How to Travel by Plane With Your Cat in 12 Easy Steps
Flying with your cat is pretty simple if you know what to expect and take the time to prepare. You will need: an appropriately-sized cat carrier, a metal detector-safe cat harness, ID tags, a current health certificate, and $125-$150 for pet fare, which is usually paid at the ticketing counter during check-in.
- Notify the airline. When you book your flight, you will need to call the airline and tell them you plan to bring your pet. It generally costs $125-$150 per animal, which you are required to pay when you get to the ticket counter. There are limited spots available for pets, so notify them as soon as possible.
- Consider microchipping. It’s a good idea to microchip your cat before traveling, especially if you’re flying.
- Get a harness with ID tags. Your cat needs to wear a harness that will pass through a metal detector. Attach ID and rabies tags to the harness. DO NOT remove the harness while you’re traveling. If your cat gets lost, it will be easy to identify.
- Buy an appropriately-sized cat carrier. It is required that your cat is able to stand up and fully turn around in its carrier, but the carrier still needs to be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. If your cat is very large, it helps to have a carrier that’s flexible on one end so you can squish the backside down to get it under the seat.
- Obtain a current health certificate. Within seven days of your flight, your vet can issue a clean bill of health for traveling. I’ve never been asked for it, but I wouldn’t want to get caught without it either.
- Arriving at the airport. You will need to go to the airline ticket counter (where bags are checked) to check in with your cat before you go through security. This is where you pay the pet fare. You will also check any bags you want to check at this time. Cats are not allowed in cargo and you should never try to check your cat.
- Going through security. The cat carrier goes through the luggage x-ray while you walk through the metal detector carrying your cat in your arms. You do not (and should not) remove your cat’s harness to go through the metal detector.
- Waiting at your gate. It’s usually ok to take your cat out and hold her, but be mindful of others. Some people are allergic to cat dander and saliva, while others simply don’t like cats. I have found through our travels, however, that many people are very receptive and loving of them. I always ask the person sitting next to me if it’s alright that I have my cat out, to make sure they aren’t allergic and don’t mind being in close proximity. Most people don’t mind at all, and many brighten up at the sight of an animal. Maine Coons are especially well-received because they’re so large and beautiful and sweet.
- Boarding the plane. Your cat goes back in his carrier during boarding and take off. You do not get priority boarding because of your cat, so board with your assigned zone. Once onboard, the cat carrier with your cat inside goes underneath the seat in front of you (NOT in the overhead bin). This is why it’s so important that you have a size-appropriate cat carrier, because it has to fit as completely as possible underneath the seat in front of you. It’s ok if it sticks out a little bit – just do the best you can.
- Flight takeoff. Your cat is to remain under the seat inside the cat carrier during takeoff and landing.
- In-flight. Once the plane has reached altitude, you can take your cat out periodically if it’s ok with your seat mates. Some flight attendants are strict about keeping your cat in its carrier the whole flight. They’ll say the cat is only allowed to be out if it’s a service animal. Usually, they don’t mind.
- Final destination. When you land, you need to get to wherever you’re going so you can set up a litter box, unless your cat is comfortable going to the bathroom outside. I find that they won’t go for a while because of stress, but you need to make it available.
I was surprised at how well my cats did the first time I took them on a plane. Once you’re up in the air, the room is still and the noise is steady. It lulls my cats to sleep and they usually sleep in their carriers for most of the flight.
Like humans, some cats are prone to motion sickness while others never get it. Ruby has a tendency to get it. Anytime we drive through the mountains, and during flight takeoff and landing, she starts salivating excessively which looks like foaming at the mouth. Recently when I flew with her, I peeked in her carrier as we were descending and she sprang out into my arms, so I held her until we were on the ground. The flight attendants were already seated and my seat mate couldn’t say anything because she was clearly not feeling well. I just held her tight and wiped away the drool until it was time to get off the plane, and then she was ok.
Here are a couple photos of Wildman enjoying his first plane ride: