Back in April, Kylo Ren and I traveled to the BlogPaws Conference in Kansas City, MO. Being a 13+ hour car ride away, we opted to fly instead. Though I have flown several times before, this was my first time flying with a cat. It was Kylo Ren’s first time flying ever. I did a lot of research and reading before booking our flight to make sure I knew what to expect; however, we were both thrown some curve balls along the way.
When flying with a cat, it’s always best to be over-prepared, so Kylo and I are here to give you our best tips and advice so you don’t get caught in an unfortunate or stressful situation!
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1. You will need an airline-approved cat carrier. We highly recommend the Sleepypod Air.
Not all cat carriers are created equal, particularly when it comes to flying with one in-cabin on an airplane. Each airline has their own specific regulations when it comes to pet carriers, but generally, you need a carrier that:
- Fits under the seat in front of you
- Allows sufficient room for your cat to stand up and turn around in
- Has a waterproof bottom
- Has adequate ventilation
The Sleepypod Air checks all of these boxes and then some. It’s unique soft-sided design allows it to contract in size to fit in the space below most airline seats. It can also expand to allow your cat more room when you’re just hanging out at your gate or riding in the car. And when not in use, the Sleepypod Air folds flat for easy storage. It also has straps on both sides to secure it with a seatbelt during car travel, a pocket on each side to store travel necessities like cat treats and a leash, a safety tether to eliminate quick pet escapes when opening the carrier, and trolley pocket to secure the Sleepypod Air onto your other luggage while navigating the busy airport. That trolley pocket is a true life saver!
My favorite aspect of the Sleepypod Air though, is the fact that it is crash tested. As with all Sleepypod carriers, the Air has proven to hold up in a car accident, keeping your kitty extra-safe while riding down the road.
To read more about the Sleepypod Air and its many other features, visit the Sleepypod website.
2. Each airline has its own set of rules and regulations for flying with cats. Know them before you book your flight.
As with the specific dimensions for approved carriers, the rules for flying with a cat vary from airline to airline. Kylo Ren and I flew Southwest. Their rules are a bit more lenient than other airlines I researched.
Southwest Airlines Rules:
- They allow a maximum of 6 pets per flight with one pet carrier per paying adult passenger.
- Each pet carrier can have no more than 2 small cats per pet carrier.
- Kittens must be at least 8 weeks of age.
- You must make a reservations for your cat when you book your flight. (Fees apply – more on that later.)
- Your cat counts as a carry-on or personal item.
Most airlines have very similar, if not these same, rules. Most other airlines also require a health certificate and up-to-date vaccinations for your cat as well. Southwest does not require these things, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I went ahead and got a health certificate for Kylo Ren because the Missouri state laws say that pets traveling into the state must have one. Since Southwest did not require the health certificate, the likelihood of us getting asked to show documentation was pretty low, but again… better safe than sorry.
*Please note: Health certificates must be obtained from your vet within 10 days of your trip.
3. It is more expensive to fly with a cat.
All airlines require some sort of pet fee for your cat. Some of them can be quite expensive. Southwest’s pet travel fee was the least expensive one I could find, and it was $95 each way. That’s $190 round trip, in addition to your own ticket. Also, keep in mind that your cat counts as one carry-on or personal item, so you may have to check a bag, which usually costs more too. Thankfully, Southwest allows one carry-on and one personal item on board, plus two checked bags at no extra cost. A lot of other airlines have fees for checked baggage, so don’t forget to factor that in to your costs.
4. You will have to take your cat out of the carrier at the TSA Security Checkpoint.
When you get up to the security checkpoint, you will have to take your cat out of the carrier before walking through the scanners and metal detectors. The carrier goes on the belt through the X-ray machine with all the carry-on and personal items, but you have to carry your cat with you through the scanners. I was prepared for this, so Kylo Ren had his harness on him already, and I had his leash ready to attach to him as soon as I took him out of the carrier. However, I was quite surprised and distraught when the TSA agent told me that I had to remove Kylo’s harness and leash before going through the scanner. Loud and busy security checkpoint + unsecured and scared cat = recipe for disaster.
