How to Fly With a Golden Retriever (Essential Travel Tips!)

Flying with your Golden Retriever can be an experience unlike any other. You have to be organized and prepared, while also understanding the regulations that each individual airline has in place. Knowing the right things to bring and how to handle the process can make flying with your golden retriever not only possible but more enjoyable. 

To fly with a Golden Retriever, they will either travel as a service animal with you in the passenger cabin or as a pet in cargo. Letting the airline know ahead of time, visiting the vet, having the right toys and food, giving them exercise before boarding, and acclimating them to the crate can make flying easier. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the basics that you need to know to bring your golden retriever on a plane with you. We’ll look at what the regulations are with each airline, the important items you should bring with your dog, and some tips on what to do before and after getting to the airport to make life easier for you and your golden. 

Flying with your golden retriever
A Golden Retriever on the way to the airport!

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Can You Take Your Golden Retriever on a Plane?

Since a Golden Retriever is a little bit larger than many other dog breeds, it’s natural to question whether the dog is allowed to fly or not. Unless your dog is a certified support or service dog with the proper documents, then it is unlikely you can bring your Golden Retriever into the passenger area with you. 

Some airlines allow for service animals and small dogs to sit with their owners while others will require them to be placed in cargo. This sometimes sounds cruel and mean to the animal, but since they can stay comfortable in a crate, hopefully, one they are experienced with, they may actually enjoy the flight. 

Each airline will have its own regulations on whether the animal can fly with you or needs to be in cargo. Most agree that the dog must be fully weaned and a minimum of 8 week olds. Some airline-specific rules include:

American Airlines

American Airlines allows all animals who work as service companions can come onto the flight at no charge. They must be small enough to fit under the seat, at your feet, or on your lap, and they can’t take up any of the aisles. The same is true of an emotional support animal, and you need documentation to prove both of these. 

If the animal is a pet, then small pets can be in the cabin, in a carrier, for $125. The carrier must fit under the seat in front of you. 

Important Note: When the airline mentions “fitting under the seat in front of you at your feet” or something similar, they are talking about a very small area and obviously only a very young golden retriever puppy could possibly travel this way. A Golden Retriever will almost always need to travel in the cargo hold unless it’s a service or emotional support dog.

Delta Airlines

For emotional support and service animals, you must submit documentation at least 48 hours before your flight directly to Delta Airlines, or you won’t be able to board with the animal.

The dog must fit on your lap or in the space under the seat in front of you. There is a fee that varies based on your destination, and they must stay in a carrier. 

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines also allows emotional support and service animals on the flight, and the animal can’t be larger than a child of two years old. They must stay on the lap or the area in front of the seat. All owners of emotional support animals need to bring a certified letter along with them. 

For pets, small dogs and cats are allowed for $95. They need to fit under the seat in front of the owner and must remain in the carrier. Southwest will not place the pets in the cargo area, so unless your golden retriever is just a little puppy or an emotional support animal, they can’t come on.

Southwest only allows a total of six animals per flight. This is for the total airplane, not how many animals you can bring 🙂

United Airlines

Similar to the other options, United will allow trained service animals into the cabin as necessary. Required documentation and other information are required before travel. Household birds, rabbits, dogs, and cats can travel for $125 in the cabin for most flights inside the United States, but they need to be in a carrier that goes under the seat. 

Most other airlines in America will have similar rules as those above. 

What You Need to Take a Golden Retriever on a Plane

There are a few things you need to bring along to make sure your dog can go on a plane with you. These are simple items that you may travel with anyway, which can make life a little bit easier. Some items you need to be able to take your Golden Retriever on the plane with you include:
Taking a flight with emotional support dog Starsky

Your Dog Needs a Reservation

Regardless of whether you bring your dog along as a service animal, or they travel in cargo, you’ll need to let the airline know ahead of time. If you bring the dog along as a service animal, you just need to call the reservation number to the airline you plan to use. Let them know you are bringing your service animal, and the representative can discuss the exact paperwork you should bring. 

Even if your dog will travel as cargo, it’s important to let the airline know. This time you can contact the cargo department for your chosen airline. While calling, this department will let you know how early your pet needs to check-in, so they have time to get things situated on the plane. 

