air travel with a cat


travel with pets

travel with pets makes a good trip even better

My husband and I have now experienced air travel twice with a cat in tow. Our cat Jimmy is too big a part of the family to leave him behind for any duration longer than two weeks. And having a single destination for our recent winter getaways, with a fairly quick and straightforward flight plan, we opted to take Jimmy with us on the plane as we made our way to Osoyoos on our first cat family trip, followed by a trip to Lantzville, British Columbia.

Have you ever flown with a cat in the cabin with you? We purchased the air-compliant soft-sided cat carrier, and Jimmy seems to tolerate it quite well, despite its limited space. The recommended dimensions are 16 inches long, 17.5 inches wide, and 8.5 inches high. Jimmy is a fairly large cat at 15 pounds, but seems to fit well enough in his sporty new nylon Tuff carrier, which is 17 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 9 inches high.

cat carrier

He certainly doesn’t have a lot of room in the carrier, but as cats do, he makes himself small, and curls up in a way that gives me hope that this will work for all of us.

Jim in carrier

I was speaking with a friend recently who is extremely knowledgeable about cats. She told me, as I’ve heard from other sources, that it’s not advisable to sedate the cat prior to travel. It is recommended to have something you can possibly give the cat mid-flight if they become overly agitated.

I spoke to our vet and he recommended the product named Feliway. It worked! Spraying a few shots of Feliway into the carrier relaxes the cat, and spraying the new surroundings on your arrival releases pheromones into the air that help the cat relax.

My friend also recommended we do not feed Jimmy anything the morning of our flight, or give him access to water. So I fed him well the night before, and did not feed or give him access to water the morning of our departure.

Plus seats with Westjet at the front of the plane help as well. You get a bit more elbow and leg room, and can put the cat’s carrier on your lap for a few minutes to calm him down if he’s agitated or meowing. And I found the Westjet staff to be amazing and helpful. They even knew Jimmy’s name!

Have you flown with a cat? If so, please share your tips and experience here. Have you heard of the Feliway product, or tried it on your cat? It certainly helps make a great pet-friendly trip even better.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I researched and wrote Volume I of Chocolatour that won a Readers' favourite Award in 2014. Always enjoy experiencing new destinations and flavours.

26 Responses

  1. Your recent post about flying with your cat Jimmy was both informative and heartwarming! It’s evident how much Jimmy means to you and your husband, and it’s fantastic that you’ve found a way to include him in your travels. Your tips about the cat carrier and the use of Feliway are incredibly useful for pet owners considering air travel with their feline companions. Avoiding sedation and managing food and water intake are great insights.
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  2. How do you calm your cat on the plane?

  3. Tessa says:

    I have never flown with a cat, and mine I don’t think could handle it. My maine coon is a scaredey cat and even a sneeze can terrify him and the other is a bounding kitten type.

    Thanks for the insight to flying with them though.

  4. satinka says:

    Sounds awesome. Jimmy, you make Mommy and Daddy proud and I’m so proud of you all! And Jimmy gets to see Canada.
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    • Thanks for dropping by, Esther.

      Jimmy is indeed a great cat and travels well. He’s not as happy as at home as he doesn’t have the freedom to go out and in as he pleases, but he has big beautiful windows to look out at the ocean and watch the water birds float by. (We’re in Lantzville on Vancouver Island right now.) Cheers!
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  5. I just wanted to let everyone who was interested in this topic know that the Feliway really worked. Jimmy was relaxed during transit, and once we got to our destination, I sprayed a bit around the condo and it seemed to help him feel at home. We will definitely use it again when we travel with our cat.

  6. Doreen, Jimmy is adorable! I love all cats, but “orange stripey” cats are my favorite! I hope he enjoys the flight. I couldn’t handle taking a cat on a plane myself; it’s stressful enough (motion sickness, etc) without having to worry about the cat. Do let us know how it goes! All the best.
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  7. Doreen,

    I’ve had cats all my life but I have never taken a cat on a plane before. I think how well they do will depend on the individual cat. From the sounds of it, Jimmy will do just fine.

    I have two cats right now. Tawny is almost 8 years old and she’s afraid of her own shadow. The sight of my vacuum cleaner sends her into a tizzy and the sound of my Swiffer sends her fleeing for cover. I have to hide her cat carrier when I take her for a trip to the vet. The sight of it is enough to give her a panic attack. 🙂

    My other cat is 2. She’s a rescue who started her life in a barn. Spunky is fearless. Life is one big adventure to her and when she sees her cat carrier, she immediately gets in it.

    So, you couldn’t pay me enough to take Tawny on a plane. Her pitiful crying (as if we were intent to do her bodily harm) would not bode well with the other passengers. 🙂 On the other hand, I can picture Spunky with her head poking out of her carrier taking everything in.

