The Definitive Shopping Guide for Pet Carriers and Travel Crates

Finding the perfect pet carrier can be as stressful as taking the trip itself. We’ve been through it all before for a couple different pets. Here’s what we can tell you. Start with the pet carrier’s most important features: Size, material, and comfort-related additions. Good pet parents want their furry friends to be comfortable and have a lot of space. Some people are looking for a bargain to make room in the rest of their travel budget. Others want their pet travel crate to match the rest of their luggage.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) imposes a set of guidelines for traveling animals. Measures must be taken to ensure the safety and comfort of both pets and human passengers during the flight regardless of its length or duration. Crates and carriers must uphold these guidelines irrespective of your furry friend’s size and temperament. It is essential to purchase an IATA-compliant crate; commercial airlines want to ensure that your pet is transported safely and securely during the flight. For the IATA’s full document on container information, see their Live Animal Regulations General Container Requirements document.

Though purchasing an IATA-compliant crate is an excellent way to ensure safety, airlines tend to enforce more strict guidelines than what is required in the IATA official document. It is therefore essential to check with your airline for further instruction. For more information about specific airlines, check out our online resource.


Size Matters for Safety and for Choosing an Airline

While traveling, your pet should be able to turn around and lie down inside the crate without difficulty. An inappropriately-sized crate can catalyze panic, which could lead to breathing trouble and other dangerous conditions. IATA guidelines mandate a pet carrier size based on the size of your animal. They have a complicated formula and somewhat confusing infographic for finding the perfectly-sized crate. You can find their complete guidelines here, but here is the basic size information you need to know to choose your pet carrier.


  • The crate’s length should be greater than or equal to the full length of your dog at rest.
  • The crate’s height should be greater than or equal to the height of your dog while standing.
  • The crate’s width should be twice as wide as your dog’s widest point (often the shoulders).


These IATA guidelines exist to ensure your pet’s safety and relative comfort, but you must also consider the rules and size limitations issued by the airline. Check with our Airline Pet Reservation Guide to view the carrier size limits for any airline you and your pet may want to travel with.


Pet Carriers are Cut from Different Cloth—Literally
A pet carrier may be IATA-compliant, but you should exercise further discretion when choosing your pet’s temporary travel home. Crates, kennels, and pet carriers come in hundreds of materials, sizes, and shapes, but structural integrity stands as one of the most important factors to consider; some carriers are soft-sided, while others are rigid. Below, we have outlined the benefits and disadvantages of each option.



Hard-sided kennels are built to remain stable during takeoff and landing. They offer maximum ventilation and easy visibility; flight attendants should be able to see directly into the crate to ensure both pet and human safety. The extra protection provided with a hard-sided crate will allow your animal to move around, stretch, and relax in the comfort of the plane’s cargo storage. Should suitcases or additional crates move around, a hard-sided case can protect your pooch from potential harm.



If your pet is flying with you in the cabin—maybe you have a small Pomeranian or a good-mannered cat—soft-sided pet carriers are strongly recommended; most hard-sided pet carriers, for pets around this size, are around 10” in height. This prevents the crate from fitting under your seat during takeoff and landing. A soft-sided carrier, however, is collapsible, allowing you to safely store your pet under the seat. These pet travel crates provide more room and space for the animal to move around, and they are often a more comfortable alternative to the rigidity of hard-sided crates.


The Bottom Line

The structure of your container depends primarily on your furry friend’s place within the aircraft. If your animal is small (and well-behaved) enough to ride with you, a soft-sided, collapsible carrier is the best option, as it will better fit under the seat. If your dog is riding in cargo, hard-sided pet carriers are the best means of protection and comfort.


Other Considerations

Though size and material are two of the most important characteristics, pet crates must include other features. Below, we have listed several essential factors to consider.

  • Material—If you are opting for a hard-sided crate, ensure that the screws, nuts, and bolts are made of metal rather than plastic. These materials are more durable and will thus prevent your pet’s escape. Additionally, the door should be a single piece of metal and unable to collapse.
  • Ventilation—An IATA-compliant dog crate should have air holes on all four sides of the structure, and they should be at least halfway down each side. Optimal airflow is of utmost importance for traveling pets; air pressure and stress can create less-than-ideal breathing conditions.
  • Food and Water Bowls—Whether your flight is an hour and a half or trans-Atlantic, you cannot trust that your pet can go without food and water. Airplane crates often include two separate dishes for food and water. If your furry friend is traveling in cargo, the food and water dishes must be attached to the door itself for easy access by flight attendance. Pet parents should also include feeding instructions and food.
  • Crate Lining—The IATA guidelines mandate a lining of cushions and absorbent paper. This provides comfort, protects from injury, and serves as absorbent material in the case of a bathroom-related accident.