog out of the crate when they go through customs?

  • Jen

    Re: Clearing US customs with pets. Actually you go through immigration first, then get luggage at baggage claim (including pets carried as checked luggage), and then go through customs. I have done this many times. It’s always the same: Immigration –> Baggage –> Customs

  • Chris – if your pet is traveling with you as accompanied checked baggage, you are correct. You will pick her up at baggage claim and clear customs with her.

  • Chris Robson

    Hi! I am returning to the US after living in Germany for 7 years. Our dog, who is 4 years old, (she was brought over to Germany from the US) will be accompanying me on the flight, traveling in cargo on Lufthansa. I will be clearing Customs at Dulles International. What I cannot get info on is where the dog will clear after deplaning. Will I pick her up at bulky baggage and we clear together, or do I clear Customs and then have to find Lufthansa Cargo or Dulles Cargo to get the dog.
    Any help is greatly appreciated! Thanks!!

  • Keila – you will be able to clear customs with your cat without a rabies certificate. The regulations for rabies with regards to cats come from the US States.

  • Keila

    I adopted a cat while studying in St. Kitts, a rabies free country. I was told that since we are coming from a rabies free country to the US (miami to be specific) I wouldn’t need a rabies certificate, but now I’m hearing different. I must leave tomorrow and I can’t leave without my cat. please help me get the right information.

  • Riji – here are the answers to your questions:
    1. You will need to carry both pups in airline compliant carriers like these: The carrier must be able to fit under the seat in front of you.
    2. You should have your pet vaccinated for rabies regardless as your state ordinances most likely require it. A microchip is a good idea but not a requirement.
    3. Spirit Airlines does not require a health certificate. That said, if you have any questions about your pet’s health, it is always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian prior to travel.
    4. The cost is $100 per pet carrier each way. There are 2 pets allowed per carrier, but that depends on whether there will be room for each pet to stand up and turn around in the carrier.
    5. Should you decide to take your pets with you, notify the airline immediately as there are a limited number of pets allowed in the cabin on each flight.

    We carry airline compliant pet carriers and all sorts of accessories for traveling pets in our store should you need them:

  • Riji


    My husband and I are travelling to NY from Dallas next week and we already reserved our flight tickets. But we decided only this week that we would wish to take our 5 month old and 4lbs Yorkie with us.
    So my questions are below:
    1. Can I carry him in hand? Or do we need a carrier whatsoever?
    2. What does he require besides all the vaccinations? A Microchip I guess?
    3. What documents do we need to carry on his behalf?
    4. What’s the fee for two ways on Spirit Airlines?
    5. Can I check him in few hours earlier since I didn’t inform them that I have a pet with him when I first reserved my tickets?

    Thank you! I really appreciate what you and how resourceful this page is!

  • Melanie – first of all, rabies vaccinations are not administered until a pup is 3 months old. You will be fine entering Canada with a health certificate. However, your route is worrisome and here’s why. If you are spending the night in Paris, you will have to clear customs and enter France. Unvaccinated puppies and kittens are not permitted to enter the country. Normally, puppies and kittens need to be at least 7 months to prepare to enter France from a high-rabies country like Tanzania. The only way you can make your trip now is to stay on the same airline and transit Paris with your puppy.

  • Jamie – the Center for Disease Control just changed the rules on allowing unvaccinated puppies to enter the country. You will have to email the CDC to request permission for home confinement.

  • Jamie

    Hi, I recently got a puppy, he’s only 1 1/2 month old. I want to know if he’ll be able to fly from Mexico to NYC with just his puppy vaccines and his health certificate? I called the airline and they told me those were the only requirements along with his kennel/crate to travel.

  • Melanie

    Hi there,

    I would like to take a stray puppy (8wks ish) from the streets in Arusha, Tanzania back home to Canada. I have 2 separate flights booked and will be spending one night in Paris in between flights(potentially in the airport). I’m flying with Turkish Airlines in business from Kilimanjaro Airport through Istanbul to Paris, then Paris to Montreal in economy with Air Canada.

