Air Travel With a Cat - Cat Info Detective

Air Travel With a Cat

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Hi fellow travelin’ felines! Thinkin’ about going for an airplane ride?

If so, tell your human to check out this info so your trip will be a happy one.

Air travel with a cat can be turbulent if not properly planned ahead of time!

paw prints coming in from a distance

The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs. 

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides and explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, linking you to experts on each page. 

All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping. 

How to Travel By Air With Your Cat

airplane climbing into clouds-travel

Traveling comfortably and successfully with a cat, even by air, requires planning, training, and understanding your cat and the airline’s requirements.

You can discover how to figure out your cat’s travelin’ purrsonality at “You & Your Traveling Cat“.

Cat experts recommend you take cats only in the cabin of an airplane, since they can become traumatized being in the cargo hold.

tabby cat in orange soft carrier

Before making reservations, check the airline’s website for any information about traveling with cats.

Then call the airline and ask the agent about your specific plans and what requirements there are for bringing your cat.

Do this as far in advance as you can, since preparations can take at least a couple weeks.

carrier - bubble backpack by luggage

Some airlines allow only one animal in the cabin per flight, NOT one animal per passenger!

So don’t wait until the last minute to find out somebody else beat you to it.

It’s also something to consider if you want to travel by air with more than one cat.

airplane cabin

You may decide to find another mode of transportation if you can’t have more than one cat in-cabin with you.

Be sure to ask if there’s a fee for a “carry-on” cat and set up her reservation when you make your own.

If you’re taking connecting flights, do the same for each one.

airplane preparing to land

The day before your departure, confirm your reservation (and your cat’s).

Discover more at “Preparing For a Trip“.

Non-Stop or Connecting Flights?

airplane passenger cabin

When planning air travel with a cat, the first priority is to fly non-stop, if at all possible. This will reduce the amount of stress on both you and your cat.

If you take connecting flights, you both have to go through security, find your gates, board, take off and land multiple times.

This is especially important if your cat has to travel in cargo. Ever heard of lost luggage??

British Airways airplane

Ask the airline representative what documentation is needed for your cat (health certificate, proof of rabies and other vaccines, etc.)

Health certs must be issued no further back than 10 days prior to your departure date.

Keep these papers on your person, not packed in your luggage, so they’re available on demand.

Cat Carriers for Airplane Travel

soft sided cat carrier

For any air travel with your cat, you must use a carrier that the airline approves of, or your cat won’t be going.

Airlines have specific safety requirements for carriers both for cargo and in cabin travel.

If you’re taking a cat in the cabin, the carrier must fit underneath your seat.

hard cat carrier

Many carriers are advertised as airline approved but you’ll want to double check the latest requirements of your specific airline.

Hard carriers are most protective of your cat and anyone handling the carrier. Some airlines accept soft-sided ones for in-cabin.

Find out more about carriers at “What Are the Best Cat Carriers?” and “Cat Carriers… Take Your Cat In Style!

airplane cabin

Put an ID tag on the carrier with your name, cell phone number, cat’s name, and whatever else you think is appropriate.

Use something that won’t fall off if something happens and you get separated, such as a leather tag that wraps around the metal bars.

Put a sticker on the carrier that says “LIVE ANIMAL”.

Cats Traveling in Cargo

airplane cargo hold

Even though cat experts recommend in-cabin travel for cats, there are times you may not be able to do that.

If your cat must travel in the cargo hold, call well in advance and ask what is specifically required for your cat’s safety.

In general, airlines require a “LIVE ANIMAL” sign in big letters on the crate with arrows pointing up that clearly shows which is the upright side.

airplane climbing toward sun

It must have food and water bowls attached to the grill door. Have your name, address, and phone number firmly attached or written directly on the crate.

These cargo carriers are available online at suppliers like Amazon.

Discover more at “Cat Carriers… Take Your Cat In Style!

What Is Your Travel Destination?

resort hotel thatched hut over sea

Where you’re going will affect your airline travel and what other modes of transportation you’ll be taking to get there.

