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Everything You Need To Know About Traveling With A Cat On A Plane

Are you planning on flying with your cat on a plane and feeling swamped trying to figure out confusing airline pet policies, picking the best airlines for traveling with cats, and figuring out what to add to your packing list? Fear not, as we’ve got you covered.

Travel concept with funny cat sitting on suitcase. life with animals concept wanderlust people traveling the world
Does your cat never let you leave without climbing into your suitcase? © Getty Images

As much as we love our pets, flying with your cat internationally or domestically can be a stress-inducing experience, especially if it’s your first time traveling with your beloved companion. Here, we’ll break down all you need to know about flying with animals to help you get as prepared as you can be for your flight and provide you with all the must-know information.

What Are The Requirements For Flying With A Cat?

Rules and regulations for traveling with cats can differ based on the airline and destination you’re traveling to. It’s also worth remembering any stopover locations can have requirements that deviate from your final destination.

For this reason, it’s always best to ensure you’ve researched the regulations for your specific airline and destination before booking your flights. That being said, there are many commonalities between pet policies from various airlines and countries that you can expect to see.

Documents

One of the documents you’ll likely be asked for is a valid health certificate for your cat, provided by a certified vet and usually issued up to 10 – 30 days before your departure. During your visit to the vet, the staff will examine your cat and determine if it’s safe for your kitty to travel. If they think your cat is in good health, has up-to-date vaccinations, and is safe to fly, they’ll give you a certificate with relevant details about your pet’s age, size, and health to present to the airline before your flight.

A woman gets her documents ready to travel with her cat.
Traveling is not easy, especially when you have a furry friend to take care of © Getty Images

This step is especially important if your cat must travel in the hold. Anyone planning an extended vacation may need to obtain another health certificate for their return flight, as they are generally valid for just 30 days.

Kennels

Another key requirement to keep in mind when you’re planning is finding the appropriate kennel for your cat. Usually, carriers must be small enough to fit under the seat if you’re flying with your cat in the cabin but large enough that your cat can stand, turn, and lie down comfortably. The rules for travel with animals in the hold can differ, but we’ll give you all the details on kennels and crates later.

Destination

Possibly one of the more tedious must-dos for flying with your cat is getting to the bottom of the requirements for your holiday destination. Though many countries are relatively straightforward to travel to with pets, you’ll find that traveling with your cat to Hawaii can be much more complicated than traveling with a cat to Mexico due to Hawaii’s stricter customs regulations that require pets to be quarantined for some time after landing.

Woman on holiday with her cat in Greece, Santorini
Greece is known for having a lot of stray cats so your cat will probably make lots of friends when there © Getty Images

How Much Does It Cost To Fly With A Cat?

Airline Cabin Cost Cargo Cost
Delta Domestic: €87 International: €182 Varies depending on distance, size and destination. Contact the airline for quotes.
American Airlines Within the U.S.A, Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean: €112 Varies depending on distance, size and destination. Contact the airline for quotes.
United Airlines One-way costs are €112, with an additional €112 for layovers over 4 hours in the U.S.A. or over 24 hours internationally. Unavailable.
Ryanair Is unavailable, excluding service dogs on selected routes. Unavailable.
Lufthansa Domestic: €55 European: €65 Medium intercontinental: €110 Long intercontinental: €120 Varies depending on distance, size and destination. Contact the airline for quotes. Surcharges of €150 apply for connections in certain countries.
K.L.M. 75 – €400. Contact the airline for quotes. 75 – €400. Contact the airline for quotes.
British Airways It is possible to fly with a cat up to 6kg on a SUN-AIR franchise partner. Contact the airline for quotes. Typically starts from €330 but varies depending on distance, size and destination. Contact the airline for a quote.
Virgin Atlantic Contact the airline for quotes. Varies depending on distance, size and destination. Contact the airline for quotes.
Emirates Contact the airline for quotes. Starting from €455. Contact the airline for quotes.

What Are The Rules For Flying With A Cat?

You’ll find the rules for flying with your kitty can change a little depending on whether your cat flies with you in the cabin or as cargo.

