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Anyone flown with a cat?

We need to fly with our elderly cat soon. We hope to have her travel in coach, under the seat. But she tends to be very noisy. Is the per cargo hold a better option? Would love to hear frim others who have flown with a cat.

Posted by
1905 posts

I’ve never flown with a cat. Our dog flew a couple of times in the cargo hold. He did ok. The vet gave us a sedative to give him. With an elderly cat, you need to talk to your vet about a sedative for him/her and I wouldn’t put him/her in the cargo hold. Perhaps some time before the flight you could see how well the sedative works for him/her if the vet thinks that is appropriate.

Posted by
6889 posts

I had to move a large Maine Coon cat across the country to a new home during all the early COVID flight uncertainties - it was one of the most stressful experiences of my life because I was not sure whether he would even fit under the seat (he's long, big, and heavy), then the airlines stopped flying pets in cargo (which took away that option, and it was my only option or so I thought), and just all that chaos that would entail in having to get him out of the carrier to go through the security detector at LAX of all airports. Thank goodness I was able to get an Alaska Air direct flight (I wouldn't do so otherwise), he did fit under the seat after all (although he was so stuffed in that carrier - the largest I could find), I had no one next to me in the middle seat, and there were hardly any people at the Alaska Airlines check-in at LAX, and I was able to get a private screening at LAX so I wouldn't have to through the detector and have to take him out of the carrier (that was a Godsend!). He cried the whole time in the 1 hour trip to LAX by car and then every 45 minutes to an hour or so on the 5-6 hour flight. It was soooo stressful.

After this experience and seeing how sensitive he was to the fairly minor noise on the place (as compared to being in cargo), I would never put a pet in cargo hold. Especially an elderly or stressed/ shy cat. They would likely be around dogs and close to extreme noise and cold. Plus you have to check them in hours in advance and they "sit" in some holding area before being put in cargo. No way would I trust an airline to take care of a pet in cargo, frankly that's not their job. Look at how they treat human passengers.

My advice is not to fly a cat unless absolutely necessary, to get a vet's advice and health certificate first to make sure she/ he is healthy enough to fly, and just deal with the pet noise on the plane and apologize profusely to other passengers (they are actually very understanding and empathetic, at least in my experince). Your pet's safety and comfort is more important than this inconvenience.

Please feel free to PM me for any other advice, including what carrier to use. I got a terrific carrier that saved the day. Now I'm stuck with a hard carrier that I intended (and thankfully never used) for cargo hold that met the airline criteria. I expect not to ever use it except for moving a dog long distance or something to that effect.

PS. Airlines don't allow sedatives (in cargo at least) and I wouldn't do it anyway. It would just make the cat completely more bewildered to "wake up" in a very strange environment and there are probably other risks. Obviously take a vet's advice - that's only my personal opinion. My cat bounced back fairly shortly - I minimized his stress as much as possible. He actually was fascinated by being in the airport and "looking out" at everything at floor level or when I carrried him around the airport prior to boarding - but really didn't like the plane noise and the movement and probably was very sensitive to the cabin pressure changes in his ears.

Posted by
5773 posts

The only reason for doing this is if you are permanently moving.

We moved cross country and sent our cat via cargo hold for the same reason you mentioned, noisy….. The plane is full of people, many of whom have saved for their trip, planned for it for months, and deserve a trip without the agony of a cat complaining. Much as we loved our cat, we were able to recognize that we had no right to impose her on the journey of other people.

She flew cargo and did just fine! The airline (Delta) was very responsible and courteous throughout.

Posted by
22024 posts

My wife has a severe allergy reaction to cats. Doesn't take much to trip it for her. Ten minutes with a few feet of a cat and she is miserable for hours. Dogs will cause a reaction also but it is very mild. She would hate to sit down on a plane and find a cat in the same row or under her seat.

Posted by
2964 posts

I have flown many times (20+) with my dog because my Mom, who lives in another city, is my travel sitter. My small suggestions for under-the-seat travel are:

Practice with the carrier before the trip, which is undoubtedly much different with a dog than a cat. My dog adores her travel carrier and even sleeps in it at home by choice. I "practiced" with the carrier "under the coffee table in front of me" several times to get her used to the arrangement. I know a cat will be much different.

Note on carrier: I prefer a top-loading carrier for travel, as I can "drop" her in, rather than trying to "push" her in. (Mine has both a top door for travel and a front door that she uses herself.)

Choose a seat that isn't too close to the rumble of the engines.

Try to book a window seat where the animal is a bit further from the commotion of boarding. Middle seats usually have more space for the carrier, but the window is my compromise for her comfort.

Sit closer to the back of the plane where fewer people are passing by during boarding, but not too close to the galley or restrooms.

Try to board early ...I fly Southwest and pay for early boarding. This allows me to choose my seat. And it allows me to advise subsequent passengers of the presence of a dog. Some prefer to sit elsewhere. Others love chatting with me about traveling with my dog.

I also usually deplane at the very end so that I can take my time and have fewer obstacles in the aisles.

I have never sedated my dog for a flight (I need her to be able to walk) but I do give her CBD cookies - before arriving at the airport - to take the edge off the stress. She usually sleeps through the flight.

