Taking Flight With Felines


Two cats ready for flight.

Taking a flight this holiday season? If your cat is going too, these tips will help him stay safe and comfortable.

Our quiet lives were set afire not long ago when the Anderson daytime TV talk show phoned to ask me and one of my cats to fly to New York as featured guests. We had only 48 hours to prepare. Although my “swimming cats” and I have appeared on nine different TV stations and shows, the film crews have always come to us. Taking a flight to an appearance would be a first!

Here are some tips I learned to help create a positive flight experience for myself and Nymbus, the cat who traveled with me. These suggestions can be applied any time you take your cat on a plane, no matter where you’re going – whether it’s a holiday visit to friends and family or a TV appearance!

Before you go

• Contact the airline for specific animal travel rules and requirements. Making reservations for your cat in advance is a definite must. Be sure to pick an airline that allows you to hand-carry your cat on board – some do not allow animals in cabins. The minimum price of an animal ticket is $100, one way.

• Obtain a veterinary health certificate and keep copies on both the cat’s carrier and your person.

• Prepare your cat for the plane trip ahead of time. For example, if he dislikes or fears riding in a vehicle, acclimatize him with frequent car rides, even if it’s just around the block several times, to help him feel “safe”. Most cats associate car rides with trips to the vet, so they have learned to fear vehicles.

• Insert extra twist ties through your cat’s carrier to safeguard against it popping open by accident. Carry an extra supply with you. (TSA actually broke one off our own cat carrier.)

• Place ID tags on the cat’s carrier with your home info, cell phone number, and your cat’s name.

For kitty’s comfort

Place a 1” thick piece of high quality foam, cut to fit, in the bottom of the carrier. This will prevent undue pressure points from forming on your cat’s body while he’s confined. Next, wrap the foam in a pee pad designed for animals. It will absorb the accidents that can occur during flights or flight delays, or when there’s no time to give the animal a bathroom break between transfers, etc. Finally, wrap a small cotton towel over the pee pad to keep your cat cool. This double layer is a blessing when cats are forced to eliminate in the cage. Sprinkle a little catnip under the towel to help keep your cat calm.

Bag it up

Carry a pet supply “diaper bag” with extra pee pads, towels and a microfiber cloth, each in plastic gallon Ziploc bags. Take along several snack bags of cat food – you can open them one at a time, and still have extra in case of spills and/or lost luggage. It’s also important to bring along handwipes in a Ziploc bag, a leash, and several snack bags containing some kitty litter.

• The microfiber cloth is excellent for cleaning up airsickness and/or other accidents. Moisten with hot water for fast, easy absorption and replace the wet cloth in its Ziploc bag after use for future sterilization. Microfiber cloths work wonders for cleaning up after your cat as they’re nontoxic, clean efficiently, and do not leave him soaking wet during the remainder of the trip.

• By pre-bagging pee pads individually in gallon-sized bags, it is easier to zip up and toss out the old ones after usage, rewrap the foam with clean ones, and replace the towel with one of the extras in the diaper bag.

• Handwipes and/or hand sanitizer for when soap and water are not available.

• Place a Ziploc bag of cat litter in the center of a pee pad laid out on the airport’s bathroom floor to use as a “litter box”.

• Always hand-carry your cat’s food on the plane with you. Luggage gets lost, and you may not get an opportunity to shop between stops.

• Keep a soft T-shirt-type harness with ID on your cat. Attach the leash before opening the carrier to walk through the terminal or carry him through security. Cats can run at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, so you don’t want yours more than leash distance away!

Simplify with a stroller

Make things easier on yourself by placing the cat carrier on a pet stroller for wheeling from gate to gate. (In Denver, I arrived at one gate to find the next was 53 gates away!) Transfer your cat from the confines of the carrier to the stroller so he can stretch his limbs between flights. Carry a bungee cord to help attach the carrier more securely to a pet stroller.

When you’ve removed the carrier and are ready to board, leave the stroller at the airplane door, always get a claims tag, and retrieve it the end of your flight. Place ID on the stroller.

During the flight

• Keep boarding passes and snacks, extra handwipes, pet food, kitty litter, etc. in your purse or fanny pack in case you have to place the diaper bag in overhead storage. A toy can help distract and entertain your cat.

• During the flight, I placed Nymbus’s carrier on the empty seat beside me and seat-belted it in place to make him feel more at home.

• Takeoffs and landings simulate the incline of a child’s slide, especially for items that aren’t belted in – like cats inside carriers. To prevent injury, reverse the carrier so the tail end rather than the face will slide backwards.

Here’s to a purr-fect flight for you and your cat!

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