Can I Fly with My Cat on My Next Vacation?

Britt
by Britt
Photo credit: New Africa / Shutterstock.com

Are you dreaming of a vacation with your best friend by your side? What if that best friend is a cat? While many airlines allow cats to fly with you, navigating the rules and regulations can be overwhelming.


But don’t worry; we’re here to guide you through the process (and minimize your travel-related stress).


This post will break down everything you need to know about cat-friendly air travel, from knowing what to pack to deciding if airline travel is even the right choice for your cat – we will cover all the bases.


Start planning your next getaway today!


What Airlines Let You Fly with Cats?


When discussing pet-friendly air travel and the requirements for flying with a pet, most people refer to flying with a dog. But what about cats? Do all dog-friendly airlines also allow feline passengers? Generally speaking, any airline allowing small dogs to fly will also permit cats.


This includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Air Canada
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • United Airlines


However, we always recommend checking with the airline before assuming any flight will be cat-friendly. For example, an airline that allows cats to travel in the cabin on a domestic flight may not when traveling internationally. This may take a little extra effort, but it could help you avoid an unpleasant surprise on the day of your planned vacation!


How Much Does It Cost to Fly with a Cat?


The fees associated with traveling with a pet vary significantly from airline to airline. Some airlines will charge one set fee for your flight regardless of layovers, while others will charge additional fees if you have a layover that exceeds a set length of time. Always ask for clarification when booking your flights to ensure there are no surprises on travel day.


Based on our research, pet fees typically range from $95 to $150 for each leg of the journey.


Unlike the others on the list above, Alaska Airlines doesn’t charge per pet. Instead, they charge per carrier and allow up to 2 pets in a single carrier if they fit comfortably. This is great for anyone traveling with two small cats or kittens.


Can My Cat Fly with Me in the Cabin?


It depends. All the airlines we listed above allow cats to travel on domestic flights in the cabin. The only requirement is that the cat fit comfortably in a carrier that is small enough to fit under the seat in front of you during the flight. While this is a defining statement for dogs, it encompasses all domestic cats.


However, this isn’t always true for international travel. Rules when traveling to other countries are often stricter, and your cat could have to fly in cargo. If you’re planning an international trip, contact the airline for clarification.

Is Flying Stressful for Cats?


For many cats, flying can be an incredibly stressful experience. There are new, loud sounds, unfamiliar scents, and so much activity – all before you even board the plane! It’s a lot to take in, especially if this is their first time flying.

Stressful situations like this can be even more challenging for cats who have previously struggled with stress and anxiety.


However, no two cats are alike. Some cats handle new situations and experiences with ease.


Take our cats, for example. Our younger cat, Jinx, would be miserable flying somewhere, while our older cat, Pippen, loves going on new adventures with me. She thrives in situations where she can attract people's attention, both those she knows and strangers.


Deciding Whether to Fly with Your Cat


If air travel can cause extreme stress and anxiety for many cats, is it in their best interest? For some cats, finding a responsible pet sitter is a better option. An in-home sitter will allow your cat to enjoy being loved on without needing to leave the space where they feel safe and secure.


So, how do you decide whether bringing your cat on a plane is a good idea? No one knows your cat better than you do. Take a step back and ask yourself how you suspect they will tolerate their travels (and be honest).


Another essential factor to consider is your cat’s health. This includes medical issues that you may already be familiar with and those that may be hiding under the surface. Before any flight, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian for a complete medical exam. They can determine whether it’s safe for your cat to fly and recommend options to help control stress and anxiety, if necessary.


Of course, there are also situations where travel may not be optional, like moving across the country. If possible, it may be a better experience for your cat (and a fun adventure for you) to plan a cat-friendly road trip instead.

Photo credit: Regina Erofeeva / Shutterstock.com

How to Prepare for Airline Travel with a Cat


A safe and enjoyable flight with your cat starts before you ever arrive at the airport. Here are a few steps you can take at home to set you up for success on your next trip:


Start at Home


Your cat’s flight shouldn’t be their first time using their travel carrier. Instead, start by introducing it in the comfort and safety of your home.


Set the carrier out with the door open and give your cat free reign to check it out. You can also introduce positive connections with the carrier by offering treats or even feeding your cat inside, helping to eliminate any worries they may have about this new presence.


The first time you close the door with your cat inside, only keep it closed for a second before opening it again. You don’t want to create stress and anxiety by making them feel trapped. Make sure to offer high-value treats in association with this. Slowly increase how long the door is closed before opening it each time.


