How to Fly With a Cat: 6 Things to Know

While flying with an animal isn’t always the easiest thing, sometimes it’s necessary. When I moved across the country, I had to fly with my cat.

I was extremely worried about it, as I didn’t really know how she would react. My cat is sensitive to sounds, and I felt flying would stress her out. 

But she survived unscathed, and the journey wasn’t as bad as I thought. I did a lot of research beforehand so I knew how to make it as easy as possible. In fact, she only meowed when we were taking off and landing. During the rest of the flight, she was snoozing. 

Once we landed, all she had to do was get adjusted to her new home. It was such a relief that the journey went off without a hitch. 

Whenever friends or family travel with pets, I am the go-to resource for their preparation. I love to tell others what they can do to make their journeys more enjoyable.

Flying presents a lot of anxiety as it is, and when you add a four-legged friend into the mix, it can become even more stressful. But that doesn’t have to be the case, especially if you know what to expect. 

Here are the things you can do to make soaring the skies with your kitty more pleasant. 

Get a Vet Exam/Vaccines

Many airlines require that you get your cat examined prior to flying, as well as update their vaccines. You’ll have to obtain a health certificate from a veterinarian. (Find out how much you might spend on vet care over your pet’s lifetime here!)

For domestic travel, this typically needs to be done within ten days of the flight. For international travel, you’ll want to research what is required for the specific country you’re going to, as they will typically need extra vaccines.

While you’re at the vet, it’s a good time to ask them if they would recommend prescribing any medication to calm your feline during the flight.

Sometimes, they can provide an anti-anxiety medication that will help them sleep on the trip. Senior cats might not be suited for this, though, so it’s best to see what your vet thinks.

Airline Carrier Requirements

Every airline has different requirements for the size of your cat’s carrier. When they are brought in the cabin with you, they’re considered ‘carry on,’ and will have to be stowed under the seat.

That means the carrier they’re in will need to easily fit. Here are some of the top domestic airlines’ requirements for carrier size: 

  • Alaskan Airlines: Hard-sided dimensions: 17″L x 11″W x 7.5″H; Soft-sided dimensions 17″L x 11″W x 9.5″H
  • American Airlines: They don’t have any specific guidelines, but advise that your carrier must be able to fit under the seat in front of you, and the combined weight of the carrier and your pet can’t be more than 20 pounds. 
  • Delta Airlines: Similar to American Airlines, they don’t have a requirement other than it needs to fit under the seat in front of you. They don’t mention a maximum weight.
  • JetBlue: Carrier dimensions: 17″L x 12.5″W x 8.5″H. The weight of your pet and the carrier must not exceed 20 pounds.
  • United: Hard-sided carrier dimensions: 17.5″L x 12″W x 7.5″H; Soft-sided carrier dimensions 18″L x 11″W x 11″H.

Because these requirements change frequently, it’s advised to check out your airline’s website and see if they list any measurements. You can also call them. 

Difference Between Cargo & Carry On

Most of the horror stories you read about involving pets flying is when the pet is placed in the cargo area. This is the section of the plane where your luggage is stored, though the pet section is typically far away from the suitcases.

The pet cargo area is climate controlled and pressurized just like the human cabin, but it’s dark and noisy. It’s always advised that your pet travel with you in the cabin whenever possible. This might not always be an option if your cat is too large to fit underneath the seat.

If that’s the case, your pet should be just fine in the cargo area–but you’ll have to prepare for the trip a little differently than if they were going with you in the cabin.

Since they will be in their carrier alone and won’t have human contact for the duration of the flight, you will need to put them in a solid carrier rather than a soft one.

You should also give them an adequate amount of water and food if the trip is longer. Make it comfy in there by putting a blanket down or other cushion, as long as it doesn’t take up too much space. 

Supplies You’ll Need

Whether your cat is going with you in the cabin or making the journey in the cargo area, you’ll need specific supplies.

Put an absorbent potty pad in the carrier, just in case your cat goes to the bathroom. Bring a few extras with you so you can change it and clean up when necessary, as well as some latex gloves.

Bring along some of your cat’s food and a water bottle. If your cat is on any medication, be sure to bring this as well.

You will want a cat harness and a leash for when you go through TSA, as you’ll have to take him/her out of the carrier so they can X-ray it with your belongings.

You may also want to bring some cat treats, so you can encourage their good behavior. If you don’t have one yet, put a name tag/contact information on the carrier and also attach one to the harness, just in case your cat gets lost.

Here’s a checklist you can go through prior to leaving for the airport:

  • Harness
  • Leash
  • 2 name tags with contact information
  • Medication
  • Food 
  • Empty water bottle (fill up after you go through TSA)
  • Potty pads
  • Latex gloves

Training Before the Flight

Because your cat will be exposed to many new sounds and surroundings, it will make everything easier if you train them beforehand.

Purchase the carrier and the harness/leash well before the flight. At one point each day, put the harness on them and place them inside the carrier.

As you get closer to the flight day, you can take them on trips to the store or mall, anywhere that introduces them to louder noise and bright lights. Give them treats along the way to reinforce that this is a positive experience.

Provide them plenty of play time/down time when you get home so they can associate it with happy events. 

If your cat doesn’t like being carried, try to get them used to it, as you will have to hold onto them while you go through security (this usually takes 10-20 minutes, as you won’t have to take them out of their carrier until you get to the X-ray machines). 

Day of Flight Preparations

On the morning of the flight, withhold breakfast from them, as you don’t want them to vomit inside the carrier in case they get motion sickness from the drive.

You can feed them at the airport if you’d like, once you are settled at the gate. Place them in the carrier at the last possible second before you leave the door.

Make sure that you have all the paperwork you need and pack all of your supplies. You can bring a blanket with you as well to cover the carrier if your cat gets overwhelmed with all the visual stimulus.

Though flying can be stressful for a cat, it is sometimes inevitable. By taking the necessary precautions and preparing ahead of time, you can reduce the anxiety associated with flying. 

Ashley is the co-founder of She is a professional writer, whose work has been seen in many top publications and websites, like Digital Trends, Opposing Views, Men's Health, and more. She is passionate about all animals, and loves her cats Felix and Lola. Ashley enjoys finding the best products and foods to ensure they're living their best lives possible!