Traveling with Your Cat: Flying the Friendly Skies with Fluffy


This is Part 7 in The Cat’s Meow’s series on Traveling with Your Cat. Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post and every other post in the series, so that you’ll be entered in the Iams Travel Giveaway.

According to the Air Transport Association (ATA), over 500,000 animals are shipped via the air every year. Approximately 1% of the shipments encounter problems including transport in unapproved kennels, missed flights, lost pets, and animals’ deaths. We’ll cover all the precautions you’ll need to take to ensure that you and your cat have a safe, pleasant flight.

To see a first-hand account of what flying with Fluffy is like, check out Anders Porter’s video log of his trip to Sweden to transport his cat Tailer to San Francisco. In his 6-part video report, Anders takes you through the entire process, from conferring with veterinarian Eric Barchus to safely (and sanely) arriving at SFO with Tailer.

Anders and Tailer make it look like a piece of cake, right?

Let’s face it. Flying with your cat can be a crap shoot. You never know exactly how your cat will react until you do it. But if you’re fully prepared, you’ll be better positioned to relax and focus on your cat’s comfort and less likely to have to chase your cat through the airport after she escapes at the security checkpoint.

In our post on Travel Preparations, we covered the high points of preparing for a flight with your cat:

  • Chip, tag and bell your cat before you travel.
  • Thoroughly research the airlines pet policy and charges.
  • Reserve your seat as early as possible if your cat is flying in the cabin. Most airlines limit the number of pets on each flight.
  • Check in with your vet before you fly. You’ll need a health certificate and vaccination records. You may want to sedate your cat for the trip, but most vets recommend against it (tranquilizers and sedatives can affect the temperature regulation of the body and cause other adverse effects), so a quick conference with your vet can help you determine whats best for your cat.
  • Your cat carrier must meet airline regulations and be FDA and FAA approved. Acclimate your cat to the carrier before the flight and make sure she can move within it comfortably.

Here’s a checklist to help you prepare for your flight:

  • Obtain a health certificate and your cat’s vaccination records from your vet. Be sure the health certificate meets BOTH the requirements of your state or nation of destination AND your airline carrier. Be sure to check on the time restrictions. Most airlines require that certificates be obtained no more than 10 days prior to the flight.
  • If you’re taking an international flight, check the quarantine restrictions at your destination.
  • Carry the health certificate and your pet’s vaccination certificates with you, not in your checked baggage.
  • Label the carrier with your name, home address and phone number, and a contact name, address and phone number in the city to which you are traveling. (It doesn’t hurt to write it in indelible pen on the carrier itself.)
  • Take a photo of your cat and keep it with your airline tickets.
  • Make sure your contact information is updated with your microchip company and pet recovery service.
  • Put a wee-wee pad in the carrier with your cat so that any accidents are easier to deal with. Bring along 1) Nature’s Miracle wipes in a ziplock to facilitate clean-up, 2) spare wee-wee pads, and 3) a small amount of dry food and treats.
  • Spray Feliway in the carrier and on the bedding.
  • Feed your cat 4 – 6 hours before the flight, then withhold food. Offer her a small amount of water before you leave for the airport.
  • Put on a harness before you crate her.
  • NEVER let your cat go through the x-ray machine. You will be asked to remove the cat from the carrier for inspection at the security checkpoints. IMPORTANT! Be pleasant, but insist on being taken to a private enclosed room before you take the cat out of the carrier. Attach the leash before letting her out of the carrier. (I don’t like leaving the leash attached to the harness while the cat is crated due to the choking hazard.)
  • When you land, let the other passengers deplane first rather than diving into the aisle scrum.
  • Bring sufficient cash to buy drinks for everyone around you on the plane in the event that Fluffy starts singing Carmen during the flight and your fellow passengers are not opera buffs.

Reader Minxy has this tip:

US Airlines was also very good and I flew with them in the cabin when mum adopted me from Best Friends. They charged $100 for me.

One tip is to see if you can upgrade to 1st class when you check in. It only cost $50 to upgrade at check-in and we got much more room under the seat for my carrier and we got to use the 1st class/premier lane through the security check which was much much quieter.

Mum asked Pet Airways about whether cats and dogs were together on their planes and they told her that cats and dogs are in 2 different areas on the plane.

