Pet Travel Debate: Road Trip or Flight?

Thursday, July 11, 2013 by

chocolate labs travel debate

Boys, let’s not fight.

There’s a lot of planning that goes into traveling with pets. Perhaps the first consideration to make (after deciding to take your pet with you) is how you will be traveling to your destination. Some trips necessitate a specific mode of travel—for example, if you will be traveling overseas you know that you will not be able to drive—but others, such as domestic trips within a country, can be taken by either plane or car.

Which mode of travel is right for you and your pet? We’ve made lists of pros and cons for each option to help you decide whether you will be flying or driving with your pet on your next trip.


Hit the Road

The Skinny:

Travel by car is the most popular mode of transportation in the United States. In fact, a recent survey by the US Department of Transportation shows that 9 out of 10 long-distance summer trips are taken in a car. Because of extensive highway systems in most developed nations, travel by car is an option even for trips that span thousands of miles. Depending on the pet owner and the size and preferences of the pet, pets who travel by car will ride in either the back (or front) seat of a car, or in a crate in the enclosed cargo area of a larger vehicle. Check out our tips on pet road travel if you decide a trip by car best meets your needs.

giant dog in car window

Dog in car via Wikimedia


  • Often cheaper than flying with a pet, especially when traveling shorter distances
  • Gives you more control over your pet’s care and safety, as you remain with your pet through the entire journey
  • No baggage limits—you can bring everything your pet (and you!) will need for your trip without worrying about any weight or size limits
  • Less regulations—flying with a pet requires adherence to airline rules and standards, whereas driving is much less regulated
  • Can be less stressful for pets with separation anxiety


  • Road trips often last much longer than plane rides, often several days if the distance being traveled is far
  • Requires planned stops, including booking overnight stays at pet-friendly hotels which might charge extra fees for bringing pets
  • You will need to respond to all of your pet’s needs on the road, including potty breaks, travel anxiety, and potential carsickness
  • Many pets only ever ride in cars for unpleasant reasons, such as traveling to the vet, and have built up negative associations with car rides which can lead to travel anxiety
  • If not properly restrained, pets can be a distraction or even a hazard in a moving vehicle


Book a Flight

The Skinny:

Travel by airplane is a popular mode of transportation for those traveling longer distances, especially trips over 1000 miles. While not all towns have their own airports, air travel can take you to most places you’d want to go. Due to size restrictions, the majority of pets traveling by plane will ride as cargo or excess baggage, with only the smallest of pets being allowed to ride in-cabin with their owners. Different airlines have different regulations regarding pet travel, and some are considered more pet-friendly than others. If you decide air travel is right for your needs, be sure to check out our air travel checklist.

cat on plane

Kitty, get down from there. That’s not how pets travel on planes.


  • Much quicker than a road trip—even the longest international plane rides last less than a day, and most domestic flights last only a few hours. This means that time spent traveling is minimized, which can be good for pets with travel anxiety
  • Statistically, air travel is safer than riding in a car
  • More convenient—it’s much less work to be a passenger than it is to be a driver
  • Might be the only option, if traveling overseas
  • Pets are handled by trained professionals in a controlled environment—you may love your pet, but that doesn’t mean you are necessarily the most qualified pet transporter


  • Often more expensive than traveling by car
  • Requires an airline-approved travel crate and a crate-trained pet
  • Lots of regulations and paperwork required (especially for international travel), so you will need to prepare in advance
  • Some pets (such as very young, very old, or sick pets) may not be capable of safely traveling by plane, and snub-nosed breeds are only able to fly during certain months of the year
  • Can be difficult for pets with separation anxiety or those who have not been crate-trained


What is your preferred method of traveling with your pet? Do you have any stories about driving or flying with your pet? Let us know in the comments below!