Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Airline Travel with a Cat

Traveling with a pet can be very rewarding, especially when you need to be out of town for several days for a meeting or a conference. We've talked about traveling with your cat in a vehicle, but what about airline travel?
Truffle, a silver shaded Persian, with the Sleepypod Air carrier
Truffle with the Sleepypod© Air Carrier



We recently interviewed Janiss Garza, an award winning author and cat blogger about traveling with her cat, Summer, aboard an airplane. Janiss and Summer recently attended the Cat Writers' Conference (CWA) 25th Anniversary Conference and Awards Banquet in St. Louis, MO where she was the recipient of the Sleepypod Traveler Award for a post - FiveThings They Don’t Tell You About Flying with Your Cat

An Interview with Janiss Garza and Summer from Sparklecat.com

Summer from inside the plane
Photo courtesy sparklecat.com

How is traveling by air different than traveling by car?


In Summer's case, she prefers flying to car travel because she has 100% of my attention since my eyes aren't on the road. Plus I can open up the carrier while we're at the boarding gate. But she's not really your normal cat. I think most cats would prefer to be safely closed up in their carriers when in unfamiliar places. The biggest difference is with air travel, you have to use a smaller carrier to fit in with airline specifications (it has to fit under the seat in front of you in cabin) - and you have to take your cat out of the carrier and walk her through security while the carrier goes through the x-ray. This is scary for a lot of cats (not Summer, she loves the attention!). Most airports I've been to allow you to keep the cat's harness and leash on, but I've heard some make you take them off. So it can be a nerve-wracking experience for both the owner and the cat.

What are any special arrangement you must make prior to flying with a cat?

Airlines only allow a limited number of pets to travel in cabin, so you need to schedule your flight as far in advance as possible and let the airline know you are bringing a cat. There is a fee each way, and it is not cheap - usually around $100 (or more!) per flight (not per round trip). Usually, you have to call and let the airline know you are bringing a cat, even if you book online, so do that as soon as you book your flight. Each airline is different when it comes to health certificates. Most require that your cat get a clean bill of health, signed by your vet, dated no more than 10 days before you travel. Some airlines even have their own form for the vet to fill out. You need to check online for the requirements because they really do differ from airline to airline. Even if the airline doesn't require a health certificate at all, you should bring proof that your cat has an up-to-date rabies vaccine. If your cat gets scared and bites someone, you need to have that onhand. Summer is a very sweet, gentle cat who has never bitten anyone (or even thought about it), but I still bring her rabies certificate.
Photo with the Sleepypod Air
Photo courtesy sparklecat.com

What type of carrier is needed for traveling by air with a cat?

If you are flying with your cat in cabin (and this is the only way I would ever fly with Summer, or any other cat - never, ever in cargo), the carrier needs to fit underneath the seat in front of you (which also means you can't have a first or exit row seat, by the way). Dimension requirements vary from airline to airline, so it's best to compare measurements on the airline website with the measurements of any carrier you are planning to use or buy. A carrier like the Sleepypod Air or Atom is ideal because the soft sides can collapse a bit when setting the carrier under the seat. You don't have any give with a hard-sided carrier.

Are airlines different when it comes to traveling with cats?

Yes, they are all different! The basics are the same, as far as requiring notice beforehand that you are bringing a pet, and needing the carrier to fit under the seat in front of you. The fees can vary by as much as $50+ each way. But each airline handles people carrying pets a little differently. Some want to see your health certificate. Others won't always ask, even if they've required them. So it's best not to assume that they won't check, even if they didn't the last time.

What documentation do you need for traveling by air with cats?

