Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier

How very strange that I have not yet written this post, Dear Reader. Perhaps it’s because I shy away from anything that looks like a product review, but it is time that I share with you the top 10 things to look for when purchasing an airline-approved pet carrier. It’s likely to be the most important purchase you’ll make for international travel with your small pet! And just so we are clear, I am talking about in-cabin flying, not cargo. We specialize in small pet travel, after all! Small in this case means less than 9 kilograms (20 pounds).

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels

We are talking this size!

*Full Disclosure*: We are not sponsored by any company to write this post. This is based purely on our own experience and personal preferences. I invite you to go out there and do your own research, look up different companies, and see what feels right for you and your dog. This post is simply a guide to help you better understand what to look for and what to consider.

There are many brands of carriers out there. After you’ve done some online window shopping of your own, like many, you may fall in love the Sleepypod Air, or, if you have a larger toy breed, a Sherpa. But I will not lie to you: we absolutely love One For Pets’ One Bag Expandable Pet Carrier. To date, it is the only one that has every. single. thing. we look for, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a Canadian company. (We are Canadian after all!)

We bought the carrier at a fundraiser for a dog rescue about six years ago and we have never ever regretted it. I’ll be honest, Dear Reader: I have yet to see another that we would rather have. You can see Mom talk about it below.

Because I know you didn’t take notes (it’s okay, I wouldn’t either), I’ll recap the video. Here are the top 10 things to look for when purchasing an airline approved carrier.

1) Dimensions

Most airlines have specific maximum dimensions that they impose for in-cabin pet carriers. This dimension restriction is dictated by the amount of space available under the seats of the planes in the airline’s fleet. Always check before you fly that your carrier is appropriate for all the airlines you will be using on your trip. Remember to double check if you are under the umbrella of an airline consortium like Sky Team or Star Alliance. Your ticket may say Air France but you might actually be on a KLM plane. Keep that in mind.

After years of flying and many cross-Atlantic flights, we have found the “safe zone” for dimensions to be 48 cm long x 33 cm wide x 22 cm high (or 19 x 13 x 9 if you’re using inches). If you use this as your guide, you should be good to go. Smaller is always all right; you need to be careful if you are going above any of those dimensions.

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels

Some info on our carrier…

Side note: When flying with a pet, you can’t book the seats on an aircraft that are near any of the emergency exits or those that have some of the audio visual equipment below the seat in front of you.

2) Weight

Remember that the weight restrictions you see on any airline website for in-cabin travel include the weight of your carrier with your dog in it, unless otherwise specified. Generally ,the weight limit hovers around 9 kilograms (20 pounds). At less than 2 kg (3.5 to 4 lbs), I have a lot of wiggle room to play with. If your pet is closer to 7 kg (15 lbs), you’ll have to ensure that the carrier doesn’t put you over! The formula we always adhere to is Dog + Carrier = 9 kg (20 lbs) or less.

The One For Pet carrier only weighs 1.1 kg (2.5 lbs). That is pretty darn good. Some of the more fancy leather carriers are actually very heavy; if you add lots of metal accents, the weight just keeps going up. A case in point: should it be in your budget range, the Louis Vuitton airline dog carrier, with all that brass and leather, weighs WAY more than I do!

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels

Small DOES have advantages!

3) Standing

The carrier you select has to be rigid enough to stand on its own when put on the ground. In essence, what you are looking for is a little, portable, soft-sided dog house. The reason for this requirement is that your pet will be in the carrier under the seat in front on you, and the airline wants to make sure that your pet will not have a carrier that folds onto itself like so many city bags do. Plus, the dog has to be able to stand, turn around, and settle again comfortably. For those of you with long legged dogs like Italian Greyhounds, you may need to push the height limits as far as you can.

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels

Stand up – turn around – and resettle!

4) Collapsing

As you know, we are carry-on-only travellers. That means we travel extremely light. So it is vital to us that the carrier can collapse and be stored out of the way once we are on location. If all you have is a carry-on or a backpack, or you are sailing and thus in tight quarters, the last thing you want is a carrier you can’t stow away. The One For Pet collapses completely and comes with its own storage pouch. It’s also super lightweight so we don’t feel it in our bags and, as a result, we barely think of it until we need to fly home again.

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels

Collapses into that handy pouch!

Make sure that the way the bag collapses and is re-assembled isn’t super complicated. The One For Pet is just two zippers and that is it. I’ve seen some great bags that collapse, but the steps involved in “uncollapsing” it is far too convoluted for my liking. Keep it simple!

