How to travel with your cat on an airplane: On the day of travel? (part 2)

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When you take your meowing companion for an airplane ride prepare yourself for an adventurous experience like no other. Cats subjected to traveling on an airplane can do just fine. And yet, other cats can’t handle it no matter what you do. They get tremendously stressed.

You won’t know what to expect until you take your cat on an airplane. To help you make this trip a success here is my personal experience of traveling multiple times with cats on domestic and international trips.

In Part 1 we’ve explained how to prepare for the trip. This time, we will learn what you do the day before and during the trip.

The day before travel

Gather your pet’s paperwork all in one place. It’s best to use a folder with hard covers to protect the documents from being damaged while in your luggage.

Custom officers and gate agents will ask for your original travel documents at security checkpoints, upon checking in, or at the gate.

Your name has to match on all documents the way is written on your passport or ID.

Here is what you have to have in the document’s pet folder:

  1. Animal Health Certificate: The Certificate must be issued by USDA accredited veterinarian.
  2. Vaccination certificates: They all have to be under your name.
  3. Pet’s flight reservation: It should state it’s for a pet traveler.
  4. If you paid in advance for the pet’s flight ticket, carry the payment receipt with you.

The travel bag

Next, your furry baby will need a special travel bag. That’s right! You’ll need to carry a few essential items for your pet. Let’s review the item:

  • Three to four Ziplock bags of dry food. The number of bags will depend on the duration of the trip and the number of stops in between flights, if any. You won’t be able to feed your cat during flight, however, on the ground the cat can have a snack. Take canned food with caution. It has to be in small tins under 100 ml each or put in transparent Ziploc bags.
  • Take a portable litter box for your cat to go to the bathroom on the go. I recommend the Portable Travel Litter Box for Easy Drive with Kitty and Cats. It is lightweight, sturdy, leak-proof, and collapsible. It is of very good quality, too.
  • Get a bag of litter. The quantity will depend on the size of your litter box. Take enough litter for your kitty to feel comfortable when using it.
  • Water and Food Bowl.
  • Wet wipes.
  • Two small blankets or bathroom towels. Put a soft towel in the pet carrier. Have a separate blanket to cover the carrier at the airport and onboard the aircraft. It will prevent your cat to see what’s around her. This will lower her stress.
  • A pack of 10 small-size absorbent pads: Lay a pad in the carrier. If at any time during the trip, your kitty vomits, pee, or defecates while in the carrier, the absorbent pats will save the day.

At the airport

Arrive at the airport early. I recommend 3 hours in advance for domestic or international flights. Checking in and going through security with your cat will require extra time than normal.

As soon as you arrive at the airport go to your airline ticket counter and check in without wasting any time. Have your travel documents handy. Present the pet carrier for inspection by the airline checking-in agent, if asked. You don’t have to take the pet out of the carrier at the checking-in counter.

Upon checking in the airline agent will issue your birding pass. Next, you’re ready to go through security.

At the security checkpoint

The security checkpoint is a nerve-racking experience. You’ll have to take your kitty out of the carrier for inspection.

Tell the security agents that you carry a pet in the carrier. Emphasize the pet is a cat and that you require a separate room for inspection. TSA security agents have to accommodate your request.

Let’s clarify something here. Some online travel blogs on the topic advise that you take the cat out of the carrier and keep them in your arms as security agents ask you to go through a human screening device. They’d be wearing a cat harness with a leash to prevent them from escaping. Just don’t do it!!

The noise and the mass of people at the security checkpoint can easily spook the animal. They can become agitated and go into panic mode. At that point, no cat leash can save them from escaping. Therefore, for the safety of your pet ask the security agents to provide you with a separate room for the inspection.

If no security room for inspection is available the only option is to put the pet carrier through a screening belt. The dose of radion the animal with get is small and not harmful. Please, tell the TSA agent to not stuck the animal inside the screening machine so it doesn’t get scared more than it it. 