Kylo Ren is an experienced adventurer, but even he got stressed out and scared going through the security checkpoint. He was extremely squirmy, so I had to have a very firm grip on him as we walked through the scanners to prevent him from getting loose. And of course, being the busy Atlanta airport, the TSA agents had absolutely zero compassion for us. They curtly ushered us through the scanners, and then decided to flag me to get my hands swabbed for explosive and drug residue. I was not allowed to put Kylo Ren back in his carrier before getting swabbed either. So there I was in the middle of the TSA security checkpoint at the Atlanta airport, holding a scared, squirmy, and unsecured cat one hand at a time, while my hands were swabbed. Not fun. Thank goodness we made it through without incident.
The return trip went much more smoothly. At the Kansas City airport, they still made me take Kylo’s harness and leash off, but they offered to do our check in a private room if we weren’t comfortable. The TSA agents were WAY nicer and more considerate. Kylo was actually a lot calmer this time around (probably because it wasn’t nearly as busy as in Atlanta), so we didn’t need to go to a private room, but I was glad to know that was an option. It is actually always an option at any airport.
So, in conclusion: be prepared to take your cat out of the carrier at the security checkpoint, but if you or your cat aren’t comfortable with that, you can ask for a private screening.
5. You will probably get flagged for a hand swab at the security checkpoint.
As I said above, I got flagged for a hand swab at the TSA security checkpoint in Atlanta. At the time, I had no idea what it was for, as they offered no explanation. After Kylo and I reached our gate and got a chance to settle down, I looked it up on my phone and found that the hand swabs are to check for explosive and drug residue. I just figured they must swab people randomly and didn’t think anything else of it.
But then I got swabbed again at the Kansas City airport on the way home. I did some more digging online and read that people traveling with pets usually get swabbed for explosive residue because criminals have been known to hide explosives inside pets. Disgusting, I know. Regardless, don’t be surprised if you get flagged for a hand swab when flying with your cat!
6. Your cat will need to stay in the carrier at all times.
Once you get through security and arrive at your gate, your cat has to stay in the carrier according to airport rules. I totally understand this rule; however, I will admit that I let Kylo Ren out of his carrier when we were waiting for our flight. There weren’t many people at our gate, and he was pretty antsy after our stressful experience with security. I thought holding him a bit might calm him down. He was excited to be out of his carrier, but he didn’t want to sit in my lap. He wanted to explore!
I’m not saying you should break the rules, but I don’t think this particular rule is enforced very strongly if your gate isn’t crowded.
7. The middle seat has the most space underneath.
Once you board the plane, your cat’s carrier will have to go under the seat in front of you. Southwest doesn’t assign seating, so I was able to choose our seat. I chose a window seat when we boarded but quickly realized that there was more room under the middle seat. Our flight was pretty empty, so we actually had the entire row to ourselves. Kylo’s carrier went under the middle seat, and I got my window seat.
Once again though, I broke the rules. (Shhhhh!) Once we reached cruising altitude, I pulled Kylo’s carrier up and put it in the seat beside me. I even unzipped it a bit so I could reach in and pet him. The flight attendants passed by us several times and never said anything to me. One even asked me about him and then told me all about her pets at home. The flight home was different though. We once again had a row to ourselves, but one of the flight attendants told me I had to keep Kylo’s carrier under the seat.
8. Bring treats!
During takeoff and landing, your kitty may become uncomfortable and stressed. There is a lot of noise after all, and the pressure changes affect their ears the same as yours. To help your cat feel more comfortable and to help them equalize the pressure, you can give him a few treats. Thankfully, the Sleepypod Air has a nice pocket on the side to store treats. The zipper to the main compartment is also easily accessible, so I was able to discretely give Kylo Ren treats without opening his carrier completely.
As you can see, the potential for stress when flying with a cat can be very high. Traveling and flying with your cat can be a fun adventure though, so don’t let it overwhelm you too much. Just do your research, talk with your airline about their specific rules, and know what to expect. Then you should be all set and ready for take off!