    Good luck! I look forward to hearing more of your adventures.
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    • You’ve hit the nail on the head, Sherryl. I think it really does have to do with the personality and disposition of the cat. Jimmy is fearless, just like your Spunky. I’ve even seen him chase a German Shepherd dog out of our yard! So I don’t think he’ll be scared at all. Perhaps just hungry and a bit uncomfortable from having to remain confined for most of the day. But I’m sure that will far outweigh what it would have been like for him to have been boarded, or just to have a neighbour drop in for an hour a day. Thx for sharing your thoughts.
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  8. Harry Hobbs says:

    Hi Doreen:We’ve frequently flown with our cats but it is some years ago now and it sounds like things have improved. When we took them they were not allowed in the cabin and went into cargo. It was okay as the airline baggage people were supposed to carry them out not throw them on the luggage carousel although it did happen once and our poor kitty was terrified.We don’t take our cats anywhere in a cage (even to the vets) without tranquilizing them . Do you take Jimmy to the vet in a cage. How he reacts might be a good gauge as to whether he needs tranquilizing or not. I know animals can find being palced in strange situations they don’t understand as very terrifying . Good luck with your trip!

    • Hi Harry: Yes, we’ve put Jimmy in a hard carrier every time we’ve taken him to the vet. He meows for just a few minutes and then is fine. He seems to like this soft carrier as it’s really cozy. I do think he’ll be fine for the tip and will not need to be sedated. Fingers crossed all goes well.
      WizardOfWords recently posted…air travel with a catMy Profile

  9. No worries! I used to fly with my Harley all the time…we had a home in WI and one in FL and it was so easy! I used to reach down and unzip the top to his soft carrier. He liked to pop his head up once in a while but never ever tried to get out. Harley was a 14 pound Ragdoll…and gentle natured but also playful. I never had to sedate him in any way. And most people never knew he was on board! Best of luck!
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    • Thanks for that very encouraging comment, Jacquie. I like the idea of unzipping the top a bit so that he can stand up and change positions if he likes. Thx for the suggestion. Jimmy is a very happy and relaxed cat, I think he’ll do just fine in transit.
      WizardOfWords recently posted…air travel with a catMy Profile

  10. Ken Dowell says:

    I’m a dog owner and my dog is too big for planes so I can’t be much help. Dog are a little simpler anyway, treats tend to solve all problems.
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  11. Doreen — I don’t have a cat but I have good friends that have two cats. Last year, they took their annual vacation to Acapulco and brought the cats — at great expense. The cats didn’t travel very well and it got to be a bit stressful. This year, they are cutting their vacation shorter (not bringing the cats) and a relative is coming to stay with the cats. so I hope you have a better experience than they did!
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    • Hi Jeannette: Yes, I’m not sure if I would take the cat on a long complicated journey, or to where the water and climate are vastly different. But Osoyoos will be a relatively easy journey, and I’m hoping all will go well. Cheers!
      WizardOfWords recently posted…air travel with a catMy Profile

  12. A.K.Andrew says:

    We flew our cat back to the States from the UK with us in the hold as they wouldn’t take cats in the cabin. But I know they didn’t sedate her, nor feed or water her on the day of the flight. But they did put some “relaxing pheromones’ in the cage. I don’t know the specific name of them, but I’m sure any decent vet would be able to give you some. Our vet had offered, but we needed to use a transportation agent. Beyond the flight, she travelled around with us in the car (which she hated & howled a lot, but wasn’t carsick) in the soft sided bag, like yours – which she liked. And she was totally fine being in new surroundings, finding each new place a fun place to explore. Cats are amazingly resilient, so I’m sure yours will do just fine. We were concerned about such a long trip for her as she was 13 at the time, but she popped right back up. Hope you have a good trip Doreen.
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  13. andleeb says:

    Hello Doreen
    I have never flown with any pet but I can understand about your fears and feelings.
    I think its a bold decision as animals are unpredictable.
    All I can do is to pray for you that Jimmy will not be agitated but love its first flight.
    Between I was wondering if you can use any pamper for jimmy during flight? In this way you do not need to be careful about giving water etc.
    I feel that its your kindness and love towards Jimmy. May God help you and bless you in your journey.
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    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Andleeb. Yes, I really do love this cat. I’ve never had a cat like Jimmy. I’ve loved all my cats over the years, but he is REALLY special.

      Yes, my friend suggested putting a diaper or two in the bottom of his carrier. I’m not sure if there’s room for that, but I’ll definitely put a towel down, and will take along a tiny tool that will allow me to wet his lips if he looks really dehydrated. Thanks for your prayers that our journey will go well.
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  14. Linda says:

    Good luck Doreen! I could never pull this off with my cat. Much as I tried to desensitize her to the car when she was a kitten, it didn’t work. She HATES traveling. I even left her carrier out one whole winter with her heating pad in it and the top off. She became accustomed to that, but she knows when that carrier is about to leave the house and she wants nothing to do with it. I will look forward to hearing about how this journey goes. And, have a wonderful, well-deserved get-away.
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    • Thanks for the good wishes, Linda. I truly am looking forward to this retreat, as it will give my husband I a break from the long Prairie winter, and also jimmy, who likes to be able to go outside, but hates the cold as much as I do! I’m not sure if we’ll be able to train him on a harness in order to be able to take him for a walk there, but at least he’ll be with us, and able to look out at the beautiful surroundings. Cheers!
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