by Stephen Vanderpool, writer for NerdWallet | Travel
Cats like comfort. Routine. Predictability. Basically, NOT flying. Being crammed into a little box, dragged through a loud, bright airport, shoved under a seat and subjected to hours of turbulence and air pressure changes is not particularly desirable for most felines. Flying with cats can be stressful for all parties involved, from owners to pets to fellow passengers. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to make the experience more pleasant for you and less taxing on your cat.
1) Choosing the right airline
First things first. Pick the right airline. Every airline has its own pet policies. Know them before you book. Make sure your airline of choice allows cats, and make sure they allow pets to ride in the cabin. There are generally two options for animal transport: cabin and cargo. In the cabin, your cat rides with you. In cargo, your cat rides in a dark, unattended room in which unregulated temperatures can lead to a very hot or very cold conditions. Cats are usually small enough to ride in the cabin when the option is available.
When choosing an airline, pay special attention to the pet fees. While none are free, some airlines will be vastly less expensive than others. NerdWallet’s airline fee comparison tool allows you to find the most affordable options for your needs. After booking the flight, immediately call the airline and tell them you’ll be bringing a pet aboard. A day before you fly, call again to make sure everything is in order.
2) Selecting a carrier
To transport your cat in an airplane cabin, you’ll need a carrier that fits under the seat in front of you. Usually, this gives you about 17 inches to work with. Many people prefer soft-case carriers because they can condense when necessary. You might also want to invest in some sort of case liner to add protection against accidents and motion sickness. You’ll thank yourself later when the mess is tremendously easier to clean. As an added precaution, adorn the carrier with an excess of labels. Include your name, phone number, address and destination. Add the words “LIVE ANIMAL” in large letters on the sides and arrows indicating the top of the case. If you’re not confident in choosing a carrier, airports often sell pre-approved selections.
If your cat isn’t used to carriers, take some time to get her acclimated before the trip. Set the carrier in a comfortable place in your house and place her favorite toys and treats inside. Experiment with a few short car rides, increasing the duration each time.
3) Visit the vet
Always take your cat to the vet before traveling. Verify that shots are up-to-date and your pet is fit for travel. You can ask the vet for professional advice on making the journey as safe and comfortable as possible. Also, the vet can provide the health certificate you’ll need to get your cat onboard. Airlines don’t always check, but many technically require a certificate certifying your pet’s good health.
4) Five hour feeding rule
Experts recommend feeding your cat about five hours before departure. This gives her time to settle her stomach before a bumpy take off. As for water, it is recommended you allow your cat to drink an hour before the flight. This will provide hydration for the duration of the flight but should help prevent accidents in the carrier. As you near your destination, you can give your friend a little water or ice. Upon landing, bust out the water bowl and litter box and let her go wild.
5) Don’t put the cat through the security x-ray
Does this really need to be stated? Unfortunately, yes.
Emotions are contagious. Pets often follow their owner’s lead in unfamiliar situations. Stay calm. Your cat may not be able to see much outside her carrier, but she should at least be able to see you. Become a beacon of serenity and role model of relaxation. If you appear nervous, your cat will likely follow suit. If you’re too animated or jocular, your cat may become excitable and grow restless in the confines of the carrier. Remain placid and pleasant, no matter what challenges your travels bring.
7) Avoid sedatives
Using sedatives is always a gamble, especially at high altitudes. You simply cannot know how your pet will react. Some drugs can even produce effects opposite of what is desired, increasing nerves and hyperactivity. Usually, cats will fare just fine if you adhere to the above guidelines. If you are truly concerned your pet will not be able to handle the flight without a minor sedative, consult a veterinarian. Don’t trust the Internet or your friends’ opinions. Every cat is different, and each has its own limitations. Talk to a professional before making any decisions.
8 ) Be courteous
Even though you’ll be focused on the well-being of your cat, remember to consider the people around you. Let the flight attendants know you have a pet, and check with your neighbors to see if anyone has an allergy. If so, the flight attendant can help you arrange a seat swap to ensure the most comfortable accommodations for everyone.
You’ll both be a-okay!
Stephen Vanderpool is a writer for NerdWallet | Travel, a site for adventure on a budget.