Check what the airline requires. Some want a health certificate from a vet checkup dated within 10 days of your departure. Some don't require this, which will save some money. (Although your cat should have had a recent checkup before you travel to make sure she is healthy and has no hidden issues.) If you have any other paperwork necessary, bring it - if your cat is an emotional support animal, for example, you should have the letter from your therapist stating this. (Fliers with emotional support animals get to wave the fee for flying with them in cabin, but the airline must be notified in advance.) Always bring a certificate from your vet stating that your cat is up to date on the rabies vaccine. In fact, this is required for travel to many countries, where rabies is not as much of an issue as it is in the States - they want to make sure your cat is not bringing it in. Depending what state or country you are flying to, your destination may also require some sort of health certificate. So look into that as soon as you know you are traveling with your cat.
Photo courtesy Sparklecat.com

What supplies are you allowed to take on board the plane for your cat?

When you travel with your cat, the carrier counts as your carry-on. So you only have your personal item (i.e., your purse or laptop bag) and the cat in the carrier. This limits what you can bring into the cabin. You will have to pack your litter, litter box, any toys, and most of the cat's food in the bag you check in. The things you should bring with you in the cabin include an extra pee pad (I always line the carrier with one, just in case, even though Summer has never had an accident while traveling), something comforting that smells like you, or like home - a small blanket that your cat has laid on, to put in the carrier, for example. And bring crunchy treats and a syringe. Just like people cats can suffer pressure in their ears during take off and landing. If your cat meows during this time, it's actually a good thing, since that will help relieve ear pressure. But if you are concerned that your cat may be having any ear pressure, you can relieve it with a crunchy treat (her chewing on it will help her ears pop), or you can syringe some water in her mouth (this will help also).


What are any restrictions for traveling by air with a cat?

Some restrictions are pretty firm, and some vary. You will have to check in at ticketing with your cat when you arrive at the airport. You don't get to upload a boarding pass and just head for TSA. So you should give yourself extra time to do that. Once we're at the boarding gate, I usually let Summer out of her carrier on her leash, but some airports may not allow your cat to be outside the carrier. If you have any doubts about your cat's sociability, it's best to leave her in the carrier. You are not supposed to take your cat out of the carrier once you've boarded your flight. You cat must remain in her carrier, under the seat in front of you, for the whole flight. This is actually a good thing because most cats will get bored and just nap the whole way, except for takeoff and landing. If your cat is an emotional support animal, you can have her on your lap, although airlines may have more restrictions about this than they used to.

Summer waiting at the airport with her Sleepypod Atom
Photo courtesy sparklecat.com

Anything else you’d like to tell us about traveling by air with a cat?

The more stressed out you are about flying, and bringing your cat with you, the more stressed out your cat will be - so do your best to be as calm and practical about everything as possible. In reality, the worst part of air travel - checking in with your cat, and going through security, then picking up your bags at baggage claim and heading for your destination - are only a small part of your overall trip. The rest of the time, your cat will be in a carrier that is sitting in one place, and not much is going on. Should you drug your cat? If she is not on meds already, probably not - sometimes the drugs meant to calm your cat down will do the opposite and make her more agitated! Talk to your vet about it, if it's something you still want to consider. Your cat will most likely be fine, as long are you're not going crazy. I always find the owners are the X factor when it comes to how their cats react to situations. So avoid letting your mood and your attitude about air travel upset your cat! You need to be the strong one, and comfort her if she is confused and nervous. I find that focusing on Summer's wellbeing, in a pleasant and calm manner, takes my mind off of the more unpleasant parts of air travel. After all, I'm traveling with a buddy, and that is pretty nice!

23 comments:

  1. I prefurr to stay home. Mum can travel all she wants. Not me!

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    1. Truffle and Brulee feel the same way. I wish I'd worked with them when they were kittens to acclimate them to travel and people. I miss them when I'm gone.

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  2. Great post. I don't travel, but this is useful information.

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  3. Since TBT will not ever travel by air again (given the wretched seating conditions and add-on fees), we are safe from all of that.

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  4. Thanks for the interview! My human and I love to travel!

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  5. Allie and Angel Ellie came to us with their first Mom on a plane. The rest of us have never flown. Good tips.
    The Florida Furkids

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  6. That was a fun interview even though I hope I never go on an airplane!

