Pet Travel Debate: Cabin v. Cargo

Thursday, August 01, 2013 by

chihuahua lying down

Very small dogs such as Chihuahuas have the option of flying in-cabin or as cargo

So you’re planning a trip via airplane and you’re wondering how your pet should accompany you. The cargo hold has more room, but you’d be able to stay with your pet throughout the duration of your travel if she rides in-cabin with you.

As discussed in yesterday’s post, there are limits on which pets are capable of flying in-cabin, so this debate is really only applicable for people who have pets small enough to have the option of riding in-cabin. If your pet is not small enough to comfortably fit in a carrier which can be stowed under the seat of an airplane, she will have to ride as cargo.

Here’s the lowdown on how pets ride in-cabin or as cargo, and some pros and cons of each option.


The Skinny

Because of the size restrictions imposed by airlines, very few pets are capable of riding in-cabin on planes. These pets are typically toy dogs or small cats, who must be small enough to comfortably fit in a carrier that can be stowed under the seat of an airplane. Kennels for in-cabin riding can be either hard-sided crates or soft-sided carriers. Many airlines also place a limit on how many pets can ride in-cabin per flight, and typically only one in-cabin pet per customer is allowed.

dog in carrier on plane

Only very small pets meet the in-cabin size requirements of most airlines.


  • For pets/owners with separation anxiety, staying together throughout travel can reduce stress
  • No time spent waiting on the tarmac to be loaded into the cargo hold
  • Ideal for small pets, such as rodents and reptiles, who don’t need much space


  • All of the stimuli (sights, smells, sounds) of a flight full of humans might overwhelm pets who are already stressed out by travel
  • A very small carrier is required, which can be uncomfortable for any pet on the border of needing a larger size
  • Smells, sounds, and allergens produced by pets might annoy other passengers


The Skinny

The majority of pets traveling by air will ride as cargo. Most flights which accept pets have cargo holds which are temperature-controlled and pressurized, so the environment your pet experiences in the cargo hold is essentially the same as the one you experience in-cabin. Typically, pets ride in darkness when they travel in the cargo hold, which makes the experience less stressful and encourages pets to sleep during the flight. Riding as cargo requires an airline-approved crate, such as the Petmate Sky Kennel, which has ventilation holes on all sides and which has water bowls attached.

cat kennel

Cat in airline-approved kennel via Petmate

The most stressful part of riding as cargo for most pets is the time spent between the airport and the airplane. Pet-friendly airlines (such as United, KLM, and Lufthansa) have procedures in place to minimize this time, making sure that pets are the last items loaded onto the plane and the first items taken off upon landing. Additionally, these airlines use trained pet handling professionals who know how to keep pets safe and happy during the transition from airport to cargo hold.


  • Less stressful for pets and other passengers who might not want to share their flight with pets
  • More comfortable for pets, as they are allowed to have larger crates in which they can stretch out and move around
  • If flying with a pet-friendly airline, handlers are trained professionals who know what is best for pets. You may love your pet, but that doesn’t make you an expert on her safety!


  • Owners might be anxious if they cannot see their pet at all times throughout travel
  • Might be stressful for pets/owners with separation anxiety
  • If not flying with a pet-friendly airline, time spent waiting to be loaded onto the plane can be stressful or dangerous for certain pets, especially in the summertime


Though each option has its pros and cons, PetRelocation always recommend that pets fly in the cargo hold, even when the option of riding in-cabin exists. The bottom line is that riding as cargo is generally safer and less stressful for pets and people. For more information about this debate, check out these PetRelocation posts about Cabin v. Cargo and dispelling Pet Cargo Myths.

Which option would you choose when traveling with pets? What do you like or dislike about the options presented here? Let us know in the comments below.

chihuahua looking up

“I only want to come along if I get to choose the restaurant.”

Many cities are becoming increasingly pet-friendly, with more and more restaurants, stores, and even bars welcoming canine companions with a smile and a dog treat. Additionally, many cities celebrate summertime with outdoor public events (such as free concerts or outdoor movie screenings) that often welcome dogs as well as their humans.

These events may initially seem like a dog lover’s dream, but is sitting through a screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in a crowded park on a hot night really Fido’s idea of fun? We’ve listed some pros and cons to help you decide whether or not to leave your pup at home when you hit the town.

Bring Your Dog Along

The Skinny

You’ve probably noticed that there are lots of spots around town that allow pets. Pet-friendly dining establishments (such as bars and restaurants) often allow pets only in outdoor areas. Most pet-friendly public events are outdoors and require that dogs stay on leashes the whole time. Some businesses even welcome pets with treats or bowls of water.

beagle at table

Snoopy has fabulous table manners.


  • Can provide opportunities to socialize with other pets and animals, which is especially important in training puppies and young dogs
  • Allows your dog to experience lots of different sights, sounds, and smells, which can ease anxiety in future situations that are similarly disorienting, such as travel
  • Won’t need to worry about what dogs get up to at home in owner’s absence, especially for dogs who have destructive behaviors or separation anxiety issues


  • Too much activity can overexcite and confuse a dog, and even well-trained dogs can turn nervous or aggressive if they feel overwhelmed by their environment
  • Dogs who have not been properly socialized will likely be stressed out by large crowds of strange people and pets
  • Loud noises (from movies, restaurants, or live music events) can hurt dogs’ sensitive ears and dogs who are not accustomed to being outside for long stretches of time might overheat if kept outside without cooling-off breaks during the summer


Leave Your Dog at Home

The Skinny

Though they may be man’s best friend, dogs aren’t people and they don’t necessarily enjoy the same things as their owners. Owners who leave their pets at home find that, even though a place or event might be labeled pet-friendly, that label does not always indicate that it has pets’ best interests in mind. Events range in duration, and owners often leave pets at home unaccompanied or, in the case of a longer event, leave their dog with a petsitter, at a boarding facility, or at doggie daycare.

chihuahua asleep on couch

This pup would rather rest at home.


  • Dogs are left in the comfortable, controlled environment that is their home
  • No need to worry about whether or not there will be other, less well-behaved dogs around
  • Saves pets the stress of being surrounded by strangers in an unknown environment and owners the stress of making sure that their pet is happy and well-behaved in public


  • If dogs have separation anxiety/destructive behavior issues, owners might come home to a damaged living space
  • If events run long enough that pets cannot be left home alone, someone will need to be brought in to care for the pet (such as a pet boarder or pet sitter), which can get expensive
  • If pets are always left at home, they could be missing out on opportunities to socialize and become comfortable adapting to different environments


These pros and cons don’t apply to all scenarios, of course. Some public places, such as dog parks, are specially meant for dogs to run around and get acquainted with each other. Bar patrons or concertgoers might be upset by a dog barking excitedly, but that’s welcome behavior at a dog park. In the end, the best way to gauge whether or not you should bring your pooch with you is to know your dog’s personality and limits, and to be aware of the challenges presented by bringing your dog to a public place.

Do you take your dog with you to public places and events? Do you prefer to leave your dog at home when you go out? Share your stories in the comments below.