Stay with your cat at all times. Security agents may ask you to give up the carrier for inspection without your presence. Tell them politely that you prefer to stay with your pet at all times for their safety and that you’ll assist the agents with whatever they need.

Should you face any issues or agents insist that you take your kitty out of the carrier without accommodating your request for a separate room ask to speak to a supervisor or a manager to sort the situation out.

The time before the flight

Once you’ve passed security there might be some time to relax. Check your boarding time. Boarding generally begins 20 to 30 minutes prior to departure.

If you have less than 15 minutes before boarding take your kitty to a quiet corner of the terminal near your departure gate to await your boarding call. Go somewhere where they will be away from the crowds and noise.

Observe their behavior for signs of anxiety. They might be a little hungry or want to go to the bathroom.

If your boarding starts in more than 30 minutes you have time to take your kitty out of the carrier for some strolling around.

Airports don’t have designated areas for cats. The pet areas that you’ve seen at airports are suitable for dogs only.

So the only safe place to take them out of the carrier is the single-family bathrooms available at all major airports.

They are a single-unit area where only you and your beloved pet can spend time alone and undisturbed. Also, this is the area where you can let your kitty use the litter box, and believe me they will do it.

Set up a bowl of fresh water from the tap for them to drink. Give them just a small scoop of dry food if you feel they need a snack. Avoid feeding them a full meal right before the flight. With too much food in their belly, they are likely to vomit.

If the family bathroom looks unsanitary don’t use it. Look for the next one available at the terminal.

On the plane

When you board the plane and settle in your seat, place the carrier in your lap so that your kitty can see your presence. This will give her a bit of confidence in a world of strange noises and unfamiliar smells. Keep the carrier covered to prevent them from getting stressed by the presence of others around.

Remember that during take-off and landing the carrier must be under the seat in front of you. Well, in principle you have to keep the carrier under the seat at all times but believe me this is not possible. Your kitty will meow and be very uncomfortable inside the carrier left alone under the seat.

If the flight crew doesn’t mind keep the carrier on your lap for as long as can. Make your kitty know that you’re always there. In fact, if you travel with someone else you can share this responsibility.

Again, continue to monitor their behavior or for signs of vomiting or using the bathroom. Don’t be alarmed if it happens. Vomiting often happens during turbulence.

Clean the pet carrier as soon as you can; it’s important for the comfort of your little one. To do that, take the carrier with your kitty to the lavatory. Once at the lavatory ensure you locked the door behind you. Take the kitty out of the carrier to clean things up with the wet wipes.

If flight attendants notice that you go to the lavatory with the carrier they have the right to ask you to go back to your seat. Please, do not be intimidated. Explain that you need to clean the carrier for the comfort not only of your pet but of all of the passengers around. In most cased the flight attendants will understand and allow you to use the lavatory.

Don’t forget to observe illuminated signs and buckle up if instructed. During turbulence, take-off, and landing do not leave your seat.

Other considerations

A common question that cat owners ask is if they should sedate their pets. If we sedate them they would sleep over the trip and wake up when all is done. However, it’s not that simple.

Sedation is absolutely not recommended because of the great risk to the health of the cat. You can lose her life if sedated. Airlines will not allow you to take sedated animals on board, too. They even spell it out in their pet policies and with a good reason.

Ask your vet hospital for ways to help lower anxiety in your cat during travel. They’ll advise what’s best for your kitty.

After the trip waste no time getting home and let your little buddy out of the carrier. Observe their health after the trip. Out of stress they may not eat or vomit for a day or so. If you have any concerns about their health seek professional advice. 

It’s wise to limit the visit to your home by people your kitty doesn’t know for some time. And if you avoid loud talking, music, and TV, your kitty will be thankful. The idea is to limit their stress after the trip to a minimum. 

If you have any questions, please write them in the comment section below. I will do my best to answer them all. 

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Ian Powers is a travel blogger and nature enthusiast. Ian has over 20 years of aviation travel experience.

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