I book afternoon flights during her usual "nap time" when she's more likely to fall asleep. I don't know if cats have nap times :-)

Oh, don't carry too much on yourself so that you can really focus on your pet and minimizing jostling them around. I switched from a wheeled suitcase to a backpack so that my hands are free to navigate the carrier through the aisle.

Posted by
5020 posts

I would NEVER fly with a cat in the cargo hold - too risky!!! Pets have died due to loss of pressure in the hold before - it may be rare but it's tragic when it happens. I'd fly a cat only in the cabin with me.

I flew my cat many years ago when she was young. You have to take the cat out of the carrier and either carry her through the metal detector or request a special room for screening. I carried my cat through - had her on a harness and a leash just in case she got lose. Although she was otherwise a vocal cat, she did not make a sound while in her carrier. Not a peep on either flight (we had to change planes)). So it all went fine for her. Some cats might do better if tranquilized. Ask your vet. You might do a trial of this with a car trip.

Posted by
5845 posts

I am allergic to cats, dogs and anything with fur, but I haven’t come across anyone else who suffered, so I am surprised that so many posters are similarly afflicted. A cat anywhere near me on a flight could trigger an asthma attack, so I hope pets are transported in the hold. Sorry.

The last I heard was that due to Covid, airlines were severely limiting or banning pets from flying, but this may have changed - check with your airline.

Posted by
10288 posts

We moved overseas with two cats. All went (relatively) well with them under the seats. Cargo is very hard on animals and in summer heat, not an option at all. Take the cat onboard. Ask your vet about mild tranquilizer to stifle her meows, but I suspect the cat will be shocked into silence. Ours never made a peep.

Posted by
16 posts

My daughter lives in Berlin and flies home once or twice a year with her cat. She puts him in a carrier under the seat. He meows a bit at first and then settles down. She has to have special paperwork to fly international - not sure about domestic. She has never had anyone on the plane complain - she says several times people have been surprised afterwards that he was even on the flight. You have to reserve a spot in advance - they only allow so many pets per flight. I wouldn’t put a pet in cargo either, except as a very last resort. Good luck!!

Posted by
15243 posts

I flew my cat from San Francisco to Tel Aviv when I moved back here. She was used to traveling, since I took her on lots of long car trips (1-3 weeks on the road) over several years. She was an average size cat so could lie comfortably in the carrier that fit under the seat and even move around a bit. I lined the carrier with puppy diapers and had more in my carry-on. I also brought some cat litter (more about that later). The first flight left in the early afternoon. I fed her the evening before and she had water until morning. The flight to Atlanta was easy. There was an empty middle seat next to me and the people around me were cat lovers, including the flight attendants. So she was able to come out of the carrier for a while and the kids near me loved playing with her. She was by nature an unusually out-going and playful cat.

When I got to Atlanta I managed to secure a cardboard box. I put the cat litter in it and gave her the opportunity but she just looked at me.

On the flight from Atlanta to Tel Aviv, the flight attendants were very strict. She had to stay in the carrier under the seat the entire flight. Toward the end of the flight (it's 13-plus hours) I gave her a little water. Breakfast included peanut butter which she loved and she did eat a little of that too.

Do check the airline's policies. I flew Delta because it was the only airline I found with one connection that allowed cabin pets. I had to make a reservation for her (and buy a "ticket") because they had a strict limit on the number of pets per flight.

Posted by
1763 posts

Thanks for your responses. We are still weighing the options and have plans to discuss with our vet. Our cat loves van trips, but the trials with the carrier are proving to be challenging for all.

Posted by
3332 posts

Given the issue of people with allergies, you should start feeding your cat, 6 weeks before your trip, the new Pro-Plan Live Clear that decreases allergens.

Posted by
21533 posts

I was once bumped out of my (non-premium) coach seat as the flight attendants removed allergic folks from the area around a cat or dog in the cabin. I'm not allergic myself (at least not enough to matter--I do have a very low-grade allergy to cats), and I still ended up in an aisle seat, so I didn't mind at all.

Posted by
1763 posts

Update: We just got back from our trip to Chicago. Nonstop flights on Alaska Airlines. Everything went wonderful. Our vet gave us a prescription for gabapentin tablets to help reduce our cat’s anxiety. We gave a dose about 3 hours before the flights. We used a medium sized Sherpa pet carrier which fit under the seat in front perfectly. We got the carrier several weeks before our trip and did practices where the car was in the carrier for increasing lengths of time. Of course starting with a treat in the carrier helped. We also had a zipperd portable cat box she used in the family restroom at ORD When the day came for the trip, the cat did not seem to pickup on our anxiety. She did exceptionally! Not a cry or peep. The flight was full but our seatmate did not even realize we had a cat until we were exiting the plane.

Posted by
5020 posts

I'm glad it worked out, Becky! My kitty was normally very vocal but did not make a sound the whole time she was on the flight, either!

Posted by
7867 posts

Becky, I am so glad that this ended up working out satisfactorily. and thank you for coming back to report your experience.

Posted by
2964 posts

So glad to hear that it went well. I love when people comment as we're deplaning that they didn't even realize I had a dog.... in your case a cat. And usually my dog sleeps right through the flight.

That's just the way we like it!