When your cat shows that they consider the carrier safe, even with the door closed, within your home, try taking them for a short trip in the car. This adds several new elements – movement, noises, and interesting smells. The more trips you can take, working up the distance, the less stress your cat will experience on travel day.


Do Your Research


While you will find a lot of information about flying with a cat and the various airlines here, remember, no source of information is more accurate than the airline itself. Researching and checking the official pet rules and documentation will allow you to prepare properly for your flight.


Pay careful attention to the carrier requirements to ensure you have no problem boarding your flight. A delay in getting onto the flight could create more unnecessary stress. Knowing the recommended travel carrier size also allows you to give your cat as much room as possible to get comfortable during their flight.


Make an Appointment with Your Cat’s Vet


As part of your pre-travel plans, make an appointment for a complete checkup with your cat’s veterinarian. This will allow them to check and ensure your cat is healthy enough to fly without any risks of complications. It’s also a great time to discuss any concerns you may have about travel-related stress.


Pack Some Familiar Scents


When setting up your cat’s carrier, include some of their favorite items, like a blanket or toy they regularly use. These smells are familiar and can have a calming effect. If your cat doesn’t currently use a blanket, just a bed that’s too large for the carrier, consider purchasing a simple pet blanket and placing it in their bed for the days leading up to your trip to pick up their scent.


Avoid Feeding Your Cat Right Before Travel


Many cats will experience motion sickness during travels. There is no guaranteed prevention for motion sickness, especially if your cat is new to travel and you’re unsure how they will fare. However, a cat with an empty stomach is less likely to get sick.


Most experts recommend waiting at least six hours between their last meal and your travel plans.


There is always a risk of delays or complications that will prolong travel. Pack a small bag of treats or cat food to offer as a snack if needed. A spill-proof bottle is also necessary to avoid dehydration. Choose one that is easy to fill/empty, as you’ll have to bring it through security empty before filling it at a water fountain inside the airport.

Tips for Successfully (and Safely) Flying with a Cat


Of course, you can do everything right in preparation and still meet challenges on the day of your travels. Here are a few additional tips and tricks for travel day:


Try Offering Calming Treats


Calming treats are a kitty-approved solution to help introduce calm and relaxation. They contain ingredients that will help reduce stress and anxiety. As a bonus, they come packaged in a tasty and enticing package that will make convincing your cat to take the supplements as easy as possible.


Different treats use different ingredients (or combinations of ingredients). Your cat may respond well to one product, while my cats respond to another. Consider testing treats in advance to see if they have the effect you are looking for. It may take a little trial and error. A few great options to help you get started include Sentry Calming Chews for Cats and NaturVet Quiet Moments Calming Aid Cat Supplements Plus Melatonin.


Introduce Pheromone Products


Pheromone products work to comfort and calm cats naturally. Pheromones are naturally produced and released, triggering different emotional responses. These products introduce synthetic versions of these chemicals.


When discussing pheromone products, most pet parents immediately think about the well-known and loved plug-in pheromone diffusers. Of course, a plug-in product isn’t going to work when you’re on the move traveling. Luckily, there are several travel-friendly alternatives to consider, including:


Consider Medication if Necessary


There are some situations where travel isn’t optional, like an international move. If you’re concerned about your cat’s anxiety during travel, consider having a conversation with your veterinarian. They may recommend prescription medications to help calm your kitty’s nerves and make their travels more tolerable.


Be Prepared for Security


Security screenings can be stressful for many people, so it’s no wonder that cats find this experience challenging. As you approach the security checkpoint, ensure you have everything you will need ready and on hand. The better prepared you are, the faster the check will be.


Speak Calmly Throughout Your Travels


Don’t underestimate the power of your calming presence on your cat. Simply talking to your cat using a soft, calm voice can help to ease stress and anxiety. This includes both at the airport before and after your flight as well as during the flight itself. After all, you are your cat’s best friend. Let them know you’re there, you’re not leaving their side, and they will be okay.

Final Thoughts: Travelling with a Cat on a Plane


Airline travel can be very stressful for many cats. When planning your next getaway, consider your cat’s physical and emotional state. Are they healthy enough to travel? Do new situations and environments trigger severe anxiety? Is your cat a confident traveler?


No one knows your cat better than you. If you are questioning their ability to travel safely and comfortably, consider hiring a pet sitter instead.


If you feel your cat is up to the trip, consider ways to make their travels easier and more comfortable. This includes setting up a carrier with a favorite blanket or toy, introducing their carrier well before their travels, and using travel-friendly products like calming treats or pheromone products.


A little additional planning and preparation will set your jet-setting kitty up for success!

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Britt
Britt

Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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