Never show up at the last minute. You need to give yourself and the airline plenty of time to get things set up. When your dog flies in cargo, you will need to head to a different terminal, the air freight terminal, which is in a completely different part of the airport from where you usually fly. Get directions on how to get there and drop your dog off early. 

They Need a Crate

Your golden retriever will not be allowed to just wander around the cargo area. This would end up harming them anyway. They will need to stay in a crate to stay safe and in one spot. The cargo area will be safe for them, but you should do your part to make the crate as comfortable for your golden as possible. 

If you’ve worked on crate training with your dog in the past, bring along that crate because it’s something they’re already familiar with. If not, then start working with your dog now. Teach them how to get in and out of the crate, and make them feel like this is normal and secure. 

You don’t want to add to your dogs stress and anxiety on the plane because they don’t know how to stay calm in the crate, so work with them early. 

If you don’t already have a crate or you’re not sure what I’m talking about, you can check out this top-rated crate on amazon. It will provide your pooch with a safe place to be, both on the flight and once you reach your destination.

Paperwork From the Vet

Whether your dog is going to sit in the passenger area with you, or in cargo, you need to have paperwork from the vet stating the dog is healthy and up to date on their shots and other checkups.

If the dog is a service animal, you’ll also need a medical form stating that you need a service animal and that your dog is trained to help you and will do well on the plane. 

It’s recommended to get this paperwork as close to the flight as possible. Most airlines require it to be within ten days of the flight. It may add to the stress of traveling with your pet to fit one more thing in, but it will make boarding a little easier. 

Any Special Toys

While you don’t want to load up the crate with a bunch of stuff from home, you can consider bringing one special toy or blanket that’s important to your dog. When they’re put alone into the cargo area, they will appreciate having something familiar on hand to keep them calm and comfortable.

Leash and Collar

Always leave the collar on your dog when you get onto a plane. This will make it easier for everyone on the airline to keep track of your golden retriever, even if their name and address is on the crate as well.

Leaving the collar on can also save you some space by having one less thing to carry. If your dog is going to be in the passenger area with you, they’ll need to have a collar and leash on as well.  

Tips for Flying With Your Dog

There are a few steps you can take to prepare yourself and your dog before you even head off to the airport.

Be Prepared Before Leaving for the Airport

Traveling on your own is often stressful enough. You also need to make sure that you are prepared for taking your dog along as well. A few tips that you can use to make things easier before you even leave for the airport, and to ensure transitioning onto the plane is simple, include:

Check the Airline

We listed a few of the major American airlines above and some of their rules for allowing animals onto the plane. But each airline is different and these rules frequently do change. It’s a good idea to give them a call to check on specific rules for your golden retriever, and to let the airline know ahead of time that you plan to bring a dog. This can limit issues later. 

Visit the Vet

It’s often recommended that you take your dog to the vet within ten days of the planned trip. You want to get a statement of acclimation. This is basically stating that your dog is healthy, up to date on all necessary shots, and fit to fly. 

Check the Weather

This is something you should wait until as late as possible to do because the weather is always changing. But try to look at the weather forecast for your destination as close to your flight time as possible. Most airlines agree that your dog will not be allowed to fly in cargo if the temperature on the ground is higher than 85 degrees or below 25 degrees. 

In some cases, and depending on the airline, it’s possible that an acclimation certification, like what we discussed above, can be accepted. This allows the dog to fly even during extremely cold weather and proves the dog can handle it. The airline will only consider this if your dog is acclimated and used to the cold to begin with. 

Get the Weight of the Crate

You need to do this two times. First, take the crate and get all the dimensions. Write these numbers down and keep it somewhere safe, so you don’t have to try to remember later. Then weight the crate when it’s empty, and again while your dog is inside. You will need this information at the airport as well.

While preparing the crate, make sure to place a label on the outside. Add your contact information and the name of the dog on it. You never know when the crate with your dog may get lost, and having this information is important to getting your dog back. 

Give Them Plenty of Exercise

As close to leaving time as possible, give your dog plenty of opportunity to work off his excess energy. If you have to travel a few hours or more to get to the airport, leave some extra time to stop shortly before arrival at the airport and let your dog out to run. 