    Do you think a rabies vaccination and a general health update from a local veterenarian will be sufficient documentation for me to get the puppy home? That’s all that appears to be needed for entry into Canada.

    Any suggestions would be great!

    Thank you!!!

  • Katie – most likely, traveling domestically wtih an un-vaccinated pet will not be a problem. That said, Michigan does have ordinances in place that require dogs and cats to have rabies vaccinations when old enough to do so. You will need to have that done in order to license your kitty in Michigan.

  • Katie

    I have a 5 week old kitten that I adopted from the shelter I volunteered at in Florida. I am her back to Michigan. Do they really check the age of the pets. She is pretty big for her age. She doesn’t have any medical records because she is too young and a stray. Do they care about that?

  • Naaman – first, check export requirements when leaving Dubai with a dog. You will need to find out where the airline’s cargo facility is in Paris and claim your dog there. Then you will need to check in on your next airline to Gothenburg. Be sure and leave yourself enough time for this or hire an agent to help you with this. You will also need to change from a pet crate to a pet carrier at that point so you will need to carry that with you. You will check in at the reservations desk at the airport for the next leg of your flight.

    As another option, KLM has a flight out of Dubai with a one hour layover in Amsterdam. Why not just fly through to Gothenburg and collect your pet there? Route time is a bit over 6 hours including the layover. Just a thought…

  • naaman sayegh


    im traveling from dubai to paris and same day from paris to gothenburg, what is the steps and how i will manage to get my small dog from paris cargo and take the dog with me on board ?

  • Hello Christina – Lufthansa has the best route we could find between Pisa and Lubbock, although it stops in Rome, Frankfurt and Denver before reaching Lubbock. All layovers are short and there should be enough time in Denver to clear customs. Unless you originate and/or terminate in a major city, there will be connecting flights. Try contacting them to inquire.
    Hope this helps.

  • Christina

    I am planning on flying from Pisa, Italy to Lubbock, Texas in mid December. I have 2 11 pound cats that my husband and I intend to have as carry on as we are aware of cold weather restrictions for cargo/checked baggage. Any suggestions on what airlines to fly with? We will be traveling on US military orders by the way, not sure if that will have any effect on the matter.

  • My Golden Retriever is traveling with me to England. Since she is ESA per the latest ADA regulations, we are flying with an international airline that is agreeable to her in the cabin with me.
    My question is about TSA and the security checkpoint in the USA:
    I have read (so much! on all this) that it is advisable to bring the dog to the airport ten days ahead of the flight to meet TSA and let the dog see the place, so forth. But I am not seeing info specific to that on the TSA links that come up regarding pet travel. Does anyone have experience with this? The idea definitely seems sound, but if TSA is too busy, perhaps they prefer not? I would appreciate suggestions on where to find reliable guidance as to security’s preference.
    Thank you for this article and all the input in the comments!

  • What country are you wanting to travel from and what country are you traveling to?

  • LUC


  • Katri – the only airlines that can handle the summer heat are United and Delta. You should fly early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are not as extreme to reduce risk for your pet. As for the height requirements, many airlines quote maximum requirements for hard carriers. When traveling with a soft sided carrier that can compress, the carrier can normally fit under the seat. Did you clarify that with the airline?

  • Katri

    Hello – My husband am moving from the US to Finland and need to bring our 2 cats with us. Now ran into a problem. You cannot transport animals via cargo from JFK in July and August. The only airline that flies direct has very strict size requirements with both hard and soft carriers having to be 20 cm / 8″ tall only. I believe the cats would be ok (each in their own carrier), but do such low height carriers exist? I didn’t find any on this website. Thank you!

  • Michele – you should contact TSA for the answer to this question. Email: Phone: 1-866-289-9673

  • Michele c

    , I wanted to bring along citronella bark collars as I fear my dogs may become nervous and bark and asked to leave the cabin. Will TSA permit me to being them?

  • Sophia – it sounds like the height is fine. Is the length sufficient? If so, and you bought the bags from Delta, we do not understand why they are giving you a hard time. We have never heard that a medium-sized, soft-sided carrier was refused boarding.

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