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Flying with a cat is not the easiest adventure. My husband and I have taken a few road trips with our cats Riley and Rusty (pictured above!), and it is always chaotic meowing for the first hour before they settle down and sleep the rest of the way. When we were moving across the country however, we did not have time to drive. Our best option was to fly our cats, and we did so on American Airlines. Flying with a cat on an airplane was not as difficult as I imagined, however I did have a lot of questions along the way.
Paying the Pet Fee Ahead of Time
Before bringing your cats to the airport, you will need to pay the pet fee online and check the pet travel rules. Know if you are traveling with your cats before you book your ticket. We tried to book a flight, but then had to switch flights because our original flight did not have enough room for more pets. According to the ticketing agent, there is a limit to the number of pets allowed on a single flight, so it is a good idea to pay your pet fee ahead of time so that you do not run into issues at the airport.
When you book your ticket, you can pay the pet fee to carry your pet on board. Pet fees are typically per pet/carrier, and will cost you over $100 each way. On American Airlines, the carry-on pet fee is $125.
If you are carrying your cat on the plane, your pet counts as one of your carry-ons. This means that you cannot bring a backpack, cat, and a roller bag – you will have to check your bag. Keep this in mind as an additional cost while you are booking your ticket.
Cat Carrier for Flying with a Cat
We purchased the Pet Magasin Soft-Sided Cat Carrier from Amazon for each of our cats, and I highly recommend it. You can unzip the cat carrier to lay flat, which helps getting them inside. The case is soft so you can bend it to fit under your airplane seat, and the cat carrier is easier to store later. This cat carrier also has a Velcro bottom, so it sticks to the airplane carpet to prevent your pet from rolling around. I would not recommend bringing a hard shell carrier, because it would be more difficult to fit under the airplane seat. Make sure that the cat carrier you choose is TSA approved.
Preparing Cats for Air Travel
When you are preparing for flying with a cat, it is a good idea to get your cats used to their carrier, and to put a blanket or t-shirt inside so it smells like home. Many people ask if we tried giving our cats any medication to calm them or sedate them. This topic seemed controversial online, so we decided against giving our cats medication. I did purchase the below SENTRY Calming Collars however, which we put on both of our cats for the duration of the trip. These collars “contains pheromone technology, scientifically proven to modify stress-related behavior”. It did seem to calm down our boy, as he was much quieter than usual. The calming collar did not seem to have an effect on our girl.
Going Through Airport Security with Cats
When going through airport security, you will need to remove your cat from the pet carrier. Before flying with a cat, the pet carrier will need to be scanned in the machine. I was worried that our cats would jump out of our arms and run. Because of this, I requested a room for a private pat down. A security agent took our cats while I went through the regular security scan, and we then went to a private room where I was able to take our cats out of the carriers and hold them while the security agents patted down the carriers. It only took about five minutes, and the security agents did not seem to mind. Depending on your airport however, I would plan ahead for time spent getting a private pat down.
Personal Experience Flying with a Cat
We had two flights with our cats on American Airlines. The first was one hour to a layover Chicago, and the second was four hours. During the first flight, our cats did meow a bit. They were not too loud over the airplane engine, but they were definitely not happy. For our girl, if you could make eye contact with her she would start meowing more frequently, so we just had to avoid looking at her. The boy meowed similar to how he would have in a car ride.
The cats meowed during take off, but near the end of the first flight they quieted down. During our layover, we stopped in the American Airline lounge and were able to find a quiet corner to rest. We left the cats in their carriers, but this gave them a chance to take a nap.
By the time we got to the second flight, our cats were naturals. They meowed a little bit during take off, but were pretty quiet for the majority of the flight. As we were getting off the plane, we heard a few comments from people that they had no idea there were cats on board!
Will a cat need to eat and poop on the plane?
When we have traveled with our cats on road trips, our cats rarely used the litter box and food bowls in the car. Because of this, we were not worried about the cats needing to eat or use the restroom while on the plane. They did not have any accidents, and were probably too scared to eat anyway. Once we landed and got our rental car, our first step was a Walmart to buy litter and food. They were not very active once we got to our hotel, but this is typical when our cats are in new environments.
Six months later, our cats are alive and well, enjoying the California weather. I know that our cats were not happy about having to fly, but I am not worried if we have to again.