Flying Cats (err... on a plane, that is)

Hey Cothers, I’m looking for some advice on transporting a pair of cats cross-country via plane.

I’ll be flying from Massachusetts where my two cats have been living at my parent’s farm while I did some traveling, back to where I live in California this May. My boyfriend will be coming with me so we can bring both cats as our “carry on” in the cabin. I would love to hear from folks who have flown with cats before particularly about different airlines and what I’ll need to prep for the flight.

We plan on getting them to the vet the week or two before the flight for all their usual shots/checkup and of course to get a health certificate for the flight. Neither cat has been sedated since they were fixed (4 years old now), and are very calm cats- I pulled them from the hayloft during a farm sitting gig when they were only hours old and they’ve had a ton of cuddling/over socialization ever since, so I don’t think I will risk getting any ace or the like.

Their current carriers are the hard shell type so I’ll be donating them to the animal shelter and buying new soft-sided carriers- I was thinking the Bergan bags look nice, get great reviews, the price is right and I can remove the bed/lining and wash them. Also on the shopping list is disposable absorbent pads- I would love suggestions on these as I’ve never used any kind of puppy pad and have no idea which brands to consider. I’m a little concerned that they wont relieve themselves, both have been adamant about going in the littler box or outside since day one, any suggestions? They’ll both be getting harnesses- probably whatever is cheap and has no metal, and I’m thinking of attaching a short length of cord/rope for extra security when they need to be outside the carrier. Pop up water bowls, the good treats, and I was thinking reusable snack bags w kibble secured in the carrier?

It is looking like most flight options will require one stop, overall consisting of a 4 hour flight followed by a 3.5 hour flight with a 40-55 minute layover in between (not swapping airlines). There appear to be a few non-stop return flights all just over 6.5 hours. Thoughts on longer flight time but shorter overall travel time versus shorter flights but slightly longer total travel time?

Any airlines to avoid? Things I’m not thinking of?

Flew two cats from ohio to cali air tran. Have a harnesss and leash on the cat in the carrier- carrier must go through xray, cat must not. Cats panted and stressed on takeoff and landing, otherwise no real issues. We used soft carriers. Our health cert. had to be dated within like 3-4 days- but NO ONE ever looked at them at all. Good idea to have id tags with cell phone number on them just in case. Cats go under seat in front of you, and count as a personal item, so we had to check bag, carry one cat+purse.

We did not offer food or water whole trip. no problems.

I had my cats flown from NYC to Orlando in July. They flew cargo and from what I understand they meowed a bit (one is a talker) when they landed, but apart from having a little water dish in front them them they were fine on a fake sheep skin blanket and a hard crate.

They flew Delta.

I’ve flown with a cat a zillion times, so here’s my 2 cents:

You sound like you’re headed in the right direction with the carriers. Make sure whatever you buy is airline approved. I also think in-cabin is a good choice. I’ve never done cargo and never will.

Ace doesn’t really help their state of mind much, and IME most cats just quiet down and resign themselves to a few hours of discomfort when travelling long-distance. I’m pretty anti-sedative for flying with typical cats.

I’ve never used absorbent pads in the carrier. My cat has had nervous pee episodes (at least a couple of vet techs can vouch for this), but has never peed in the carrier in maybe a dozen long-distance plane and car trips. I tend to pack a gallon ziplock with essentials, including wet-wipes and paper towels in case of emergency (plus some litter which could be spread on newspaper in a pinch if I were to get stuck on a layover). Other things I throw in my emergency baggie are 1-2 days’ worth of food, pop-up bowls, and an extra copy of vet papers. Mine doesn’t ever want to eat, drink, or eliminate while in transit, but will take care of it as needed when we get where we’re going.

My cat hates wearing a harness so much that she is MUCH squirmier with it than without. I honestly think she has less chance of getting away during the TSA screening without one than with. If your cats tolerate harnesses without freaking out, then go for it, but I hate to add any more stressful variables to the equation so I forego it. Mine wears a collar with home and destination contact info, just in case.