Cat Inside Transporter Waits to Travel in an Airport Lounge
Always make sure to have a comfy transporter for your cat to relax in when traveling © Getty Images

Pet owners will be glad to learn that many airlines will allow your cat to fly in the cabin. Cats traveling on board with you can be placed in either a hard-sided or soft-sided kennel that fits underneath the seat, and your pet must remain inside the carrier for the duration of the flight.

While the exact dimensions of pet crates may vary a little between airlines, the maximum size permitted on flights is generally 17.5″ x 12″ x 7.5″ for hard-sided crates and 18″ x 11″ x 11″ for soft-sided carriers. If your chosen airline only permits your cat to travel as checked baggage or cargo, the maximum dimensions tend to be much higher, though this generally won’t be necessary for cats unless they are a larger breed. However, only hard-sided kennels can go in the hold for safety reasons.

Most airlines count your cat and their carrier as your hand luggage, so you’ll likely only be permitted to bring a personal item like a small backpack or handbag on the plane with you.

In addition to the health certificate required by many airlines, you must ensure your cat is microchipped and has had any relevant shots, with rabies vaccinations being the most common requirement airlines will look for.

How Hard Is It To Fly With A Cat?

Thinking about traveling with your cat can send you into a frenzy, but it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it seems with adequate preparation.

To make your flight as smooth as possible, starting the planning process earlier than usual is essential. It’s best to get in touch with your airline before booking to ensure you’re aware of the current safety requirements and that there’s availability for your cat, as carriers usually only allow a limited number of pets per flight on a first-come, first-served basis.

Once you’ve secured your cat’s spot on the flight, you can then work on checking off the airline’s list of requirements, such as finding a suitable kennel, getting any necessary vaccinations, and booking your cat in for a health check shortly before your departure.

For many cat owners, one of the biggest concerns is your pet’s comfort and safety during a flight. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to keep your cat’s anxiety and stress to a minimum, which we’ll outline for you later.

Cat Inside Transporter Waits to Travel in an Airport
Cats will always want to jump out and explore their surroundings so make sure they are tucked in securely © Getty Images

What Is The Difference Between Flying With Your Cat In The Cabin Vs. In The Hold?

Flying with your cat in the cabin is the preferable option for many owners, but there are pros and cons to both the cabin and the hold. Unlike traveling with large dogs on planes, most cats can fly in the cabin.

If your cat joins you in the cabin, you’ll feel more at ease as you can comfort and check on your pet to keep them relaxed. You’ll usually be able to check in at the airport as normal and pay the required fees before heading to security. After the flight, once you’ve collected any checked luggage, you can leave the airport quickly. However, some animals can find the volume of people and loud noises in the airport and on the flight nerve-wracking, so this might not always be the best option.

The procedure is quite different for cats traveling in the hold as cargo or checked baggage. When you arrive at the airport, there’s usually a drop-off area where you’ll have to take your cat after you’ve paid for your pet at the check-in desk.

Before this point, you’ll need to make sure your cat has all the travel essentials in their kennel. In the hold, your pet’s crate must be hard-sided, leak-proof, and well-ventilated, with suitable bedding and absorbent padding in case they need to go to the toilet.

Cat traveling in plane lies on legs of passenger
What better way to relax on the plane than to have your cat lay on you? © Getty Images

Clearly label the kennel with the words ‘live animal’ on the top and sides, and ensure they have sufficient food and water that airline staff can supply from outside the crate. You must attach a collar and leash to the outside of the carrier, as they are not permitted to be worn on the flight as they are a choking hazard.

Once you’ve landed, you’ll pick up any checked luggage and go to the airport’s pick-up area, where you can reconvene with your pet an hour or two after the flight.

What Are The Travel Requirements Of Different Airlines?

Airline Cat Policies, Rules, And Limitations

Most airlines cap the number of pets that can fly in the cabin. For example, if you’re flying with your cat with Delta, four pets are permitted per flight, while for those flying with their cat with JetBlue, you’ll find six pets in total are allowed on each flight.