Be sure you consider whether you have to change planes and spend long hours waiting in airports.

Also, whether you’ll be taking a taxi, bicycle or walking to your destination once you’ve landed.

Your cat will thank you!

Getting Through Security & Customs

airport security agent - mode of transportation

A big factor in taking your cat on a plane is going through security and customs.

Get to the airport early enough to get through all procedures.

Find out what papers and procedures are required when going through customs at every destination point, including connecting flights.

pet passport

In the United States, TSA will usually require you to take your cat out of the carrier, which makes it even more important that your cat be carrier and leash/harness trained.

The noise of a strange place can scare him if he’s not used to it.

Don’t think you want to be chasing a terrified cat through the airport with security right behind you!

reception area, airport customs, tsa search, security

Keep the leash and harness on your cat for the entire trip for everyone’s safety.

Also, be sure your cat has identification… a pet ID tag on his harness and microchip are ideal.

You can also request that the carrier inspection be done in a closed room.

Emotional Support Cats

woman hugging emotional support cat - airline regs about ESC's-mode of transportation

Emotional support animals have become more popular, but any air travel with a special cat must be approved by the airline before your trip.

People have used the “Emotional Support Cat” excuse to try to get around airline requirements.

As a result, many airlines are no longer accepting this unless you have a doctor’s note as proof. Be sure you’re meeting all requirements.

International Travel

airplane wing in flight

For international travel, contact all destination countries months before your trip.

You’ll need the same answers as for domestic air travel but there will likely also be a quarantine period and more paperwork required.

Check back with them 4-6 weeks before your travel date to be sure nothing’s changed.

Commercial Passenger Airlines in the U.S.

International air mode of transportation - airlines/map


American Airlines: Pets

Delta Airlines: Pet Travel on Delta

Eastern Airlines: Contract of Carriage – Carriage of Animals

airport terminal


Frontier Airlines: Travel Tips – Traveling With Pets

Hawaiian Airlines:


JetBlue: Contract of Carriage – pages 1-14 & 1-15

Southwest: Southwest Pet Policy

Spirit: Contract of Carriage – Acceptance of Animals, pages 15-18

Sun Country: Traveling with Kids or Pets

United Airlines: In-Cabin Pets

International Airlines

To find out about pet policies on airlines in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, etc., go to “IATA – Traveling With Pets“.


helicopter - mode of transportation

A word about taking your cat on a helicopter ride.

Just like other modes of transportation, be sure your cat is very comfortable with noise and motion before attempting this.

He should be either in a carrier or on a leash/harness. Make sure the helicopter service and pilot allow you to bring him.

Long Distance Moving

If you’re moving across country or around the world, here’s some helpful info for the entire moving experience, since there’s more than an airplane flight involved… Moving With a Cat…An Adventure!

Videos – Airplane Travel

Here are some videos with helpful information about airplane travel with your cat…

Jackson Galaxy’s Tips for Flying with Cats, Jackson Galaxy, January 6, 2021
FLYING WITH MY CAT to Europe – How to plan for a trip with your cat, Albert & Mia, the Adventure Bengal Cat, Dec 30, 2020
How to Air Travel with Your Cat: FIRST FLIGHT Tips, Cat Mando, July 16, 2021
Traveling By Plane With Your Cat, Nikki Martinez, September 12, 2020


Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

“77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat”, by Susan M. Ewing, Companion House Books, Fox Chapel Publishers International, Ltd., 2018, p. 181

“Airline Pet Policies for Dog or Cat Travel,”

“Cat Speak”, by Bash Dibra with Elizabeth Randolph, New American Library, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, NY, 2001, pp. 208-211

“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting & Owning a Cat”, by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D., Alpha Books, Penguin Group (USA), Inc., New York, NY, 2005, pp. 205-7

“List of Airlines of the United States”, Wikipedia

“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011, pp. 266-7

Updated April 20, 2024

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