5) Expanding

The One For Pet carrier we use starts small and, thanks to its sloping sides, is easy to carry. And when needed—such as when on board and settled for flight—the carrier easily expands into a full rectangle thanks to two zippers and an accordion extension system. This expansion adds another 5 centimetres (2 inches) on both ends. That is rather substantial when you are as small as I am. This allows for extra leg room and stretching … for me, even room for an extra toy. For those of you with long bodied dogs, length and any extra length become really valuable.

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels

extra spaces is ALWAYS welcome on long flights!

6) Materials

I can’t stress enough how important it is that you focus on the solidity of the material used for the carrier you purchase. There are some really pretty bags out there, in all sorts of decorative fabrics or with cute added decorations. But the reality is, your airline-approved carrier is going to take a beating. Durability in this case matters more than aesthetics. I find that One For Pet seems to have achieved a happy marriage of looks and durability. When shopping, look for the following:

  • No-rip fabric. I have been under the seats of planes, trains, ferry boats, and more and I assure you, it’s all bolts and metal parts under there. Remember that this carrier is not just transporting your dog; it’s also protection from sharp edges, tar, salt, and more.
  • Easy to clean fabric. My carrier has been with me for over six years now. It’s been on airport floors, sidewalks, tarmac, salty piers, and more. Being able to just take a damp cloth to clean the carrier has been the key to keeping it still looking like new.
  • Quality on the inside! A lot of carriers have a plastic liner-board or sleeping pad. Personally, I prefer a removable and washable faux fur option. Plastic is not a breathable surface, so its darned uncomfortable when you have to spend many hours on it. If you add a blanket, all you have done is create a slip-and-slide inside your carrier. Far better to have a faux fur wrapped around foam—not around cardboard, which will fall apart, lose its rigidity, and suffer mightily if a liquid accident occurs.

I know I’m going to begin to sound like a late-night sponsored television ad, but, yup, One For Pet has this element down too: the liner-board is not just comfortable; it also expands when the bag is expanded, keeping the space comfortable and balanced! Amazing what a fold and two pieces of Velcro can accomplish! So clever!

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels

This on both sides means extra faux fur lounge space!

7) Design

There are some design elements we’ve come to truly appreciate when it comes to One For Pets’ carrier that we’ve found lacking in many other carriers. In order of importance to us, these are the design features we think you should consider:

  • An opening on top. To be perfectly blunt, if the carrier does not have this feature, we would not purchase it. Period. This is hands-down the single most-used access point. It not only allows for an aerial view for the bipeds to see me when I am on the ground, it also means I can easily make eye contact with them. It’s a thousand times easier to remove your pet from the carrier from the top than it is from the side. I can’t stress enough the importance of this feature. You really want this.
  • BOTH sides open. I have seen so many carriers with only one side that opens and, frankly, I just don’t get it. If you have ever flown, you’ll know how tight the space is in a plane. We have seen people put their pet under the seat in front of them and then once in the air, they go to check on their pet and, Oh look! The opening is on the other side facing away. Now you have to disturb your fellow travellers as you try and pull the carrier back out, and return it facing the right way. It’s just really not convenient at all. And, trust me, in the flurry of boarding and getting settled, many will forget to put the carrier in the right way.
  • Ventilation mesh. I know a lot of dogs like the tunnel effect but I am not one of them. Personally, I want to be able to see where I am going. In ALL directions. The One For Pets carrier has mesh above, on each end, and on one side. That provides me with a lot of visibility and also with proper ventilation. Sometimes the air is pretty stagnate and being in a carrier that doesn’t allow for airflow adds a dangerous element if your dog is overheating. And no, they will not make an exception and let you take your dog out of the carrier. So you want to make sure that there is lots of airflow. The lack of all-around ventilation mesh is an error we have seen in even the most fancy carriers. Having been stuck on a bus with no air conditioning in the summer heat, I assure you, do NOT underestimate the importance of this feature.
  • Pockets. You want at least one little pocket to keep some treats and poop bags. And when it comes to pockets, get one that zips shut. When you put something in that pocket, you want to make sure is stays there. Make sure the zippers are high quality ones.
  • Safety strap inside to keep your pet from jumping out!
  • Not a must but certainly a nice little extra, the One For Pets carrier has a double zipper at the back that allows us to slip the carrier onto the handle of our wheeled carry-on suitcases. Never use that feature with the pet inside since the bag can swivel out of place, but we like this feature when walking in the airport (those that allow it). It’s nice to not have to carry the carrier.
  • Multiple use. I love a carrier that doubles up as a car seat!
Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels

That big “window” on top? Yeah it IS our NUMBER 1 priority!