Another rule that varies is the amount of pets per passenger. Often, airlines will allow one carrier per passenger, with two pets in the carrier, accepted if there’s ample space for the animals. However, some airlines restrict this to one animal per crate or require the two animals to be the same breed. If you’re flying with your cat with United, for example, you can only have one pet per carrier, while anyone flying with their cat with Southwest can have two pets of the same species per kennel. On the other hand, pets can only travel in the hold if you’re flying with a cat on American Airlines.

Depending on your cat’s breed, you may find they are prohibited from flying with some airlines for health and safety reasons. Short-nosed felines like Himalayan and Persian cats are banned from most flights as they may struggle to breathe due to the changes in air pressure. Aggressive, older, or unwell cats are often not allowed to fly; the same goes for pets under eight weeks old.

What Are The Most Cat-Friendly Airlines?

Just as there are some cat-friendly destinations with more relaxed customs protocols than others, some airlines tend to have more lenient pet policies than their competitors. We’ve rounded up some of the most cat-friendly U.S. airlines from the friendliest to the least friendliest.

Rank Airline
1 Alaska
2 Southwest
3 Frontier
4 American
5 Spirit
6 Delta
7 United

How To Pass The Security Check With A Cat?

Cats flying in the cabin will go through security with you. Though your cat must remain in their carrier when in the airport and on the flight, you must take your pet out of the kennel when you’re passing through security. The staff will inform you when you need to remove your cat; at this point, the kennel will go through the X-ray machine while you hold your cat as you walk through the checkpoint.

Once you get the go-ahead from security staff, you can put your cat back in their crate. Solid and wet food are permitted in-flight, and it’s a good idea to have them ready for staff to examine as you head to security.

How To Prepare A Cat For A Flight?

Your pet’s comfort is paramount when preparing for a flight with an animal. To help keep your cat at ease during the flight, starting crate training well in advance is a good idea, mainly if your cat is not used to spending extended periods in a carrier.

Once you’ve found the right crate for your cat that aligns with the airline’s requirements, the next step is to make it an inviting and relaxing place for your four-legged friend. Adding accessories like cozy bedding and easy-to-use water and food containers will make their crate a safe space.

Domestic cat with a suitcase at the airport on the background of the plane.
Next time you’re flying, check if you can bring your cat with you! © Getty Images

A few months before your flight, help your pet adjust to their carrier, leaving it open at home, encouraging them to lie inside, and carrying them inside for short periods, gradually building up to longer timeframes. Make sure they have plenty of time to learn how to eat and drink from the containers, as they can differ from what your pet is used to. If your airline permits it, including a blanket that smells like you or your home is a great way to calm your cat’s nerves, which is especially relevant if your pet is traveling as cargo.

Unlike highly socialized pets, many cats may not be accustomed to large crowds and loud spaces, and airports can cause them a lot of stress if it’s completely foreign to them. For cats that fall into this category, exposing them slowly to busy environments in the lead-up to your flight will make this experience easier for your feline friend.

How Do I Book A Flight When Traveling With A Cat?

Much like flying with other animals, traveling with a cat is generally best organized by booking directly with the airline over the phone. Often, airlines do not allow you to add pets online, and speaking with a customer service agent will also help you to be aware of the most up-to-date requirements.

When you’re informed of the airline’s rules, you can book your flight before adding your cat to the booking. Some airlines enforce specific time frames for adding pets, so you might find you can’t book your cat until 14 days in advance or no less than 24 hours before departure.

What Should I Know If I’m Flying With My Cat For The First Time?

Many pet owners are unsure how to approach feeding their pets when flying on a plane for the first time with their beloved companion. To limit the chance of your cat feeling nauseous during the flight, feeding your cat no less than four hours before flying is advisable, as flying on a full stomach could make your cat more prone to motion sickness.

However, a supply of food is allowed on the flight, so you can feed your pet during the journey if you feel they’re hungry.

ginger cat napping next to a packed suitcase at home
Exhausted from packing? Try taking a nap with your cat © Getty Images

How Can I Prepare For Flying With My Cat Internationally?