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  7. Good info, thanks to you and Janiss for those tips. As an 30+ year airline employee, I agree with Janiss - do not check your pet into the cargo area of the plane. Airlines are getting much better at animal transport than they used to, and my airline has won awards in that area, but still it is not a good idea overall.

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  8. well said - though mom is pretty sure she wouldn't fly with Chanel

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  9. Great interview ! Knowing Claire and Momo, we are safe from travelling by plane, but those are good tips and very interesting information for travelling kitties. Purrs

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  10. I've never traveled by air. However, I don't like traveling by car. Mom Crystal can travel if she but please leave me at home where I can relax and sleep.
    Daisy Mae

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  11. It seems like it takes a lot of preparation to bring a cat on a plane. I've never tried it. I did bring Manna and Dexter on a road trip to BlogPaws back in 2017 though! That was an awesome trip.

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  12. It is like taking a child in some ways, all the preparations but in the end you are both travelling together and I think that is what is important. Me as a Jewish Mom LOL, and having a dog, I think I would be carrying everything for her and nothing for me. I would need a sedative to stay calm. Great post

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  13. Great interview. Summer looks like a pro traveler. I don't think I could ever fly with Jasmine. She cries the entire time she's in a carrier, any carrier, no matter what we do. We have to let her out in the car so she'll find a spot to lie down and relax a bit. She would for sure give all the passengers a headache (and break my heart listening to her being miserable).

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  14. Great post with tips for air travel. I've had experience traveling with 2 cats by car and by plane. You are correct each airline is different. Being overly prepared is the best thing you can do. I remember when I traveled with my 2 girls (Precious and Dusty) I had their medical vaccination records with me and paid for the extra fee. The airline didn't even look at my paperwork but I still had it just in case. The girls did well on the flight. My vet provided a sedative to keep them calm. No issues on the flight. They did well, but just a bit cranky by the time we landed. Understandable since the flight was 5 hours!

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  15. Very detailed and helpful article on airline pet travel. I haven't had the whole pet on an airplane experience yet. I guess the whole thing makes me pretty nervous. I didn't know they might make you take off the cat's harness / leash.. that's just asking for trouble with a loose pet.

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  16. As Summer and Janiss travel a lot and I follow their blog, their advice is based one experience and this is so important. Knowing what will happen and what to expect are things we can prepare for if we have the right knowledge and travel with cats

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  17. What a great interview with Janiss. Summer is such a good traveller. A lot of the information would be useful for travelling by air with Kilo the Pug but I just don't think he would behave or enjoy it. He would want to get out and site on my knee on the flight and shout at security. Love SleepyPod

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  18. What great advice! It sounds like Summer is very good traveler. The only pet I ever flew with was a young parrot. Luckily, things weren't as complicated back then, since I didn't know I would be traveling with a bird until I bought one on my trip.

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  19. I don't think the day is coming any time soon when I'd be able to take Cookie in the cabin. Which means no flying.

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  20. Great innerview! Not that I'd ever fly but is it more dangerous for a cat who has asthma to fly than a non-asthmatic cat. I know that dogs with pushed in snouts shouldn't fly.

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  21. Very informative post! I don't have a cat, but I have a cat sized dog (lol) that I've considered flying with before. It's hard for me to travel and leave him behind, because he's very bonded to me but is afraid of most other people. Luckily he does do ok with my fiance, so far if I've had to travel I've been able to leave my fiance home to care for the animals. It will be interesting when the time finally comes that we attempt to travel together. I think we'll most likely stick to car trips, but it's a nice option that at least one of my dogs is small enough to come in cabin on a plane with us.

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  22. Very informative post! I've never brought a pet onto an airplane, since my dogs have always been too large to fit under the seat. I didn't realize you had to take your pet out of the cage when you go through security. I can see that as a problem if your pet is nervous and jumps out of your arms! Thanks for the tips on the importance of treats and water during the flight.

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