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How To Take Your Cat on a Flight [Ultimate Guide]

Flying with a cat used to be very straightforward – buy a travel crate, limit access to food and check your cat in as checked luggage.

However, nowadays the process is a lot more complicated, with good reason – to ensure that cats are happy and safe while travelling.

Flying with your cat can be straight forward and stress-free with a little planning:

    1. Select a cat-friendly airline.
    2. Decide whether you want to fly with your cat in the cabin or cargo.
    3. Obtain your cat’s pet passport.
    4. Ensure your cat’s carrier is appropriate.
    5. Get your cat used to it’s travel carrier.
    6. Exhaust your cat 48 hours before the trip.
    7. Limit access to food 12-24 hours before the trip.
    8. Pack all the essentials.

In this article we will go into detail on how to prepare for taking your cat on a plane. I’ve also included some travel tips, to ensure that the process is as stress-free as possible for both you and your cat.

Let’s jump straight in!




Select a cat-friendly airline.

First of all, you’ll want to select a cat-friendly airline.

Over the years, there have been some heartbreaking accidents where cats unfortunately didn’t make it through their flight.

Since these accidents, airlines have focused a lot on improving their pet policies, to prevent these from happening again. When it comes to pet-care, there are some airlines that outshine others.

In May 2018, Comparethemarket.com analysed 52 airlines and selected the top 10 pet-friendly airlines:

  • Air France
  • British Airways
  • Lufthansa
  • Tui
  • Thomas Cook

  • Turkish Airlines
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Aeroflot
  • Air Europa
  • Vueling

They also highlighted the following 5 airlines as the least pet-friendly airlines.

  • Easyjet
  • Emirates
  • Flybe
  • Ryanair
  • Balkan Holidays

For the most enjoyable and stress-free journey, try to stay clear of these 5 airlines when flying with your cat.

Additionally, when choosing an airline to fly with, it’s important to note that they all have different requirements when it comes to flying with cats.




a) Airline’s requirements for the ages, breeds and sizes of dogs.

Sadly for those of you with young kittens, most airlines won’t allow cats under the age of 8 to 10 weeks to fly with them.

For example – United Airlines states the following:

Puppies and kittens must be at least 4 months (16 weeks) of age to be accepted for travel on United.

In addition, certain breeds are often banned by some airlines.

This is because, certain breeds have physical or behavioural traits that make them at higher risk of having health problems.

For example – United Airlines  has banned the following cat breeds (including mixed breeds) from their flights:

  • Burmese
  • Exotic Shorthair
  • Himalayan
  • Persian

Whether your cat is permitted to fly in the cabin with you, or whether they will need to fly in the cargo hold, is determined by their size.

We’ll go into this further in the next section – #2 Flying with  your cat in cabin vs cargo.

b) Airline requirements for the size of pet carriers.

Different airlines have specific requirements when it comes to the size of your cats carrier or crate.

In addition, some airlines may also request that you purchase specific crates for their flights.

For example, United Airlines states the following:

  • Not accept crates taller than 30″, including the 700 series crates.
  • No longer sell or provide crates at airport facilities. All cats and cats traveling with a PetSafe reservation must have a compliant crate, which may be purchased via united.com/petmate in advance for acclimation and travel.

Have a thorough read of your chosen airline’s pet requirements well in advance of your trip.

Top tip 1 – when possible, try to book a non-stop flight. The ASPCA says that “this will decrease the chances that your pet is left on the tarmac during extreme weather conditions or mishandled by baggage personnel during a layover”.

Top tip 2 – when possible, try to avoid flying during busy periods, such as summer holidays. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that you fly during mornings or evenings in warm weather, and around midday in cold weather.




Decide whether you want to fly with your cat in the cabin or cargo.

a) Flying with cats in the cabin.

As most cats are under 20 pounds, you will most likely be able to fly with your cat in the cabin. If you have a larger cat, such as a Maine Coon, then he/she may need to fly in the cargo.