I have had my health certificate inspected, so don’t skip it. I know Southwest has looked at it, and I think Delta. Both of those airlines have been good for carryon pets IME. Be sure to call ahead when you book your ticket to book your cats. Airlines have a limited number of in-cabin pets allowed on flights, so since you have two you should be particularly careful to make sure there’s space. I tend to call again 24 hrs before the flight to confirm pet reservations, cause I’m neurotic like that.

As for travel time, I’ve done coast-to-coast and various in-between flights with cats, and I think overall travel time is WAY more important than in-flight time. My current cat seems to hate airport time (noises, anxious energy) at least as much as flight time. And since most cats won’t eat/drink/eliminate in transit, you may as well get them to somewhere where they can take care of that stuff as quickly as possible. But you should be o.k. with any of the options you mention, w.r.t. travel time. I’ve dragged my poor cat through multiple layovers getting to my folks’ in the middle of nowhere, and she’s done alright with travel times in the 10-12hr range.

You sound like you’re on top of things, so I’m sure your cats will do great!

Can I just say that I hate flying and my fantasy is to fly with a cat on my lap. That would be so nice to curl up with a cat and sleep and read on a flight.

That said if I were a passenger on a flight with cats in carriers, I would love the company. I hope you and your cats have a safe flight.

I have flown with my cat once and my dog many times and I will echo some of the things listed above. Make sure you call the airline to reserve space for your cats. I believe only 3 pets per airplane so if you don’t get those spots first, they won’t let you bring them. The airlines require a health certificate but as another poster above said, I have NEVER had anyone look at it.

Regarding the food, I’m not sure about your cats but when mine is out of his element, he does NOT want to eat or drink and he didn’t for our entire trip. I did get ace from the vet because I had never flown with my cat but I would recommend at least having some on hand. That way if things go south you have it. My kitty did have some ace on board for the trip and I think it helped his unhappiness tremendously.

I also had a harness on mine because you do have to take them out of their carrier when you go through security. Mine HATED his harness at first but I made him wear it whenever I was home for about a week and a half before the trip. He did the army crawl for about 2 days but when we headed out for the airport, he was pretty well accustomed to it.

Mine did not eliminate AT ALL before or during the trip. We stayed in a hotel overnight the night before the trip and he had a home made “disposable” litter box there and he didn’t even use that. I don’t think you will have any problems in that department.

Be prepared for a lot of comments both good and bad. I have had people have to switch seats because of my pets and have had others that just love being near a pet. Sometimes people were completely oblivious. It really isn’t too bad traveling with them overall.

Have a safe flight!

I fly with my cats every few months and usually have little to no problems. Both of mine fly in the same carrier which comes to 4 lbs under maximum weight. They sleep in their carrier often enough at home (I just leave it out for them) that the carrier is pretty low stress.

  1. Make sure to call the flight carrier ahead of time to reserve a spot for your pet. You will probably not be permitted to pay for their tickets until you get to the airport to check bags. I have only traveled with Southwest and they have always been awesome about letting me know where dogs were seated and overall were accommodating. They are also I believe $75 per pet carrier each way.

  2. I do not provide food or water within 4 to 5 hours before the flight or during the flight. I will offer the food and water on arrival. Cat urine and feces on a plane is very inconvenient, annoying to other passengers, and YOU as the person traveling with the pet are often responsible for cleaning up after them if the accident occurred on the plane.

  3. Put harnesses on the cats. They have to be completely removed from their cat carriers and held through security. Escape of a pet is pretty common at this point. TSA is not permitted to hold them or help you handle them.

  4. If you are worried about their stress and don’t want heavy duty sedation, you can ask your vet about dosing of diphenhydramine(Benadryl) for them. I use the pill (not capsule) and give part to each cat 30-60 minutes before the flight. I bring a plastic pill gun with me and put it in the cat carrier pouch.

  5. Pretend that having the cats under the seat is no big deal and do not make a huge fuss over them. A lot of people never realize they are their. The only time people usually realize I am traveling with cats is when I am boarding and carrying a cat carrier or when I am about to exit an must pull them from under the seat.

6.Relax…it will probably go well and you will get to experience the joy of flying with cats. lol