8) Straps

Technically, this could fall under the design heading but I find this to be so important that I wanted to give it its own spot in this post. Even if your dog is a lightweight like me, after a few hours of walking with the carrier on your shoulder, you will feel the pressure. You really want to make sure that the strap has a nice wide foam-padded part to help ease pressure on your shoulder. No matter how tough you think you are, why be uncomfortable? Also ensure that the length of the strap can be adjusted so that the carrier can hover at the thigh where your pet will be less jostled.

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels

Adjustable AND padded! Score!

You also want to make sure that you can remove the shoulder strap. This is a feature we have come to truly appreciate on the One For Pets. Once we are in tight quarters, such as on a bus or plane or when going through airport security, the long shoulder strap gets in the way. If you can’t remove it, the hanging shoulder strap gets caught in everything. And it does. Oh, does it ever! It’s MUCH better to have a removable strap that you can tuck in a pocket. In addition, we prefer the lightweight plastic snaps to the metal ones for unclipping the strap. We find the plastic snaps easier on the hands and less fiddly, and less metal is always a bonus when being scanned at airport security!

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels

Click on – click off!

And that leads me to the two short straps. You want to be able to hold your carrier so that it is at a comfortable spot around your thighs when walking. We have found that “sweet spot” to be just above the knees. Lower, and your knees are bouncing into the carrier, jostling the dog inside. Do not buy a carrier that does not have the short double straps! You will use these ALL THE TIME! And yes, two short straps makes for a much more balanced ride than just a single one. With just one strap, as soon as your pet moves, the entire bag is off balance and thus awkward for both you and your pet.

9) Shape

The carrier’s shape also comes into play. I used to have the small Sleepypod. We stopped using it because although it met a lot of the other requirements we’ve listed so far, its round shape made walking with it and carrying it really awkward. Sure, it was great for me; after all, dogs mostly sleep tucked in a circle. But for the bipeds, it was really inconvenient. It’s now my daybed at home.

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels Sleepypod

YEP! believe it or not the base of the sleepypod is INSIDE this fuzzy pillow case and makes the PERFECT daybed! The lid is stored somewhere should we want to use it as a carrier again.

The conventional rectangle is better, but again, there is an awkwardness to the shape. Nope. The triangular shape of the One For Pets carrier really adds a level of stability to the carrier that we have yet to find in any other carrier. Something so simple as shape does have a huge impact.

10) Gender-Neutral

I know, I know, this may not seem important to most, but it’s really worth mentioning. Unless you are travelling alone, the odds are good someone of the opposite sex will take turns carrying the carrier. And although some guys will not mind being seen with a pink, rhinestone-covered carrier, many will! Plus, gender-neutral draws less attention and, sometimes, you want to be more incognito. I always like a carrier that does not scream “DOG INSIDE!”

Having a carrier that is more gender-neutral and discrete means that more people will be willing to help you. I know that in our case, Mom is happy to let Dad literally shoulder my weight, and the gender-neutral bag certainly goes a long way to making that something Dad is happy to oblige. I know he loves me and he would anyway, but not every man out there is such a gentleman.

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier Montecristo Travels

Hey as long as I look good in it …

And that, Dear Reader, covers our top 10 tips for purchasing an airline approved carrier! If you have ANY questions or want a little more detail on a particular point, by all means ask away. If you want to share why you love your carrier—no matter the brand—go right ahead in the comments below!

95 Comments on “Top 10 Tips for Purchasing an Airline Approved Carrier

  1. Really helpful pointers for those lucky enough to have a dog small enough to fit under the seat in front of you on an airplane. Sharing with Boomeresque Facebook followers.

    • Thank you! I find these the toughest to write but I think they are also the most useful posts. And big thank you for the share!

    • Thanks for the great info!! I love that u are fearless traveling with your cute little companion!!
      I have a Maltese that weighs approximately 6.5 to 7 pounds. Her legs are a little longer than your dogs. Would we use the same size carrier?

      • Also any tips for flying to Florida? Do we need a health certificate or just our rabies papers? It’s our first time flying with our dog.

        Thanks so much!!

        • Flying from where? Any border crossing will require paper work. But state to state not always SOMETIMES the airline requires a health certificate. I have lots of posts on Florida and border crossings.

  2. Great post and excellent tips! While we don’t have a dog small enough to travel on board, maybe someday…

  3. I’m freaking out as I may need to travel with our doxie later this year and I’d only heard and read about Sleepypod carriers. He’s small but I want him to be really comfortable as this is our first plane trip. Thanks so much for all this guidance. I’m pinning this so I can go back later!