Airlines tend to allow cats to fly in the cabin as long as their carrier fits under the seat in front of their owner.

With that said, policies are different for different airlines, and some airlines don’t allow cats in the cabin at all.

Flying with your cat in cabin will tend to be cheaper than flying him/her in cargo, as he/she will count as your carry-on luggage.

With this said, some airlines do charge to fly with cats in the cabin, but this tends to be less than for cargo travel.

Please note, if your cat’s carrier doesn’t fit in the seat in front of you, you normally won’t be allowed to buy him/her a spare seat next to you.

In addition, most airlines won’t allow you to take your cat out of it’s carrier for the duration of the flight.




b) Flying with cats as checked luggage or in shipping cargo.

If you are planning on flying with a large cat (generally, over 20 pounds), he/she will have to fly in shipping cargo or as checked-in luggage.

Don’t worry! The cargo area of a plane is not as scary as you may think.

Your cat will travel in a pressurised, temperature-controlled area, normally separate from passengers checked-in luggage.

Some owners actually prefer having their cats fly in cargo, as they believe it is less stressful for their feline friends. This is because some cats get stressed out by all of the people and the noises that they come across in the cabin of the plane.

Please note that quite often airlines won’t allow you to book a cat to be shipped by cargo, until 2 weeks before departure.

So, where most of you will have the option of flying with your cat in cabin or cargo, those with larger cats sadly do not.

Whether you choose to have your cat fly in the cabin or cargo, just be sure to familiarise yourself with the rules and regulations of the airline you will be flying with.




Obtain your cat’s pet passport.

Once you have decided where you and your cat will be heading, you will need to obtain their pet passport.

A pet passport is a little booklet that holds information about all the vaccinations and treatments that your cat has had.

Additionally, it will contain your name, your cat’s name, address, identity, and an optional (but sweet) photograph.

It proves that your cat is well enough to travel with you.


Where can you get a pet passport?

You can obtain your cat’s passport from certain veterinary practises. Vet’s need an extra qualification to be able to issue pet passports.

Call your local vet to see if they are qualified to complete the forms for you.

If they aren’t, they should be able to refer you to a nearby practise that is able to help. Alternatively, get in contact with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) for advise.




What are the requirements to get a pet passport?

Your cat MUST be (1) microchipped and (2) up to date on it’s rabies vaccinations.

a) Microchipping your cat.

Your cat can get microchipped at your local vet or a charity, such as RSPCA.

Having a microchip is an essential in the process of getting a pet passport.

However, it is also in your best interest, in case your cat was to go missing whilst abroad. Your cat’s microchip will have a number unique to him/her, so if found, you can be reunited.

Get your cat’s microchip BEFORE getting his/her rabies vaccinations. If done after, the vaccine will not be valid.

b) Rabies vaccinations.

If you want to fly with your cat, it is crucial that he/she is vaccinated against rabies.

Most countries require cats to be vaccinated between 21 days and 1 year before travel.

However, this differs depending on where you will be flying to and from.

For example – if you are visiting the UK from a EU country or listed country, your cat must be vaccinated against rabies within 1 year, but longer than 21 days ago. If entering the UK from a unlisted country, then your cat must also have a blood sample taken at least 30 days after the rabies vaccination.

Before your visit to the vet, check the requirements for the country or territory will be visiting. That way you can be sure that your cat is getting its vaccinations in the required time frame.

Additionally, please note that some countries require cats to have a rabies blood test before entry. Quite often, after the blood test is completed, your cat must wait 3 months before being granted entry.

c) Additional Vaccinations.

Depending on which country you are visiting, your cat may also require additional vaccinations.

For example – Turkey requires that all cats need to be vaccinated against calicivirus, panleukopenia and feline viral rhinotracheitis, before entering the country.

Check the specific requirements for where you are travelling to, to make sure you are fully prepared




How long does it take to get a pet passport?

Depending on how busy your veterinary practice is, getting your cat’s passport will take you between 24 hours (Mon-Fri) and 1 week.

