Flying with Your Cat – How to Enjoy a Serene Flight With a Kitty!

can you bring a cat on a plane

If you can’t bear to be away from your kitty while on vacation, you can take them almost anywhere in their carrier. However, there are some things that you need to know to have a successful extended trip flying with a cat.

Healthy and curious cats are most likely to enjoy a trip to visit family or an adventure. If your cat doesn’t like new places or isn’t feeling well, they might be happier at home with a pet sitter or at a cat hotel than trapped in a carrier.

Packing strategically is essential. I once forgot to bring my cat’s litter and box on a road trip. He wouldn’t urinate for 20 hours. He didn’t like the litter we purchased at the local store and arranged on top of a newspaper. We awoke to a blood-curdling scream at 3 a.m. when he finally decided to relieve himself. I brought my dog’s stuff, but we decided at the last minute to bring our cat.

Flying With a Cat

flying with cats

Flying with a cat can be an exciting adventure, but it also requires careful planning and preparation. Whether you’re relocating or going on a vacation with your feline friend, here are some essential information and tips to ensure a safe and stress-free journey for both of you.

Can You Travel with a Cat?

According to Simple Flying, bringing a cat or dog on an airplane was a privilege that only wealthy people enjoyed until the late 1980s when a flight attendant named Gayle Martz wanted to take her Shih Tzu along on her travels. 

First, she invented the Sherpa soft-sided carrier with dimensions enabling passengers to store it in front of their feet on the plane– as well as easy to carry. Then, she circulated petitions to many airlines to change their rules and allow animals onboard. Most airlines agreed to do so.

You can thank Martz when flying with your cat or any live animal in a pet carrier.

In 2006, the International Air Transport Association adopted rules to protect animals traveling in the aircraft’s cargo section. Travelers just need to present the paperwork–a health certificate and use a proper-sized travel bag.

How to Fly with a Cat

fly cat

You can optimize your experience traveling with your kitty when you fly by knowing what to expect and how to plan ahead for your flight to ensure your cat’s safety. Also, training kitty to wear a harness with a leash and to be comfortable in their cat carrier is critical.

58% of people traveling with their fur babies bring dogs, and 22% of humans take their cats on trips. Flying with a dog, especially a medium or large one, may require the dog to be in the cargo area. Felines are normally small enough to fly in the cabin in a soft-sided travel carrier, which may count as your carry-on.

Is It Considered Safe for Cats to Travel on Airplanes?

The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association says that 99.9% of the time, it’s safe for a cat to fly. Our goal is 100% cat safety, which is why the cabin is the best place for both of you when you, a cat parent, are flying with your cat.

Flying with Cats in Cabin

The cargo area is usually fine, but if you and Fluffy are together, you’ll both feel less stressed. You can calm them and won’t be worrying about them if they’re with you. However, many airlines limit the number of animals on a flight, so book ahead and call the airline. Pets aren’t seated in an exit row.

Flying With Cats in Cargo

Although cats and dogs in cargo are normally safe, the Humane Society reports that some animals are lost, hurt, or killed. Brachycephalic cats like Persian, Burmese, Himalayan, and Exotic Shorthair have short nasal passages and are at risk for heat stroke and oxygen deprivation in the cargo section. Airlines say that they maintain a good temperature in the cargo area.

How Much Does It Cost to Fly with a Cat?

flying with cat

In most cases, pet flights cost between $95 each way to $200 for traveling internationally. More details below in the airline policies section.

How to Bring a Cat on a Plane

Embarking on a plane journey with your feline companion? Here’s your guide to ensure a smooth and comfortable travel experience for your cat.

Plane-friendly Cat Carriers

Airlines require that carriers have specific dimensions to fit under the seat in front of you when you fly with a cat. It can be a soft-sided travel carrier or a hard-sided travel carrier. Your kitty should wear a harness with a leash for safety. That may require some training.

Vet Visit

cat on a plane

Visit your vet and be sure you have enough medication and food for the trip if your senior cat or young cat needs meds given with food on a full stomach.

In most cases, you should ask your vet about motion sickness and if you can give your cat Dramamine or something else. Hopefully, if you avoid feeding kitty, her stomach won’t be affected by motion sickness.

If your cat is older, you might want to consult a senior veterinarian. A senior veterinarian specializes in geriatric cat care. You can also inquire about pheromones for soothing your cat during the voyage.

Health and Vaccination Certificates

You will need a health certificate issued within 10 days of your trip for domestic travel. Your kitty has to be at least eight weeks old with up-to-date vaccination certificates, infectious-disease free, and in a travel crate or bag to fly. Certified paperwork is imperative.

For traveling internationally, your cat has to have a rabies vaccination and a titer test, and results may take a couple of months to receive. International travel requires a USDA-certified vet to complete health certificates, and some international destinations require parasite prevention and relevant vaccinations. 

Read Airline Policies

It’s important to check the airline’s regulations because they differ between airlines, and they also change. Look at the USDA website for Pet Travel for the latest information to stay current on a health certificate, travel bag regulations, etc. Doing your homework will prevent problems.

