8 Tips on How to Fly with a Cat

Published: 8/17/2021

Taking your fur-baby on a "va-cat-ion"? Flying with a cat can be a stressful and complicated experience, but it’s something that can be done successfully with the right preparation and know-how. 

So if you’re thinking of taking to the sky with your pet, these 8 simple tips on how to fly with a cat will help make your next journey a smooth one.


1. Where will your cat fly?

The first question you’ll need to answer when flying with your cat is whether your pet will fly with you in the cabin or down in the cargo hold. While cats can safely travel in the cargo hold, it can be stressful and dangerous for your pet, so we recommend flying with them in the cabin whenever possible. This will help reduce your cat’s stress and anxiety about what will be an extremely unfamiliar experience, and will allow you to keep a close eye on them at all times.

Many airlines will allow your cat to travel in a carrier underneath the seat in front of you. However, be aware that your pet may be counted as your piece of carry-on luggage, so you may need to check in the bag you usually take on board.


2. Check in advance

Flying with your cat isn’t really a spur-of-the-moment thing, so it pays to be prepared. That’s why it’s important to check with your airline and the government of your end destination well in advance to find out exactly what’s required of four-legged passengers.

Airline policies

There will typically be a limit on the number of pets permitted in the cabin, so booking early will ensure that you secure your spot. Some airlines will refuse to allow short-nosed breeds to travel at all, while the age limit of cats permitted to travel can vary between carriers. Most airlines also don't allow pets to be sedated.

Finally, flying with your cat will also incur an additional fee, so you might want to find out exactly how much it costs before you book.

Traveling to Hawaii with a cat

As the only rabies-free state in the US, Hawaii imposes strict rules on pets arriving on the island. Traveling to Hawaii with a cat or dog is a complex process that involves several forms and inspections. Visit hawaii.gov for more information, and consult your vet for guidance. Pets aren't allowed to travel to Hawaii in certain months. Animals arriving in Hawaii without the correct documentation may be denied entry or quarantined in Honolulu for up to 120 days.

Traveling to the European Union with a cat

Countries in the European Union require pets traveling via air to have a pet passport. This document, which resembles a human passport, proves your animal is microchipped and vaccinated against rabies. You can obtain a pet passport from your veterinarian for a fee.

Some countries where rabies has been eradicated may require a mandatory quarantine. Note that some countries outside the US use different microchips and scanners. If the airport staff can't read your cat's microchip upon arrival, your cat may be quarantined. Pet parents are welcome to bring their own microchip scanners. While these are available to purchase online, they cost around $300. Check the requirements of your destination or ask your vet for advice.


3. Visit your vet

As we've already mentioned, your airline or end destination may require specific documentation for your pet before allowing them to take to the sky.

Even if your end destination doesn't require any documentation, book a check-up before hopping on a plane with your cat anyway. Your vet can then give your pet a thorough examination to determine whether it’s safe for them to fly.


4. Choose a cat carrier

Once you know that your cat is ready to fly, you’ll need to find a suitable cat carrier. Check the airline’s fine print to find out what restrictions apply

What is the maximum permitted size of the carrier? Can it be hard-sided or soft-sided? Of course, there will also need to be sufficient ventilation for your cat, and enough room in the carrier for them to turn around comfortably.


5. Acclimate your cat to the carrier

Before you fly, it’s essential to get your kitty used to the idea of traveling in a carrier. The basic idea is to teach your fur-baby to see the carrier as a safe, comfortable, and positive place to be. 

For example, you can entice them into the carrier with treats, and reward them with another treat and a pat for staying there and staying calm. Working the carrier into play sessions with your kitty can help too, while it’s also a good idea to take your cat on some short car rides in the carrier before building up to a longer flight.

Related: How to Train Your Cat to Get Into a Crate


6. Preparing for travel

On the day of the flight, avoid feeding your cat close to your travel time to prevent an upset stomach. Of course, you can also add some sort of pee pad to the carrier if you think there’s a risk of your pet having an accident.

If there’s time, tiring your cat out with a nice long play session before you leave home might help them remain settled and calm during your journey. It’s also a good idea to check in advance whether the airport has any pet bathrooms where your kitty can answer nature’s call before boarding the flight.


7. Clearing security

Another area of concern for pet parents is how to clear security with a cat. Your pet’s carrier will need to pass through the X-ray scanner without your cat inside, while you walk through the security screening area with your fur-baby. A leash and harness could come in handy if your anxious cat is likely to launch a daring escape attempt.

Alternatively, you can request a private screening room if you think passing through the regular security area will be too much for your feline to handle.


8. During the flight

Requirements for cats in the cabin vary between airlines. Many airlines require that your cat stays in their carrier, which must be kept underneath the seat in front of you, for the duration of the flight. Others will allow you to keep the carrier in your lap (except during takeoff and landing), but your pet will usually be required to stay in the carrier for the entire flight.

Otherwise, make sure your pet has access to water when needed, and do whatever else you can to help them stay calm throughout the flight. If all goes well, you’ll be landing safely at your destination before you know it.

Flying with a cat isn’t as simple and straightforward as you might hope, but it can be done. With some careful research and preparation, you can help make flying safe and stress-free for your fur-baby.

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