Have you been dreaming about traveling the world with your cat? If so, you’re not alone. 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!
Flying with your cat – especially for the first time – requires a lot of thought and additional planning. 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 to get started.
How do I book my cat on to a flight?
Determine first if your cat can join you in the airplane’s cabin, 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 the cabin with you, and it will be less expensive, to boot.
There are two different ways for your feline friend to fly with you 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.
Most airlines will allow your cat as a carry-on pet 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 cat 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 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 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.
Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals get a lot of flak in the news, but they 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 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 carrier at your feet.
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 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 vaccine is required to fly, at a minimum. 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 litter box, a 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 to place at the foot of your cat’s carrier, just in case.
How do I transport my cat?
Well, we would love for you to use 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!
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, you will be fine on Delta and American, for example. Delta’s policies require carriers be under 45 linear inches/114 cm in combined length, width and height, and American’s require carriers be under 51 linear inches/130 cm. The Fat Cat is 44.1 linear inches/112 cm.
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United is a maybe; they recommend soft-sided kennels that are under 40 linear inches/102 cm, but say that you “may exceed these dimensions slightly, as they are collapsible and able to conform to under-seat space without blocking the aisle.”
JetBlue is a probable no; they require carry-ons be under 38 linear inches/96.52 cm.
If you’re a frequent flyer with JetBlue 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), which fit this more limiting policy.
Pro tip: our brand new 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!
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. 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 in your arms.
To prevent your cat from running off, we recommend they wear a harness 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!