    • Glad to help in any way at all… if you have a question I am sure we have the answer. For a moxie this carrier would be great – perhaps the slightly larger size one. It’s really really a fantastic choice. Please do not hesitate to ask us if you need any other assistance.

  4. PERFECT POST! It’s thorough and incredibly helpful. I wish I had seen this when we were prepping to fly with Bean for the first time to BlogPaws last year. The amount of stress in relation to this variable was more significant than any other aspect of our travel planning. I’ll be sure to share this with anyone who expresses questions regarding flying with their dogs down the road.

    • Wow – comments like this just make my day! Thank you! I am working on some more posts that fall into this “tips” category! Hope they will be as good and as helpful. 🙂

  5. Great post! So many things to think about, and many that I would have never even thought to consider. I’ve never had a dog small enough to fly in the cabin (and I wouldn’t put a dog in cargo), so these are not things I’ve had to consider in the past. I’m sure it’s really important to make sure you get the right carrier, for both your pet’s comfort and your peace of mind!

  6. Great post and video! My dogs are not small enough, but I know lots of people that can use this information. Thank you so much. Sharing!

  7. I’ve never travelled (other than moving into a new place) with my pets, so purchasing a travel carrier hasn’t been necessary. (Plus my corgis wouldn’t meet the size requirements.) But, I do have a small foster dog who COULD travel with me. I’d go for the Sleepypod carrier, I think. LOVE that brand. Definitely lots to consider!

  8. It looks like you have a sturdy yet comfortable carrier for flying. In Australia, small pets aren’t allowed to fly in the cabin, they have to go in the cargo hold. I’ve flown with pets a few times – I’d so much rather have them near me under the seat.

    • Australia also sadly has quarantine still in place so it’s a no go travel destination for us for now. Sucks. By the way I have a friend who has this exact carrier for her Russian Blue cat. 🙂

  9. We have not flown with Ruby yet, but would definitely like to in the future. She is about 15 pounds so within the size limits of flying on board. You have definitely sold me on the One For Pets bag! Thanks for the recommendation.

    • You will not regret it. It’s really fab. I know the slipped has cornered the market and feel free to look around. But this carrier is just amazing. It does come in two sizes. I’d get the bigger one for your Ruby!

  10. Great tips. We have large dogs, so air travel would be a problem. Plus I’d be so scared for them. I think we’d rather drive across the continent instead if we had to get there.

    • I get that. Bipeds got a pint size dog because they knew they would travel by air and to other continents. It’s about getting the dog that fits your lifestyle right? I enjoy road trips as well!

  11. I worked for an airline a number of years ago. We were often dismayed by the carriers people used for their pets, not safe and not comfortable for the pet. These tips are excellent.

    • That is great feedback thank you! I think that the airlines put in the “airline approved” clauses precisely because people were not choosing safe carriers.

  12. You did a great job on the video and that looks like a perfect carrier! I don’t know that I will be flying with my dogs, but I’ll share this post on my Pinterest, Have Dog Will Travel board!

  13. This was a great read! Although my dog alone is 23 pounds, and I’m honestly not much for travel, it was really interesting to me to read your reasons for choosing this bag over any other. Your photos are always SO good, and who can’t love Montecristo?! SO stinking adorable!! <3

    • Thank you for the great feedback! Glad you enjoyed it even if you might never need a carrier. Appreciate the comment. 🙂

    • why not?!! start small … I recommend a small 1-2 hour flight. Within your own borders first… and take it from there!

  14. Cool carrier. I like that it expanses, I wish my pups were small enough to ride with us on the airplane. That’s why we are limited to travel we can drive to. I won’t dare let our pups fly “in cargo”

    • If ever you do desire to try… head out to The Tropical Dog. It’s BIG dog international travel. Morocco,Columbia, France…Let Maria and Shark know I sent you!

  15. OMG going to have to look for one as Kilo the Pug is 16.5 lbs and Canadian so ticks every box for us. He probably won’t be flying soon but do need a convenient travel option.

  16. This is a really great and in-depth review. I love that you included video! I’m personally terrified of traveling on the plane with my pets… I would have to see them put in cargo-hold. It would hurt my heart. ):

  17. Thanks for sharing. I haven’t traveled on an airline with Truffle or Brulee, but I always keep my eyes open for excellent products in case the need arises.

  18. Fantastic post thank you as I was thinking of taking Layla to Cape Town and that was one of my concerns, a good travel carrier for her, I have written the name of the one you using to check into more

  19. This is a great review for those with small dogs or one of our cats! Sensible advice and some useful pointers. I know Summer from the Sparklecat blog is a seasoned traveller and has a good case – so we are absorbing a lot of useful information for future purchase.