Quarantine

Depending on your flight routes, quarantine may or may not be something you’ll encounter. Suppose you’re traveling with your cat to Canada or Mexico or traveling with a cat to Europe, particularly countries within the EU. In that case, you most likely won’t have to worry about your cat being quarantined.

As previously mentioned, Hawaii has some of the more stringent customs regulations you’ll likely confront. Give yourself plenty of time to research before your flight, and ensure your cat has received two rabies vaccines, a valid health certificate, and is microchipped. If you meet these requirements, you can apply for the 5 Days Or Less quarantine program, keeping the number of days your cat will be separated from you to a minimum.

Some other countries requiring quarantine for cats include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Singapore.

Documents

Again, the documents needed for your flight will depend on your airline and route, but the following are commonly required:

  1. A health certificate from a certified vet, often called a pet passport, usually less than between 10 and 30 days before your flight.
  2. Confirmation of necessary vaccinations.
  3. Details of your cat’s microchip (15-digit chips are preferable as they are more widely accepted).

Preparations

Here’s a quick run-through of some of the most important things you should add to your to-do list before your trip:

  1. Contact the airline to confirm your cat is eligible to fly and to be aware of the latest regulations before booking.
  2. Pick up all the travel accessories well in advance and give your cat time to get used to their crate and feeding containers.
  3. Research the protocols of your final destination and stopover locations.
  4. Book your pet for a health check and assess if they need additional vaccines.
  5. Find out the location of drop-off and pick-up areas in the relevant airports if your cat will be traveling in the hold.

After Arrival

As most cats can travel in the cabin, there’s usually little to do once you arrive. Some countries may conduct a short examination of your cat, but it’s unlikely once all the necessary documents are provided.

Cats traveling as cargo must be collected from designated pick-up areas an hour or two after landing once you have passed through baggage claim, where you’ll likely find other passengers who may be flying with a large dog or exotic animals.

Pet owners traveling to countries requiring quarantine must follow a different procedure.

Vaccines

Most countries tend to require proof of rabies vaccinations, but other countries sometimes have specific additional requirements. For example:

  1. Cats entering Australia are recommended to have the FVRCP shot.
  2. Ireland, Malta, Finland, Norway, and Northern Ireland in the UK require tapeworm treatment.

Want more interesting tips and information on traveling? Read more Kiwi.com articles!

Frequently asked questions

Is It Safe For Cats To Travel On Planes?
In general, planes are very safe for cats. Airlines implement rules and regulations to keep pets safe on board, although it's important to remember that flying can cause cats to feel incredibly anxious due to the unfamiliar environment.
How Do I Prepare My Cat For Flying?
Giving your cat plenty of time to adjust to long periods in their crate and busy surroundings is crucial, as well as ensuring their kennel is a comfortable, safe space for them. Familiarize yourself with the expected procedure on the day of the flight to limit the surprises for you and your pet.
Can I Buy A Seat For My Cat On The Plane?
Aside from United Airlines, most airlines don't allow you to purchase extra seats for pets. This may be possible if flying with cats in the cabin but it is rarely available.
Is It Safe For Cats To Fly In Cargo?
Most owners worry about placing their cats in the hold, but airlines keep traveling animals in secure, temperature-controlled areas and only allow pets to fly if outside temperatures are also suitable. However, it's worth remembering that accidents can happen, and a small number of animals get injured on flights each year or can become ill on board.
How To Travel With A Cat Litter Box?
Provided it fits comfortably in your cat's crate, litter boxes are permitted, though you may need to purchase a small or portable litter box.
How Many Cats Can I Travel With?
Some airlines will allow you to travel with two cats that fit in one carrier, while others strictly allow one pet per passenger. Cats are generally permitted to fly with their kittens once they fit in the same kennel. *Disclaimer: Airline policies for cats vary significantly between carriers and are frequently updated, with many situations dealt with on a case-by-case basis, which may change if flying with other animals. Always check the requirements directly with the airline and research your destination and stopover countries thoroughly.