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How to Travel with a Cat on a Plane: 12 Simple Tips for Stress Free Travel

how to travel with a cat on a plane

When you bring your cat to the vet it can be a nightmare. Some cats will scream endlessly during the car ride. Others will vomit out of fear. Getting your cat into the carrier itself can be a hassle since your cat already associates it with the vet and the dreaded car ride. So how do you travel with a cat on a plane?


While bringing a cat on a flight can seem difficult, it’s surprisingly not that much more complicated than traveling by car. The flight itself won’t be difficult. The biggest difference is preparing for the flight beforehand. This means studying each airline’s pet policies, making sure you have the right carrier, and making sure your cat can safely go through security at the airport. We have all the information you’ll need to make your flight as safe and easy as possible.



Can You Bring Your Cat on a Plane?

Small animals — including cats — are allowed to travel in the plane cabin as long as they can fit in a small, ventilated pet carrier. This usually means they have to be 20 pounds or less. The carrier must be soft and fit under the seat in front of you. Your cat will count as a carry-on item and you will be charged a one-way fee.


While cats are allowed on the plane, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy experience (for you or the cat). When it comes to traveling with your cat, it’s important to do the necessary research on the airline and its requirements. It’s also important to prepare your cat for the trip properly.


Is Flying Bad for Cats?

Hundreds of thousands of pets travel by air every year and only a very minuscule percentage are injured or worse. In 2017, the Transporation Department counted 506,994 animals transported last year. There were only 24 deaths, 15 injuries, and one was lost. All of the deaths were in cargo, not cabins. And 18 of the deaths were on United flights.


In general, flying is very safe for cats. But experts recommend not allowing your cat to be on flights longer than six hours (if possible). Cats are very stressed during moves since they are taken out of their territory and routine. The hustle and bustle of airports and flights can really scare most cats. This might cause them to become dehydrated on longer flights.


While flying is fine when necessary (like a cross-country move), you don’t want to make it a regular part of your cat’s routine. If you are just going on vacation, consider driving instead if you plan to take your cat.



Is It Easy to Travel with a Cat on a Plane?

Traveling with a cat is not as difficult as you might think. Your cat might be frightened or aggressive during the traveling process but there are certain restrictions and precautions to consider to make the trip a bit easier on your cat.


Once you’re in the cabin, you’ll notice that your cat has mostly calmed down (or exhausted itself). Just make sure to check on your cat throughout the trip to make sure your cat is feeling okay. You might even want to offer them some water if possible, although your cat might be too nervous to drink at the time.


When you land, make sure to provide your cat with a safe, comfy space to unwind. After I moved across the country with my cat, I put him in our new bathroom with his litter box, bed, food, and water. I also gave him a cardboard box. It was very important to let him calm down and get some water and rest before exploring the rest of the home.



cat looking out a plane window



How to Travel with a Cat on a Plane

Traveling on a plane with your cat is not the easiest. Thinking about it can cause major anxiety and leave you feeling unsure how your cat will handle the entire ordeal. While your cat will definitely not like the experience, they will recover and adapt quickly once it’s over with. The trick is to prepare for the trip properly beforehand.


Consider the Airline

Most airlines will allow you to travel with your cat in the cabin with you. Of course, there are certain restrictions and regulations depending on the airline, so always check their pet policies before booking a flight.


  • Alaskan Airlines: It’s $100 each way to bring your cat on a flight. They must be at least eight weeks old and weigh 20 pounds or less. Alaskan doesn’t allow short-nosed breeds like the Burmese, Exotic Shorthair, Himalayan, or Persian.
  • American Airlines: American states that your cat must stay in the carrier at all times. They also don’t allow any short-nosed cat breeds on board, most likely due to their breathing complications.
  • Delta Airlines: It’s $125 each way to bring along your cat. They must be 10 weeks old at least. Pets are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis, so it’s very important to let them know in advance if you plan to bring a cat on board. The carrier must have ventilation openings on three sides.
  • Hawaiian Airlines: Cats are only permitted on inter-island flights and flights leaving Hawaii to North America. This doesn’t include JFK, BOS, MCO, and AUS. Your cat must fit comfortably in its carrier under the seat in front of you.
  • Jet Blue Airways: Allows up to four cats per customer. It’s $125 each way, per cat. The pet-approved carrier must not be bigger than 17 inches long and 8.5 inches high. The cat and its carrier must not exceed 20 pounds when combined.
  • Southwest Airlines: Cats cannot travel in-cabin during international flights. It’s $95 each way to bring your cat along within the United States.
  • United Airlines: It’s $125 each way for your cat to join you in-cabin. The carrier must be the same measurements as the one listed above for Jet Blue. Kittens must be at least four months old.


Cabin vs Cargo

Most airlines allow your cat to remain in-cabin with you as long as it’s in a proper carrier and under 20 pounds. But if you are traveling to certain locations, including international, some flights require you to bring your cat as cargo instead. Only choose cargo if absolutely necessary.