If your cat is flying cargo, take the following steps to ensure she has a safe and comfortable ride:

  • Call the airline to verify requirements for pets traveling as cargo. During the summer there are many limitations as to what time of day pets can travel. On some routes they’re prohibited altogether in the summer months.
  • Make sure your carrier shuts securely, but do not put a lock on it, in case airline personnel need to assist the cat.
  • Affix Live animal signs to the top and sides of the crate.
  • Attach a food dish and a water dish to the inside of the crate. Position them so they can be filled without opening the crate. Freeze water in the water dish ahead of time so it will provide water without spillage when loading.
  • Attach a container or ziplock bag of food to the outside of the crate. You may securely attach a bottle of water, as well.
  • Watch your cat being loaded and unloaded.
  • Travel evenings midweek when planes are less crowded.
  • Book on direct, non-stop flights. In the summer avoid trips during the middle of the day.
  • Always travel on the same flight as your cat. If there is a prolonged delay, you will be able to feed her and if necessary, take her to a hotel with you.
  • Don’t travel during temperature extremes.
  • Tell a flight attendant you have a pet traveling as cargo.
  • Don’t fly snub-nosed breeds such as Himalayans or Persians in the cargo hold.


Pet Airways has received a lot of press recently, and it will begin flying its pets-only airline in July.

But before you make your reservation, be advised that this is probably not an ideal setup for canine-averse cats. The cats will fly in close quarters with dozens of barking dogs (see photo below), and if your cat is frightened of or unaccustomed to dogs, it could be terrifying. It might be better than shipping them in the cargo hold, but it’s not the panacea we’d imagined when the news was first announced.

If your cat isn’t bothered by dogs, it’s an exciting concept, and they’re running promotional fares that are as low as $149 (one-way).

Petfinder recently rated their top five pet-friendly airlines in the U.S.:

Petfinder’s Top Five Pet-Friendly Airlines of 2009

1. Continental – Safety First

Continental is proud of its PetSafe program, which has a 24-hour Live Animal Desk (1-800-575-3335) that tracks the pets from origin to destination. It’s pricier than other programs, but it’s climate-controlled, allows roomy carriers and has designated cargo staff. Travelers using PetSafe can even earn miles. The airline also allows small cats, dogs, pet rabbits and household birds to be carried in the cabin on most domestic flights for $125 each way.

Pets allowed in cabin: Small dogs, cats, rabbits and birds

Pets allowed as checked baggage: No

Pets allowed in cargo: Yes, all pets that are checked travel in climate-controlled cargo, not as checked baggage

2. JetBlue Airways – Full-Service Pet Love

JetBlue really embraced pet-toting travelers when it launched JetPaws last summer. For no additional cost, JetBlue provides a pet carrier bag tag, two TrueBlue points each way, a welcome e-mail and a free pet-travel guide. However, like other airlines, JetBlue has hiked its in-cabin pet charge: one-way fees range from $75 to $100.

Pets allowed in cabin: Small cats and dogs

Pets allowed as checked baggage: No

Pets allowed in cargo: No

3. Airtran – Budget-Friendly

Airtran won’t make you break the bank to fly with your pet beside you (well, technically, under your seat). It’s currently the least-expensive airline to fly with your small pet: just $69 each way.

Pets allowed in cabin: Small dogs, cats and birds

Pets allowed as checked baggage: No

Pets allowed in cargo: No

4. American Airlines – Zoo-Trusted

American Airlines’ animal-trained staff has assisted in transporting animals from popular zoos in cargo. While they only allow a limited number of pets in the cabin, they ask pet parents to make special notes for their animal companions flying in cargo and promise to abide by all requests.

Pets allowed in cabin: Small dogs and cats

Pets allowed as checked baggage: Yes, larger dogs and cats

Pets allowed in cargo: Yes

5. United Airlines – Non-Discriminating

United Airlines loves animals of all kinds. They accept small cats, dogs and birds in the cabin; rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs as checked baggage and other animals including parrots, cockatiels and ferrets in United Cargo. (Shipping by cargo is for items, like some pets, that you can’t check as baggage. Your pet may or may not be on the aircraft with you.) Have a short-nosed dog that you can’t bring in the cabin? Check your date of flight; some breeds and mixes are not allowed in cargo or as checked baggage from June 1 through September 30 of each year.

Pets allowed in cabin: Small cats, dogs and birds

Pets allowed as checked baggage: Depends on the aircraft

Pets allowed in cargo: Yes; however, the type of animal allowed depends on destination and arrival locations

If your cat loves peanuts and a good cattle call, she’ll be happy to hear that Southwest Airlines just reversed its no-pets-on-board policy and will now allow up to five pet carriers in the cabin per flight for an additional charge of $75. Read their policy here.

As you can see, flying with Fluffy is not simply a matter of loading her in her carrier and heading for the nearest airport. But as with car travel, it can provide a way for you to enjoy your vacation with your favorite feline rather than suffering through a week or two of separation anxiety.

If Fluffy can’t wait to start racking up those frequent flier miles, check out these additional resources on flying with your cat:

And don’t miss out on the other installments in the series on Traveling with Your Cat:


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