Plane rides can be really stressful and hard to deal with. Ignoring your dog and assuming they will sit well in the car and then for a long plane ride can be disastrous. They need to use up some of that energy before being cooped up in the crate for traveling. You should do this even if your dog is a service animal and will be coming with you in the passenger cabin. 

Take them on a long walk, play fetch, and get them moving as much as possible during this time. Hopefully, that will help wear the dog out and makes it easier for them to be relaxed and calm during the flight.
Check out good girl Percie at the airport

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Prepare Some Food

Your dog will need some food during longer flights. You can take a small amount on the plane with you without problems. Simply fill up a zip-top bag with some food and leave it on top of your crate. You can even tape it on to make it stick and to ensure that others can see it when necessary. 

At the same time, you will need to take two cups and attach them to the front of the crate. One will be for food, and the other for water. You may want to wait until you drop your dog off to fill them up to avoid spilling, but a small bowl will do great for keeping things organized and giving your dog a drink and some food along the way. 

You can attach your regular food and water bowl if you have some that will work for this purpose. Or you can choose to get a new one for traveling like the PETMAKER Stainless Steel Hanging Bowls.

These work pretty well for food and when you’re not moving but I actually prefer the Petmate No Spill Bowl for water when traveling. I use one for all my travels with my dogs. It’s easy for dogs to drink out of, and water won’t spill out when the bowl is moving around.

This is great for flights, and I use it all the time for road trips with my pup so water doesn’t spill while driving in the car.

Put a Collar Around Your Dog

Even if they don’t traditionally wear one at home, having a collar on your dog, one that won’t slip off easily, and has the name of your dog and your own contact information is important.

This makes it easier for someone to get a hold of you if your dog slips out or gets lost for some reason. Your golden should be perfectly safe when traveling on a plane, but it is always best to err on the side of caution. 

You should also put a lead into your carry-on as well. Your dog likely won’t need this when you drop them off, but they may need it after you pick them up and at other times while you’re on your trip. Take some time to adjust your dog to using the collar to ensure they it’s comfortable, and it isn’t something new. 

I actually prefer a harness over a collar. It won’t chock the dog and you can easily attach a dog tag to it. Amazon has a number of harnesses that will work, like this harness by WalktoFine. It also prevents pulling while on a leash and is reflective at night.

You and Your Golden Retriever At the Airport

Once you arrive at the airport, there are a few steps that you can take to make the whole process easier. Doing these things will take a little longer than just getting yourself onboard the plane. But with some planning and patience, it can go smoothly.

Arrive Early

Whether you travel with a dog or on your own, it’s often best to arrive at the airport as early as possible. This will give you plenty of time to get checked in and any problems handled ahead of time, rather than rushing around. And since you now have the addition of bringing your dog along and all that extra work, you need a little additional time. 

Most airlines recommend that you show up to the airport two hours early or more when bringing your dog to allow plenty of time to process and get through.

When you show up, you need to visit the service counter for your chosen airline and check the dog in as freight, unless they are a service dog and meet those requirements. As a service dog, you need to show accurate records as required by the airline. 

The attendant at the service counter will be able to help guide you on the next steps to take. They can give advice, tell you where to go along the way, and answer any questions you may have at this point. 

Going Through TSA

TSA is not a fun part of flying for anyone, but you need to add a little extra time and patience if you’re trying to get through with your dog. Just like you, your dog will need to go through TSA security. This happens before they’re placed in the crate. This may make your dog nervous, so be gentle and kind, give them lots of praise and reassurance, and plenty of treats. 

Once your dog has made it through security and TSA, you will need to get them comfortable in the crate. The crate will be loaded onto the plane along with the rest of the baggage for this flight. Say your goodbyes now because you will not be able to see them again until after you land. 

Taking a service golden through TSA security at the airport.

Before walking on to your own gate for the plane, make sure that you receive a receipt. The airline should give you one once your dog is actually on board the plane as a safety precaution.

If you do not get this by the time you are boarding the plane, ask around and see what happened before takeoff. The receipt will match a special sticker they place on the crate with your dog and makes it easier to pick up your dog later. 

After the Flight

After the flight is over, you’ll need to go and pick up your golden. You’re probably as excited for this reunion as your dog is! Here are the steps you need to take:

Go to the Designated Area to Pick Up Your Dog

Each airline will be different with this one. Always look at your boarding documents for information, ask when you schedule the reservation for your dog or ask someone as you get off the plane.