Train Your Cat to Wear a Harness

Airline security will remove your cat from the soft-sided or travel carrier, so they should wear a harness with a leash attached for safety. You don’t want to see your cat leaping out of the security person’s hands and running maniacally into the crowd and out of your sight (to the sound of people screaming). Training Fluffy to wear a harness for the duration of the trip is important.

A Permanent Id Is a Must

Fluffy must have a collar with permanent identification and obtaining a microchip is a good idea as well. The only cat wear you need to travel is your kitty’s ID, harness, and leash cat wear to transport your cat safely in the airport and plane.

Introduce Your Cat to Traveling

Take her for car rides in her carrier, so she’s accustomed to being out and about in it. Familiarize Trixie with other environments. Go for rides, to a pet store or park, or visit a friend. Exposure to sounds, smells, humans, etc., will put them at ease with being in busy places.

Whenever you travel with your cat, have them wear a harness and leash so you can take them out to stretch their paws.

Modify Your Cat’s Feeding Routine

If you are traveling to a destination in a different time zone, you can feed your cat half their food at the regular time and half at the time they will be eating on vacation to gradually introduce the new feeding time, which could mean taking medication when meals are served. Food and water preparation are vital.

Tips for Flying with a Cat

traveling with a cat on a plane

Flying with your cat is much easier if you know what to expect and the best way to handle all aspects of the flight. You want them to feel comfortable, stay calm, and avoid motion sickness until you’ve arrived safely. Bringing their belongings should comfort them.

Keep Your Cat Calm

Veterinarians advise pet guardians NOT to use a sedative because air travel may increase the risk of heart and respiratory issues. A sedative also interferes with their ability to maintain equilibrium and might make them fall during the flight. 

A soft blanket with your scent in their travel bag soothes cats for the duration of traveling.

Don’t Feed Your Cat 4-5 Hours Before Flying

Don’t feed your fur baby for four or five hours before the flight to ensure they do not experience nausea, motion sickness, and/or vomiting. Water is okay before and during the voyage, but an empty stomach is imperative. Did you know cats can hold their urine for 24-48 hours?

Place Toys and Your Cat’s Favorite Items in Carrier

Make the carrier a portable paradise with their belongings–toys and treats. A small article of clothing with your scent on it for them to sniff is nice. Leave the carrier out in the house so they’re used to seeing it, and it’s not just a portal to the vet’s office.

Your cat should anticipate a fun trip rather than a check-up. The carrier should have a proper label with your home address and your destination address.

Anxiety Medications (If Needed)

Although a sedative is dangerous, some people give their cats Benadryl medication to relax them before the flight. A more natural solution that isn’t a medication is Spray Feliway, one of the calming pheromones that you can spritz in the carrier and/or your car 10-15 minutes before traveling to avoid drooling and nausea. Consult your vet.

Go to the Airport Well Before the Time

When flying with a cat, arrive early in case of unexpected complications to ensure your cat safely boards as you head toward your destination. Security can be time-consuming, and you don’t want to be sprinting to the gate when boarding. Being early reduces stress.

Important Measures to Take on Airport

can i fly with my cat

Before you embark on your airport journey, ensure a smooth experience with these vital measures:

Get Your Cat Ready for TSA

Transportation Security Association (TSA) employees will also inspect the carrier and might put it through the X-ray machine. Kitty should prepare by practicing wearing the harness and receiving praise and treats so she’ll be comfortable and isn’t overwhelmed. They need to associate the harness with pleasant things.

You can take your feline through the metal detector with you, and the cat bag will go through the X-ray machine.

Make Communication with Your Cat

Talk to your cat, reassure them that this strange place is okay, and you’re going on a fun vacation. They need you to give them attention and comfort them during this new experience. They might wonder why They’re in the travel crate for an extended period of time.

A Private TSA Screening (If Needed)

You may be able to sign up for a TSA PreCheck to expedite the security check-in or to have a private TSA appointment, sparing your cat some noise, people, scents, and chaos. If your cat is very vocal, like my rescued Siamese, it will be quieter for everyone involved while the cat bag goes through the X-ray machine. The goal is to board quickly.

Steps to Take Once You Arrive

My best advice is to put your cat at ease and quell stress by speaking to them and petting them (without her escaping her travel bag). Offer them water to keep them well hydrated. Having a leash attached to their harness will enable you to give them a drink without them hopping out and making a run for it. Hydrating and having no food in their stomach are essentials before a flight.

Cat drooling can be caused by sniffing, stress, and motion sickness.

Airline Pet Travel Policies of Popular Airlines

can i take my cat on a plane

When booking your trip, prepare and double-check the airline policies so you know if you can bring a carry-on in addition to your cat bag when you fly. Checking on weight limits, how many pets you can bring, different vaccines that your kitty needs, and so on will ensure an easy flight. You don’t want any surprises at the airport.

United Airline Travel Policy

United’s travel policy has no weight or breed limitations for cats but requires they travel in either a hard-sided or soft-sided carrier that fits under the seat in front of you. The fee is $125 each way and on layover flights.

