The Ultimate Guide - How to Fly With Your Cat

Flying with a cat – especially for the first time – requires a lot of thought and additional planning. That's why we did all the thinking for you! Discover how to fly with a cat and make any trip a breeze. 

Our catstomers don’t only look like astronauts in their cat backpacks – many of them really do take to the skies on a regular basis! Lucky for you, our team of cat travel experts know an airport like the back of their paw. Here’s everything you need to know about how to fly with your cat. 

How do I book my cat on to a flight?

Determine first if your cat can join you in the airplane’s cabin in a pet carrier, or if they would need to fly below in the cargo hold. While animals fly in cargo every day and are usually fine, we strongly advise against putting your cat in cargo unless it is absolutely necessary. (Say, for example, if you are moving internationally and that is the only way your pet can join you.) Your cat will be safer and much more comfortable in their pet carrier, in the cabin with you, not to mention it will help avoid putting them in any extreme heat, or colder temperatures, for a long duration of time. And it will be less expensive, to boot!

There are two different ways to fly with cats in the cabin: as a carry-on pet and as an emotional support animal. Regardless of your cat’s designation, there is a limit to the number of animals allowed on each aircraft, so we recommend calling the airline before you book to ensure that they will be able to accommodate your cat on your desired flight.

Your cat will not get their own boarding pass (unfortunately – how cute would that be?) but their presence will be marked on your boarding pass. We’re sure this goes without saying, but sneaking your cat on to a flight is not an option.

Carry-On Pets

Most airlines will allow your cat to board as a carry-on pet in their pet carrier, for an additional fee. The cost – and related policies – ranges between airlines, but expect to spend approximately $100-200 USD per flight. (Sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on the airline and the destination to which you are traveling.)

Your pet carrier will count as one of your carry-ons, so plan accordingly. Most U.S. airlines allow you to bring on one piece of carry-on luggage and one personal item, i.e. one item to go in the overhead compartment, and one smaller item to go beneath the seat in front of you. Since your cat’s pet carrier will sit at your feet, this can usually count as your “personal item.” Confer with the airline if you are unsure.

Carry-on pets are required to remain in their pet carrier, on the floor at the foot of your seat, for the duration of the flight. No living creature should ever be put in the overhead compartment, under any circumstance.

We also recommend lining your pet carrier with an absorbent material, such as a blanket or towel, in case your furry friend gets a little nervous being in a new environment. You will thank us later! 

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals are a very real and very valuable resource to many people living with mental or emotional disabilities. They are different from service animals, who assist individuals with physical disabilities. Cats do not typically serve as service animals, but can make wonderful emotional support animals! 

Please do not pretend to have a mental or emotional disability if you do not! But if you do (and many, many people do), please do not be intimidated or ashamed to fly with your support animal. 

One common misconception is that emotional support animals need to be “certified.” There is actually no such thing, and any letter or certificate you see for sale online should be viewed as a scam. You can read the U.S. Department of Justice’s statements on service animals and the Americans with Disabilities Act here, which confirms this.

You will, however, need to prove that your cat is an emotional support animal by submitting certain paperwork provided by the airline. This often includes a form filled out and signed by a licensed mental health professional, a form filled out and signed by a licensed veterinarian, and a form filled out and signed by you. All forms need to be submitted for approval at least 48 hours before your flight, and physical copies brought with you to the airport.

Emotional support animals do not have to pay a pet fee to fly. They are also usually permitted to sit on your lap during the flight, in addition to being in their pet carrier at your feet.

How do I transport my cat?

Well, we would recommend using one of our cat backpacks, of course! We are regularly asked if our backpacks are TSA-approved. The short answer: yes. The long answer: it depends on the airline!

Pro tip: our Jackson Galaxy Convertible Cat Backpack Carrier is our best option yet for air travel! The flexibility to have your cat sit up or stretch out while under your seat means more comfort for them, and an easier flight for you. Regardless of which backpack you have, make sure that you insert the flat grid screen on the front of the backpack, rather than the plastic bubble. It makes it much easier to put under your seat, and takes up less room… we all know every inch of leg room matters!

What Airlines Allow Cats to Fly in the Cabin? 

In the same way that every airline has different pricing, routes, and policies, they are have different requirements for the size of your pet carrier. If you’re the proud owner of one of our Fat Cat Backpacks (which measures at 44.1 linear inches/112 cm) you will be fine on Delta and American. Here are a few airlines and their requirements: 

Delta:

- Require cat carriers be under 45 linear inches/114 cm in combined length, width and height. 

- Fee ranges from $75-$200 per pet. 

American Airlines:

- Requires cat carriers be under 51"/130 cm long.

- Fee is $125 per pet. 

Southwest Airlines: 

- Requires pet carrier to be within 18.5” long x 8.5” high x 13.5” wide.