If you must bring your cat with you via cargo, there are a lot of things to consider:


  • Only use direct flights to avoid airline transfers. This will also ensure that you aren’t delayed while waiting for your pet to get off the plane.
  • Travel on the same flight as your cat. Ask the airline if you can watch them being loaded into the cargo hold and unloaded.
  • When you board the plane, let the captain know that you have a cat in cargo.
  • If you have a brachycephalic pet, or short-nosed cat, don’t ship them in the cargo holds. This can be very dangerous.
  • Find out if the flight you’re on will be accommodating extreme temperatures. For example, what will they do if it gets very hot during the summer? Try traveling in the early morning during the summer or afternoons during the winter.
  • Don’t choose busy travel times if your cat is going into cargo. During hectic hours, your cat might be handled rougher.
  • Make sure your cat has a collar that won’t get it caught in carrier doors. Clip your cat’s nails beforehand so they don’t get stuck anywhere.
  • Make sure your name, address, phone number, and final destination are in your cat’s carrier somewhere. That way someone can contact you as soon as the flight arrives.
  • Do not feed your cat six hours before the trip. Give them a small amount of water. You can even put some ice in their carrier if possible.


Cat Carrier Size

Before flying, make sure you have the right carrier for your cat. This will ensure they can be in the cabin with you. Most airlines prefer soft carriers since they are comfier for the cat and easier to fit under the seat in front of you. They must be around 17 inches long and 8.5 inches high. Your cat and the carrier can’t weigh more than 20 pounds combined.


When I traveled with my cat, I was unaware that Jet Blue required soft carriers. At the airport, I was informed that his current carrier wasn’t allowed. Luckily, the employees were very kind and let me replace the carrier with a soft carrier made by Jet Blue. It had a lot of excellent padding, storage, and straps, making it perfect for travel — even just to the vet.


But it cost me about $80. Meanwhile, a carrier purchased outside of the airport is most likely $20 to $30 at certain places. So if you want to save money, definitely arrive to the airport prepared with a proper carrier.


Airport Check-In

The most difficult part for you and your cat will most likely be navigating airport security. It’s loud. It’s fast-paced. They’ll be constantly moved around. This is a lot tougher than being on the planet itself, where your cat will be snug under the front seat for the duration of the flight.


A lot of airports will require you to take your cat out of their carrier and hold them in your arms while you walk through a metal detector. Make sure that you have your cat on a harness or leash in case they get frightened during this procedure.


You should also remove their collar if it has any metal on it, since this will go off during the scan. Keep the collar in their carrier or in your luggage, ensuring it’s safe. You can usually put it right back on your cat after they’ve gone through security.



a plane takes flight



How Much Does it Cost to Travel with a Cat on a Plane?

When you bring your cat as a carry-on, they will cost extra money even if the flight allows carry-on luggage. Each airline has its own rate for bringing a pet on board. It usually costs around $100 each way per pet. It’s about the same cost to have your cat in the cargo hold, although larger carriers can increase the price.


Understand Your Cat’s Health Requirements

Health is a big factor when it comes to how to travel with a cat on a plane. Before your flight, you should bring your cat to the vet. Many airlines require your cat to be vaccinated and have the proper paperwork. Even if they don’t, you should have a veterinarian check on your cat’s health to make sure they can fly safely without any concerns. The CDC also recommends having your vet chip your cat at this time.



How Can I Calm My Cat Down Before Going on a Plane?

It’s important to note that the International Air Transport Association discourages the use of sedatives or tranquilizers before a flight, especially if your cat is going to be put in cargo. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help your cat stay calm and relaxed as you prepare for the flight.


If you’re traveling with your cat due to an upcoming move, you probably noticed that your cat became stressed long before the drive to the airline. Cats will become upset when their routine is disrupted. So if the house has become hectic and full of packing, your cat will most likely be upset already.


The night before the flight, try giving your cat some CBD treats. This will hopefully make them feel more relaxed the next day as you attempt to coax them into the carrier.


CBD is a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid found in hemp. This simply means that it won’t get your cat high. Instead, CBD interacts with the receptors in your cat’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS maintains your cat’s overall well-being and balance — or homeostasis. It has receptors in all the major systems within your cat’s body and mind. This means that when CBD interacts with these receptors, it can improve your cat’s mood and leave them feeling soothed and relaxed.



Tips to Travel with Your Cat on Flight Day

The next morning, it’s time to get your cat ready for the flight. There are a few things to keep in mind leading up to the flight that will help your cat stay calm — and help you feel prepared.


  • Keep the carrier out where your cat can see it about a week before the flight. You can even give them soft cat treats every time they interact with it or lay inside of it. The morning of, your cat will hopefully be more willing to get inside the carrier without a struggle.
  • If there is a struggle, try wrapping your cat in a blanket before putting them in the carrier. This “burrito” tactic can not only stop your cat from struggling and scratching, but possibly make them feel safe and secure.
  • Read all of the pet policies for your chosen airline. Make sure you are meeting all of the requirements (carrier type and size, cat breed restrictions, flight destination restrictions, etc.).
  • Arrive at the airport earlier than you normally would so you can prepared for any setbacks. You don’t want to be rushing around frantically when you have your cat with you.
  • Consider paying for TSA PreCheck. This can speed up the security process and allow you to better focus on your cat during this stressful time.



Final Thoughts – How to Travel with a Cat on a Plane

Traveling with a cat is not as hard as it might seem at first. You might get a few scratches and your cat might meow a lot, but it’s definitely possible with the right research and preparation!


Cats don’t like change. So get them slowly for the big travel plans. Leave their carrier out and maintain some of their usual schedules so they don’t become stressed leading up to the flight. Trim their nails so they don’t claw you apart when you bring them through security.


When you think ahead, you’ll realize that the day of your flight is pretty easy! It will go smoothly when you know the right carrier and preparations needed for your chosen flight. Remember to read the airline’s policies and make sure your cat is approved by your vet for travel. After that, it’s time for take off! While on your trip, why not take time to learn more about cat care here.


Read Next: How To Travel With Your Cat & What Not To Do

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