Passengers can only have one pet in a carrier, and the pet must be able to stand up and turn around while inside. See the United link above for carrier dimensions and more info. The only animals allowed on a flight without a soft-sided travel carrier or a hard-sided carrier are service animals

Jetblue Airline Travel Policy

JetBlue’s policy specifies a maximum of two pets per passenger, each in his/her own travel bag. The pet fee is $125 per pet each way and can be added in the Extras section during booking. Only six pets are allowed on each flight, so book early. Considerations include how many pets and combined weight.

Delta Airline Travel Policy

Delta Airlines policy allows small dogs, cats, and household birds to travel in the cabin for a one-way charge, collected at check-in. The rate is $95 each way in the US and Canada, $200 internationally, and $75 in Brazil.

Delta Airlines also specifies that pets must be able to fit in a small, ventilated cat carrier that fits under the seat in front of their human, and you can review the age and kennel sharing information on their website.

American Airline Travel Policy

American Airlines Pet travel is allowed on a flight up to 12 hours or flights to/from select locations: the 48 contiguous United States, Canada, Alaska, Mexico, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and St. Thomas. There’s no fee for service pets but a $125 charge for other animals.

They allow up to two animals, so inform them of how many animals and their combined weight. Two puppies or multiple tiny littermates can be in one carrier.

Alaskan Airline Travel Policy

Alaskan Airlines offers “Fur-st Class Care” and gets points for a cute name. The fee is $100 per pet in the cabin and $150 per cat traveling in the baggage compartment. They allow up to two animals, so tell them how many animals and their combined weight. Two puppies or several tiny littermates can be in one carrier.

Additional Regulations to Fly With a Cat

When flying with a cat, it’s essential to be aware of the specific regulations and requirements imposed by airlines and authorities. In addition to the general guidelines for traveling with pets, some airlines might have additional rules and restrictions regarding cat carriers, documentation, and health certificates.

It’s crucial to check with your chosen airline well in advance to ensure a smooth journey.

  • The airlines mention that there are animal relief areas at the airports. You can bring a small portable litter box and put it on a private room floor like a bathroom for Whiskers. Alternatively, you might set it up by the dog relief area, which might be distracting and/or unnerving for your cat.
  • Some people use a puppy potty pad in lieu of litter during extended travel. You could work on training your kitty to use a puppy potty pad if you don’t want to carry around “sand” and a little box.
  • Most airlines count carriers as your one carry-on bag but double-check. Another instance where doing your homework will save you aggravation.
  • Some airlines require that people with animal companions sit and don’t sit in particular areas. For example, you will not be seated in an exit row.
  • As with humans, altitude pressure can make feline ears pop. A couple of takeoff and landing treats may relieve the pressure. We chew gum, and they gnaw on treats to keep the pressure from hurting their ears.

FAQs

Can You Bring a Cat on a Plane?

Yes, you can bring a cat on a plane, but it depends on the airline’s pet policy. Most airlines allow cats in the cabin or as cargo, subject to certain regulations and fees.

Is It Cruel to Take a Cat on a Plane?

Traveling with a cat can be stressful for them, but it’s not necessarily cruel if proper precautions are taken. Ensure your cat is in a suitable carrier, provide comfort, and consult a veterinarian for advice.

How to Cross the Security Checkpoint at the Airport?

When crossing the security checkpoint with a cat, remove them from the carrier and carry them through the metal detector while the carrier is screened. Follow TSA guidelines and cooperate with the airport staff.

Should I Give Sedatives to My Cat During the Flight?

It is generally not recommended to give sedatives to cats during a flight, as it can be harmful to their health. Consult with a veterinarian to explore other options for reducing stress during travel.

Final Thoughts

By following the essentials of acclimating your kitty to a harness, a leash, a carrier, sounds, smells, maybe a puppy potty pad, etc., you can carry them with you on almost any extended trip. Cats can be trained to be comfortable in their carrier, making it easier when flying with your cat.

Other pre-trip necessities are a visit with the vet for a valid health certificate and check-up, no food prior to the flight, ample water, bringing some toys, a comfy blanket, and a couple of treats for take-off and landing.

You’ll also need to comfort your furry friend throughout the journey. Preparation is vital to ensuring that your kitty isn’t stressed out from being in an unfamiliar place and stuck in his travel carrier.

We hope you enjoyed learning about air traveling with cats in this article. Please feel free to comment on this article and/or share it.

Elise Margulis
Elise Margulis is a talented animal writer and a devoted pet parent residing near Manhattan in a cozy suburb. With a Chow mix and a rescued Siamese as her loyal companions, she's been animal-obsessed since childhood. Penning informative articles on pet nutrition, health, and animal welfare, she's also an avid advocate for adoption and animal rights. When she's not writing, she serves as the editor of two local online news sites. Working from home with her fur babies, she advocates adoption and animal welfare through volunteering and social media. A true animal lover and vegetarian for over 31 years, she's on a mission to raise awareness and make the world a better place for all creatures.

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