My saga of traveling with my cats started and ended well. At the end of May, I traveled from California to Washington state with my two cats in hand, ready to introduce them to their new home. It would be a 2.5-hour flight from Los Angeles, CA to Portland, OR and thankfully it went better than I could have ever expected.
My cats had grown up in a small apartment in Southern California and were now going to live out their lives in relative peace and freedom in a more rural, Pacific Northwest environment. I was really excited for them but nervous on how their first plane trip would go.
Cats are known to be not be as accepting as dogs are when it comes to new experiences and travel. It can very stressful for them which is why it’s important to go through some preparatory steps in order to help them and you to have as smooth a trip as possible.
Based on my trip and the preparation I did prior to flying, I’d like to share with you my 4 tips for traveling with cats (by both plane and car) to ensure a smooth and quiet trip.
My 4 Tips for Traveling (by Plane and Car) with Cats
1. If flying, research your airline’s pet policy far ahead of time
When looking to book your flight, try to do so as far ahead as possible (I began this process 5 months before I planned to fly). This is because each flight can reserve a maximum number of pets (to fly cabin), so it’s best to arrange this as soon as possible.
Review the policies for pet travel with each airline you are considering because each one can have slightly different policies. Check whether they allow pets in the cabin, which breeds are not allowed to fly, whether there is a weight limit and as well as the carrier size required.
As far as carrier size, many airlines have required measurements for carriers. This is so your pet can fit easily under the seat in front of you or at your feet during the flight (when flying in cabin).
If flying cabin, be sure to measure your carrier ahead of time. I purchased two Pet Magasin Luxury Soft-Sided Cat Carrier [Airline TSA Approved] carriers which are within the measurements for both JetBlue and Alaska Airlines at the time of this article. Make sure your carrier is easily ventilated, free of holes, is sturdy and that your cat is able to fit comfortably.
Side note on weight policies: I originally booked my flight with my cats with JetBlue. I should have weighed my cat ahead of time because they have a very strict 20 lbs combined weight policy for both the pet and the carrier when flying cabin. I had to cancel my flight and book a new flight with Alaska Airlines because my cat and carrier combined were slightly over the 20 lbs limit. At the time of this article, Alaska Airlines does not have weight limits for pets traveling in the cabin as long as they are able to comfortably fit and turn around in an airline approved carrier. For this reason, I highly recommend flying with Alaska Airlines as I experienced better customer service as well as more feasible pet policies for larger cats.
JetBlue’s Pet Policy (a very strict 20 lbs weight limit for both the pet and carrier)
Alaska Airline’s Pet Policy (no weight limit, recommended for larger cats)
Do your research on your flight far ahead of time to find out what is required to fly with your pet. Be sure to call and talk with someone if you have specific questions.
2. Time to see a vet?
You may need to visit a veterinarian prior to flying to make sure your cat is healthy enough to fly and depending on if you need any health certificates, microchips and/or vaccination requirements.
Health certificates and vaccination requirements vary by state. Check the USDA’s website to see what the requirements are for your state.
While at the vets, also discuss sedation if you’re considering this route. I used a sedative prescribed by my vet which worked great to help keep my cats calm and quiet on the flight. They mostly slept during the flight and the sedative wore off just as were getting home.
3. Acclimate them to riding in carriers and cars long before the flight
When your cat is accustomed to riding in a carrier, it won’t be as startled or anxious on travel day. As trip day approaches, gradually increase the time they spend in their carrier each day. You can put them in their carrier and have them stay in there while you are doing something nearby. Start with 10-15 minutes at a time and increase it up to 30 minutes or as long as you feel is right depending on the length of your trip. Reward them every 15 minutes or so with a treat and petting.
Get them used to car travel by taking them in their carriers for short car rides around your neighborhood, gradually increasing the total time they spend in the car.
Cover their carrier with a blanket if they are really getting scared to calm them down (the less they see, the less stressed they get) while leaving plenty of room for ventilation. Prior to placing them in their carriers, you can also give them 1-2 calming treats. I used VetriScience Laboratories Composure Calming Treats.
Always reward them with positive language and treats when you release them from the carrier so they know they’re doing well. They will come to associate the carrier as a safe place. You can also toss some treats inside the carrier to get them used to it.
4. Prepare well on flight day
A few days before your trip, pack some dry food and treats in baggies, along with any needed medication, an empty water bowl and water bottle, pee pads, toys and items such as blankets and treats with familiar scents to bring to your new environment. Bring an extra blanket to drape over the carrier in times of loud noises to keep them calm. I used mine when we were waiting to board the plane and they went right asleep.
Monitor them during the flight to make sure they are doing alright and have enough air. Don’t move them around a lot or take them out of the carrier. If you have two cats, try to have their kennels facing one enough so they can see each other.
During the flight, both cats did great. I only heard two meows during the takeoff and none during the flight or car ride home. I’m so proud of them.
With these trips, I know you’ll feel more prepared and less anxious which will make your cats feel the same way. When you all arrive to your destination, don’t force your cats to integrate immediately. Allow them to gradually get used to their new surroundings. In time, everyone will adjust and adapt to their new environment.
I sincerely hope these tips benefit you and your cats on your next trip. Safe travels to you and your furry friends!