There will be a special area for you to go to when picking up your dog to make things easier. Make your way there directly so you can pick up your dog as quickly as possible. 

This may be the first place you want to visit after getting off the plane. It’s easier to get your dog first and bring them with you to grab your luggage, instead of waiting for the luggage and hauling it around to pick up the dog. Check with your airport and airline to see what they recommend with this ahead of time, however. 

Bring Extra Treats

Even your sweet-tempered Golden Retriever may be uncomfortable being in the cargo area. It’s somewhere new and kind of hard to train them for ahead of time. And they were all alone without you during that time. They may need a little extra encouragement to feel better again after the trip. 

Providing lots of positive reinforcement, praise, and some extra treats (like these Rocco Jerky Sticks from Amazon) can make the transition a little easier on your dog when they get off the plane. Once you have more time out of the airport, take them for a good run and some exercise to stretch those legs as well.

The more positivity you can put around flying with your dog, the more they will enjoy it, and the better they will do each time you take them on a plane. 

Other Tips to Flying With Your Golden Retriever

Some additional tips that you can use when flying with your Golden Retriever include:

Get Them Used to the Travel Carrier

Since your dog will need to spend at least a few hours in their carrier, it’s a good idea to help them adjust to being in this for longer periods of time. If you have a chance to prepare ahead of time, practice putting them into the carrier and traveling.

Taking them on rides around town, or even longer trips in the car, can make the dog more comfortable when they need to sit in the carrier for a long time on the plane. 

Research Any Airport You Will Be In

While it is important to know a little about the airline you plan to use, there are some airports that may have special rules in addition to the airline. You should do some research and check, so you know what to expect on your journey. 

For example, federal regulations have made it easier for people to travel with their pets and require that all airports that serve more than 10,000 passengers each year, which would include all the major ones, have a minimum of one relief area for each terminal for pets. This can make it easier for you to take your pet into the airport without having to worry about accidents. 

Do a little research before you fly and see the airports you plan to fly to and from. When you have the information about your gate number and terminal, you can then look around on maps to see where the nearest pet areas are located. And as time goes on, it’s likely that more of these airports will open up to pets and become more pet-friendly for everyone to make traveling easier. 

Top Dog-Friendly Airports in the United States

While this is improving all the time, there are some airports in the U.S. that are more dog-friendly than others. I’m providing a list in case you’re lucky enough to be flying into or out of one of these airports.

  • Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX)
  • San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Detroit Metro Airport (DTW)
  • Minneapolis-Saint Paul (MSP)
  • Philadelphia International (PHL)
  • Washington Dulles (IAD)
  • Reno-Tahoe (RNO)
  • Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL)
  • John F Kennedy International New York (JFK)

The airports that made this list are designated as being the best dog-friendly airports because they have the highest number of pet relief areas in the most convenient places.

So while it’s great if you happen to be flying to or from one of these airports with your golden retriever, it’s not a cause for concern if your airport isn’t listed. The major airports you’ll be using will have the facilities your dog will need.

Feed Your Pet Well Before Leaving

You do not want to wait until right before you board your dog, or put them into cargo, to feed them. You should provide plenty of time for the dog to eat, and then time for them to relieve themselves before you get to your terminal. This will ensure you avoid accidents along the way and can make things easier for everyone. 


A quick word about medication and medicating your dog before your flight. While it may seem like a good idea to sedate your golden retriever before a flight, there is a reason that may not be a good idea.

Heavy sedation, while effective in keeping your dog calm, has an effect on the animals respiratory system which could cause a severe problem with breathing as the plane changes altitude and the pressure increases.

While many people do medicate their dog before a flight, I would recommend avoiding it unless completely necessary.


Flying with your Golden Retriever is a new experience and can be a bit intimidating when you first attempt it. There are a lot of different regulations depending on the airline you decide to use.

But once you get the process down for traveling by airplane with your Golden Retriever, and as long as you work with your dog to make it fun and exciting, the experience can be a good one for everyone involved. 

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Bryan Mullennix

Bryan's a freelance travel photographer and happy dog dad. He currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife, his son, and two dogs Nom Nom & Speck.

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