- Fee is $95 per pet. 

United: 

- Allows you to bring your pet carrier in addition to carry-on bag, with more guidelines on their website. 

- Fee is $125 per pet each way. 

-  Soft sided pet carriers should be within 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high (46 cm x 28 cm x 28 cm)

While they recommend soft-sided kennels that are under 40 linear inches/102 cm, they say that you “may exceed these dimensions slightly, as they are collapsible and able to conform to under-seat space without blocking the aisle.”

Jet Blue: 

- Must not exceed 17" x 12.5" x 8.5" (43 cm x 31 cm x 21 cm) See other restrictions on their website. 

- Fee is $125 each way, and only one pet allowed per person. 

 Allegiant Air:

- Must not exceed 9” x 16” x 19” (22.86 x 40.64 x 48.26 cm) 

- Fee is $50 per segment of flight. 

- Only two pets allowed per person.  

If you’re a frequent flyer with JetBlue, Allegiant, or an airline with a similar policy, you might be better off opting for one of our smaller backpacks, like The Traveler (34.2 linear inches/84 cm) or The Explorer (35.81 linear inches/91 cm).

As always, double check with your airline to familiarize yourself with their requirements! 

Airline Requirements to Fly With Your Cat in The Cabin: 

Age - 

Many airlines require that your pet be of a certain age to travel domestically & internationally. For example, Delta requires that your pet be at least 10 weeks old to travel domestically, 15 weeks for travel to the EU, and 16 weeks old to travel internationally. However, every airline is different, so be sure to check your specific airline's age requirements for pet travel. 

Breed - 

There are certain breeds that might not be able to fly as easily as others. Some airlines provide restrictions on what breeds cannot fly, like many brachycephalic cats (Burmese, Persian, Himalayan, & Exotic Shorthair). These breeds have snub noses and might have difficulty breathing at high altitudes.

Size of Carrier

You will want to use a pet carrier that will fit nicely under the seat in front of you. Make sure to check with your airline's specific requirements, as they are all so different! Some of our backpacks like "The Explorer" fit within most airline's restrictions, and "The Fat Cat", "Jackson Galaxy" and "The Navigator" will work great for airlines with bigger allowances for pet carriers.

The best cat carriers for flying: 

(Pictured above: "The Jackson Galaxy" Convertible Cat Carrier & "The Go Anywhere Bowl" Collapsible Bowl)

It is important to find a carrier that your cat will be able to move around in comfortably, and one that will allow you to check in on your kitty mid-flight without opening up the carrier. Having mesh paneling/air holes is a must, to make sure they are getting optimal air flow and will not be subject to extreme heat. Find a carrier that your cat loves, and create a good association with that carrier - like giving them treats in it, and doing things they enjoy in it, leading up to your departure date. 

We recommend these cat carriers for flying:

"The Jackson Galaxy" Convertible Cat Carrier is great because it doubles as both a backpack, and traditional carrier. The floor mat adjusts to a longer length, so your kitty can stretch out and get comfy while safe & sound under the seat in front of you. The mesh paneling makes it very convenient to check in on your cat throughout the flight without disturbing it or opening up the carrier! 

We also love "The Navigator" Convertible Cat Backpack, as it also converts to a traditional cat carrier! This backpack also has multiple pockets, perfect for storing cat nip, your own water bottle & snacks, passport and other essentials, so you can navigate the airport hands-free! 

"The Fat Cat" Cat Backpack is also a great choice for airlines with a more flexible size requirement. Your kitty will have plenty of room to move around. It also has mesh paneling to ensure your kitty is getting lots of airflow, and allows you to check in on them without opening the carrier. 

"The Explorer" Cat Backpack is an excellent choice for airlines with smaller size requirements. 

Whichever backpack you choose for your flight, make sure to use the screen attachment and not the bubble! This will let you easily fit your carrier under the seat in front of you.

The best cat leash & harness for flying:  

"The Wind in My Whiskers" Bundle, which includes "The True Adventurer" Harness & Leash, and "The Captain" Retractable Leash, is a travel necessity when flying with your cat. Having your kitty within arms reach on a retractable leash is a game changer when traveling long distances. You can have peace of mind that they will stay safe & snug inside their pet carrier at all times as all of our carriers come with leash clips! 

Looking to add a little fun to your travel adventures? We now carry custom harnesses such as "The Cash Cat" and "The Groovy Cat" to suit your kitty's sweet style. (Our original harness also comes in multiple colors!)

The best cleaning products for flying with your cat: 

Pet Hair Remover - Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, no one likes to end a long day of travel covered in cat hair. 

Disinfectant Spray - Cat safe, of course. This will be especially important if your kitty has any nervous accidents while waiting in the airport.  Your cat doesn't want to spend a whole flight in a stinky pet carrier, so make sure to have this on hand! 