In the appointment with the vet, they will carry out a health assessment, insert the microchip, administer the vaccines (if not already done), and complete the forms. It should only take 30 minutes.

However, as mentioned earlier, it is important to note that different countries have specific requirements when it comes to the timings of vaccinations.

Once you know where you’re flying to, check the country’s requirements and get your cat vaccinated within the required time-scale.

If possible, start the process of getting your cat’s passport around 6 months before the date of intended travel. This will to allow sufficient time for the vaccinations and a potential rabies blood test.




Ensure your cat’s carrier is appropriate for the flight.

Requirements of carriers and crates differ between airlines. These also differ depending on whether your cat will be flying in the cabin or in cargo, and depending on what plane you are travelling on.

For example, United Airlines states the following:

A pet traveling in cabin must be carried in an approved hard-sided or soft-sided kennel. The kennel must fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times. The maximum dimensions for hard-sided kennels are 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high (44 cm x 30 cm x 19 cm). The recommended maximum dimensions for soft-sided kennels are 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high (46 cm x 28 cm x 28 cm)

Cats flying in the cargo hold of the plane will need a shipping crate.

If you will be buying a shipping crate for your cat, check that it is IATA approved.

The ASPCA provides the following guidelines and tips for buying and setting up your cat’s crate:

  • the crate should be large enough for your cat to stand, sit erect and turn around in at ease
  • it should be lined with absorbant bedding to soak up accidents
  • the crate door should be secured shut, but not locked
  • it must be marked with ‘LIVE ANIMAL’ in large bold writing
  • attach a photo of your cat to the outside
  • tape a small amount of food to the outside of the carrier so your cat can be fed by airline employees
  • freeze a tray of water the night before – it should stay frozen while loading but will melt by the time your cat is thirsty
Before buying a your cat’s carrier or crate, check the requirements of your chosen airline.




Get your cat used to it’s travel carrier.

If you want the journey to as stress-free as possible for your cat, buy it’s carrier or crate weeks before your trip.

This way, you will have enough time to allow your cat to feel a little at home in there.

Pop a blanket in carrier or crate and leave it out with the door open, so you cat can roam in and out freely.  For extra comfort and security, pop some of their favourite toys in there too.

In addition, give your cat plenty of treats inside so he/she associates it with good things. Furthermore, let him/her play and sleep in there as much as possible.

If you are travelling in cabin with a carrier, you could even do some practice runs – pop your cat in the carrier and take him/her for a walk with you, or out for breakfast.




Exhaust your cat 48 hours before your flight.

If possible, try to exhaust your cat a little.

Difficult, I know, as cats often just do whatever they want. But, you could try to have some extra play sessions. Most cats I know can’t resist chasing a laser beam!

A sleepy cat will be less prone to getting stressed out.




Limit access to food 12-24 hours before taking your cat on a plane.

Give your cat less access to food, for the obvious reason – he/she will be less likely to need a poop on the flight.

Familiarise yourself with the airport that you are departing from and arriving to.

Most airports will have a dedicated area for animals and pets to rest.

For example – by law, U.S. airports are required to contain areas for working animals and pets to rest. 

You could even take photos of the airport maps, so you know where you are heading on the day.

Pack all the essentials.

  • A small amount of dry food
  • A collapsible bowl
  • Medications and first aid items
  • Pet passport
  • Your cat’s favourite soft toy, blanket, or pillow
  • Treats
  • Your vet’s contact information




Conclusion

As you are now aware, flying with your cat does require some planning and preparation. However, in order to ensure that your flight is as stress-free as possible for you and your cat, it’s worth it!

To summarise, be sure to select a cat-friendly airline, and familiarise yourself with all the nitty gritty rules and regulations.

Additionally, ensure your cat is healthy enough to travel, and allow at least 1 month to 6 months to obtain your cat’s passport.

Please seek advise from your vet if you are concerned about anything, or if your cat has had some issues travelling before.

Hope this has been helpful.

Happy travels!

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