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posted: 7/17/2014 12:33 PM

Check out the specifics before flying with your feline

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  • Sweetie is a 2-year-old, female shorthair.

    Sweetie is a 2-year-old, female shorthair.
    Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

  • Smirnoff is an FIV positive, 3-year-old male.

    Smirnoff is an FIV positive, 3-year-old male.
    Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

By Mary Hayashi

Someone recently asked me for advice on feline air travel and I realized it has been a long time since I had any air travel experience with my felines.

I remembered the basic preparations, but realized I might be outdated on the more specific details. I went online for the specifics, which I would like to share with you after we cover the basics.

There is a lot of preparation to take your feline up in the air. First, make sure your feline is comfortable in the carrier and on the corresponding car ride. The carrier needs to be left out so it is not associated only with the ride to the veterinarian.

Carrier association is a topic that deserves much more detail than I am giving it here, but it is the first step in air travel. Take small trips with your feline to other places. Perhaps the pet store where you purchase treats so your pet has a positive activity associated with the carrier and car ride.

You should also know your airline carrier's health requirements. I think, in spite of the airline's standards, your feline needs to visit the veterinarian anyway to make sure it is healthy enough for air travel. When you are updating your feline's medical records, it is also a good idea to microchip your pet. A tag and harness are also a good backup necessity.

When you travel with your feline, it is a good idea to secure all of its medical records in a leather or plastic folder, somewhat like a pet passport. Many carriers have a pouch for the documents, or carry them with your secure personal belongings.

You might be asking why am I leaving no detail unnoticed? If you do not follow your airline's specific policies, you may be denied the right to board the aircraft.

Some of the felines Buddy has taken in were found abandoned at the boarding gate. The owner was confronted with not boarding the aircraft or leaving the pet behind. In some instances, the price of the ticket was chosen over the pet. Such terrible situations can be avoided if you do the research.

It is also a good idea to have your feline harnessed and leashed when going through transportation security in the event that a security officer opens the carrier to look inside or attempts to ask you to take the animal out of the carrier to look for contraband or unsafe items.

To understand the specifics of your airline's pet policies, you can retrieve them online or call the airline's toll free number.

The day I tried looking up United Airlines, their website was having problems, so I looked up American Airlines just to give you an example of how specific the requirements are. Only small cats and dogs are allowed in the cabin with a fee of $125 each way. The combined weight of the carrier and the animal cannot exceed 20 pounds or you land in cargo, which also has separate requirements I will not address here.

The carrier door must be kept closed and fit under the seat, and there are strict carrier restrictions and dimensions. For example, the maximum size is 23 inches in length, by 13 inches wide, by 9 inches high. Your feline must be able to move and stand in the carrier.

Soft carriers must meet specifications. They are allowed if water-repellent an have padded nylon with mesh ventilation on two or more sides. Collapsible carriers are not allowed. I would go one extreme further and not use a top-loader either unless it is secured with a strap. Please note, your pet carrier counts as a passenger carry-on.

All airlines advise you to make reservations early, as cabin space is limited. On average, seven pets per flight are allowed, with a maximum of two pets per ticketed passenger. The fee is based on the number of carriers. Tiny kittens might be an exception to the one animal per carrier rule if they meet the weight and carrier restrictions.

When you travel with your feline, you need additional check-in time. You must check-in at the ticket counter. Curbside or self service check-in is not allowed.

You might be thinking this is all too much trouble. There may be a time the duration of your trip may preclude a pet-sitter or boarding. But traveling with your feline may be fun. Enough people must be doing it because I even found generic pet travel sites at Pet Travel Store,, and with even more stuff to buy to make traveling with your feline a happy experience.

• The Buddy Foundation is a nonprofit (501c3), all-volunteer, no-kill animal shelter dedicated to the welfare of stray, abused and abandoned cats and dogs. For more information, call (847) 290-5806 or visit