Stain remover - Because, you know... shit happens, right? 

Wet wipes - If your kitty needs to eat or finds themself in a little mess at the airport, having disposable wipes will be a lifesaver. 

The best feeding accessories for flying with your cat: 

While it is best not to feed your cat right before boarding, chances are they might get a little hungry or thirsty while you're at the airport, or on a longer flight. 

"The Go Anywhere Bowl" is the perfect, compact accessory for feeding your cat on the go. It folds up, and clips right to our cat backpacks, making it a breeze to bring along. Plus it cleans super easy! 

"The Travel Buddy" Foldable All-In-One Double Bowl & Mat is the portable food & water dish that you won't want to travel without. It is easy to clean, is super compact, & can fit right in your carry on. Simply unfold & fill with your kitty's favorite food! See below: 

The best calming products for flying with your cat: 

Of course, you know your cat better than anyone. Think about what their favorite things are at home, and if possible, bring them along! 

Your cat's favorite toys & treats will help them feel at home. Pack within reason, of course! 

A scent-soaker, like a blanket or mat that they use, will also make the transition easier and give them a place to call their own. 

This "Easy Traveler" All Natural Holistic Solution by Jackson Galaxy is perfect for all kinds of travel in your kitty's cat carrier. This solution may ease the fear, anxiety, and stress resulting from travel and help relieve any associated motion sickness as well! 

How do I prepare my cat for travel?

Before anything else, you need to make sure your cat is used to and comfortable in their pet carrier. See our tips on how to do that here.

Your cat also needs to be completely up to date on their vaccines – an active rabies vaccination certificate is required to fly, at a minimum. Many airlines will also require a health certificate. If you think your cat might be nervous flying, feel free to consult your vet about giving them a calming aid, like a treat or oil. CBD can also work wonders for anxious cats. 

Consider what items you may need to pack for your cat, if they won’t be available upon arrival. This could include (but is not limited to!) food, a portable litter box, a travel bed, toys, and more. Make sure to pack your cat’s belongings when you pack for yourself, to ensure that everything fits appropriately in your luggage.

Day of, avoid feeding your cat breakfast to prevent any unwanted accidents while on the road. If that’s still something you’re nervous about, purchase a disposable pee pad (or use any absorbent material) to place at the foot of your cat’s carrier, just in case. 

 

How do I get my cat through the airport to the plane?

Upon arrival, you will have to check in at the airline’s desk at the airport. Online check-in is unfortunately not allowed when traveling with an animal, so make sure you give yourself extra time to wait in line.

The desk attendant will need to physically see your cat (they can stay in the carrier), as well as any paperwork the airline has required you to bring, like a health certificate. If you forget the required paperwork, your cat may not be allowed to fly – think of it as if you forgot your photo ID.

Then, just like the rest of us, your cat will then have to go through airport security. If you opt to go through regular TSA security, you will need to remove your cat from their carrier when you get to the front of the line. The carrier will go through the x-ray machine with the other carry-on luggage, and you will walk through the metal detector, with your kitty safe in your arms.

To prevent your cat from running off, we recommend they wear a cat harness & leash while in their carrier, which you can then easily hook a leash to and have full control of their movements. (Read our tips for harness training your cat here.) If your cat is especially skittish, or you believe that going through the TSA security line would be traumatic for them, you can request a private screening room. A TSA agent of your same sex will screen you and your bags in a private, enclosed room—an impossible place for your cat to escape from!

How do I get my cat on to the plane?

When you get to your gate, check in with the gate agent to see if you are eligible for priority boarding; passengers flying with animals are often allowed to board early. More than just a nifty perk, priority boarding makes it easier to get your cat situated at your seat and keep them at ease, as the plane is not yet full of other passengers.

Once seated, drape a blanket or jacket (one that smells like home!) over your cat’s carrier to block out excess background movement and noise.

Buckle up, and fly safely!

FAQ's 

How will my cat use the bathroom on a plane? 

This is one of the most important things to consider when flying, because nervous kitties will have to go more often. "The Porta Pawty" Portable Litter Box is the most convenient way to give your cat a place to go, on the go. The seamless interior liner is a breeze to clean between uses, and the zippered top prevents spills. It is lightweight, collapsible, and comes with handles for easy carrying! 

Should I sedate my cat? 

Definitely not. Some airlines won't accept sedated animals, plus it is just plain unnecessary! Unless your cat is extremely prone to panic attacks during travel, we advise you to find other ways to comfort them, or leave them with a trusting friend/family member while you're away. 

When should I stop feeding my cat before flying? 

While water should always be accessible to your kitty, stop giving them food 4-6 hours before take off. Pre-flight nerves & nausea get the best of us, and they will be fine to wait a little bit until you're safely sky high! If your cat is extra prone to motion sickness, ask your vet for medication to make their trip a little more pleasant. 

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