Airline Travel With Cats: What You Need To Know

cat in a plane
Kitty waiting clearance from tower control. Source: Imgur


Planning on traveling with you favorite cat(s) on your next trip? It can be a lot of fun or it can be a real disaster. One of the primary considerations in traveling with your cat is to provide for its health and safety during the trip. Airline rules and regulations vary and it’s wise to call the airline of your choice well in advance of making your reservation to determine their cat policies.

One of the prime considerations has to be the length of the flight and whether you have to make any connections. Whenever possible try to book a non-stop flight. If you must make a stop try to ensure that this is not a change of planes but merely a stop to pick up and discharge passengers. If you must change planes, you run the risk of your beloved cat being left in either very hot or very cold weather while the transfer between aircraft is made. Also, the length of the layover is important. If it is just a 45-minute layover and the airline assures you that your cat will be kept in an environmentally safe area, then OK. If not, find out how you can retrieve your cat and keep it until the next flight leaves.

Depending on the airline, you may be allowed to actually have your cat travel with you although they may request you purchase either an additional ticket or upgrade to first class. Generally, the rule is that your cat must fit in a standard cage that can be placed under the seat in front of you. The other issue is whether or not your cat is vocal. If it has an opera voice and likes to meow during travel, the airline may consider that an annoyance to other passengers.

Talk with your veterinarian to make sure that all vaccinations are up to date and you have the necessary documents with you. Depending on the area you are visiting, there may be additional precautions you need to take. Most people think that if they tranquilize their cat it will solve all their problems. NOT TRUE. ASK YOUR VET BEFORE TRANQUILIZING YOUR CAT.

Ask the airline if your cat will be hand carried to the cargo compartment on the aircraft. If it’s not, you may very well see your cat moving up the conveyor belt into the cargo hold. Not a good procedure.

Always try to travel during off-peak times. When the terminal is jammed with anxious passengers and harried ticket agents, there is less time for the agents to handle your cat in the way you wish it to be treated. In any event, try to arrive a little earlier than normal to discuss additional alternatives with the agent. But, make sure the basics are understood and you have made all necessary preparations before leaving home.

Do not feed your cat for six to seven hours prior to the flight. However, visit your local pet store or ask your veterinarian to recommend a water dish that can be attached to your travel cage to provide water prior to and during the flight. When you arrive, make sure that you check the water dish.

Most travelers assume that the airline will effectively label their cage. Are you willing to take that chance? Mislabeled cargo/luggage will often end up hundreds if not thousands of miles from the intended destination. CLEARLY label your cage with your name, address, phone number, flight information, destination, a number where you can be reached at your destination, the name of the cat and any feeding instructions that may be necessary. Secure this information so it cannot fall off or easily become detached from the cage.

Now let’s make sure you have the right cage for the trip. First, although you want your cat to be comfortable, don’t put a 10 pound Burmese in a cage designed for an 180 pound Great Dane. Too big is just as bad as too small. Your vet or pet store can help advise you. The general rule is that if your cat can stand up and turn around comfortably without touching the side of the carrier, you should be just fine.

Under no circumstances should you use a cardboard carrier you might use to transport your cat between home and vet. Invest in a hard sided and waterproof cage. You will be able to use it over and over and it will not be subject to deterioration from water. Try to purchase a cage with adequate ventilation on the sides. For airline travel don’t buy a wooden cage with wire mesh on the top. It won’t protect your cat from water or other debris falling inside.

In order to make it easier for the baggage handlers to manipulate and prevent slipping and dropping, make sure you have sturdy handles for them to move the cage. Forget wheels, they won’t serve a valuable purpose. Also, make sure that the water dish on the inside is accessible from the outside so additional water can be added easily.

Once you have purchased your cage it’s time to make your cat comfortable. Put a small blanket, pad or “kitty bed” inside for your cat to sleep on. The small fleece mats or beds would make an excellent bed for your cat. Before you leave on your trip, place the cage, with the door open, where your cat will find it. This way their natural curiosity will pull them inside to investigate. This way they get use to the cage and won’t fear it on the day of departure.

Again, call the airline you intend to use and ask them to tell you every requirement they have for transporting your cat. This information is valid for travel within the United States. If you’re planning to take kitty abroad, think again. Many countries do not allow the importation of cats even on a vacation or they will have lengthy quarantine periods. So, in general, if your leaving the country on vacation, hire a house sitter to take care of your cat. Whether a vet or a boarding facility, ask to see where they will be keeping your cat. Don’t take their word on how nice they are. See for yourself.


Now that you have your cat safely in your possession at the baggage area, you must prepare for your stay. Before making definite hotel reservations, ask the hotel about their pet policy. Check with your vet or local bookstore for books relating to pet travel. Keep your cat in the cage, no matter what the temptation, until you are safely in your hotel room.

Invest in a harness with a good leash. Collars can come off, harnesses generally won’t. Make sure you have an information tag firmly attached to the harness. Walk your cat around the house with the harness attached before you leave on your trip to accustom your cat to wearing it. And, NEVER take the cat out to attach the harness or leash. Reach in the cage and attach before removing the cat. As with your cage, make sure it has your name, address, telephone number and other information about you and your pet.

In a hotel or motel maids come and go and typically will leave the door open while cleaning your room. When you leave, put your cat in its cage, inform housekeeping of the cat and/or use the Do Not Disturb sign to keep out intruders. If you are not leaving at the crack of dawn, call housekeeping and ask them to clean your room immediately. Tell them you are having a meeting or something to get them their first thing in the morning. Still, it is a good idea to leave kitty in the bathroom with the door shut and perhaps a chair in front of the door with a sign: Do Not Open, Cat Inside.


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