  20. There are a lot of things here that I haven’t thought about before! Thank you for all of the advice. I have never traveled with my kitties, but I would love to bring them to BlogPaws one day. I will have to keep all of this in mind if I have the opportunity.

    • Ah! wellmany do like that carrier. Funny enough we just really really prefer this one. Depends on the dog too for sure!

    • I can’t believe six+ years in and I only NOW get around to it. I mean … really? BUT I think it is exactly the years of trying out options and seeing what stood the test of time and why that made this possible. 🙂

  21. For folks who do travel with their small dog on a plane, it’s great that you gave the options and specs to look for in a carrier. There are pros and cons so many of these carriers and you did a great job outlining the things to look for!

    • Thank you. High praise from you! I was very careful to share what to look for but to encourage people to look about and see what fits their own needs and what their dog may prefer. 🙂

  22. What a great carrier! I’ve never heard of this company before, I use another brand for our plane travels with Phoebe. So many wonderful features of this bag, thanks for going into such detail on them. I absolutely love that the bag expands so that once you settle into the flight there’s more room. It’s also really convenient that you can fold it up completely and store it until you’re ready to fly again. Mine doesn’t fold up at all.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  23. Great tips! I haven’t travelled with Simba on a plane yet, but I’m sure this could come in handy one day.

  24. I watched the YouTube video but wasn’t able to comment. I have a 27 lbs schnoodle. Is he too big for this carrier?

  25. We love ours, got it for just $30 on Amazon, and it has plenty of vents for Matilda to look out of. The only problem is, she can push through the velcro at the top if I don’t zip it, so she has been able to peek her head out if I don’t make sure it’s secure.

  26. Such useful tips! Now I know how to choose a right crate for my little dog and bring him everywhere I want. Btw, what’s the brand of your crate? I want to buy it. Thanks a lot!

  27. Great post!! Really useful and detail. You cannot imagine how happy I am now by finding out this post. I used to think that I would have to stay away from my kitty on my next trip. Thanks a lot for sharing, dear.

  28. What a great review! I wish I had seen it sooner! Wilson is a large-ish Pomeranian weighing 4.8kg and who stands around 11 inches high. We fly between Toronto and Paris and settled on the large size sturdibag, which is just a bit shorter in length than your One bag. Had I seen this earlier I might have gone with the ONE! Just for other people who may have bigger small dogs, do you know how collapsible the height of this bag is? That’s what we love about the sturdibag, it’s 12″ high but it can “squish” down to 9″, which is great for the taller puppies! On the other hand, I love the idea of expanded length! Do you think the larger One bag could squish down if necessary? Those pesky life jacket boxes are such a pain! Thank you!

    • It’s a soft carrier so yes, it squishes down. We have yet to have a seat that we could not “squish down to” … 🙂 If that helps? I do think the larger bag would be perfect for your Wilson! Hey … you could always donate, sell or do a giveaway of your current one and upgrade! If you wanted. But I hear good things of the sturdy bag so it’s really up to you.

  29. Such a nice post! I have always worried that my dog could feel uncomfortable in a carrier on flight. Now I can use these useful tips for my next time travelling abroad with him.

  30. I’m not sure if this is allowed, but I wanted to mention that we carry a really nice and relatively inexpensive carrier (the Pet Traveler) which meets all your specs, except that it does not expand (but it’s a pretty nice size for smaller pets). It has the window on top that opens, the safety strap, the luggage handle and seat-belt attachment options, the removable and washable fleece pad… Did I forget anything? Oh – it has a mesh window only on one side (in addition to the top mesh window that opens), but in exchange, it also can be worn as a back carrier and a front carrier – along with a shoulder strap and hand-carry handle. And it has the pocket for treats and toys. I hope this is useful information!

    You can search under ‘pet supplies’ on Amazon for ‘Pet Traveler’ (yes, just one ‘L’)

    • thanks for sharing this option. I will let my readers decide if they want to investigate further. Looks interesting. I like the backpack option … but I would worry it’s too big (getting tossed about) for the under 5 pound crew.

  31. Great tips. I wish my pet was small enough to fit this. An oversized one is a suitable selection, I think. Btw, your post is quite helpful, thanks for sharing with us.

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  33. Wow, amazing post, very helpful tip. I hope I can apply your tip when I travel with my pet. Thank you @Montecristo, hope you will do more posts like this.

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  37. Hi! I have an average size 5 month old italian greyhound puppy. He is 12-14 inches standing. He is a very quiet, calm pup, but I’m worried about him being crammed in a bag for four hours with his skinny, long legs. Do you think he would be comfortable in the One Bag? If not, which bag do you think is best for him?

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