Flying with your pet can be tricky business

  • Brahma

    Brahma Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

  • Duchess

    Duchess Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

By Mary Hayashi
Posted8/19/2016 1:42 PM

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I remembered the basic preparations, but realized I might be outdated on the more specific details.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 with you.

First, make sure your feline is comfortable in the carrier and 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 to the pet store where you purchase treats so your pet has a positive activity associated with the carrier and the 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.

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You might be asking by now, why am I leaving no detail unnoticed?

The plain and simple fact is; 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 asks 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, visit the online site or call the toll free number.

The day I tried United, their site 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; 13 inches in width; and 9 inches high. Your feline must be able to move and stand in the carrier.

Soft carriers must meet specifics also. They are allowed if water-repellent and 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 unless it were secured with a strap. Please note: Your pet carrier counts as a passenger carry-on or personal item.

All airlines advise you to make reservations early, as cabin space is limited. On average, seven pets per flight with a maximum of two pets per ticked 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 will be pleased to know that your airline's pet policy site will also provide you with a list of pet-friendly accommodations, restaurants and other pet services.

You might be thinking this is all too much trouble. But, there may be a time that the duration of your trip may preclude having a pet-sitter or boarding your cat while you're away.

Traveling with your feline may be just plain fun. Enough people must be doing it because I even found generic pet travel sites,,, with even more stuff to buy to make traveling with your feline a happy experience.

Enjoy altitude.

Featured felines:

• Brahma is a large gray male. He and his siblings arrived at the shelter as kittens. All of them were named after Hindu gods. He and his siblings spent their first year in our kitten room and then graduated to one of the older cat rooms. Brahma can be a little shy but once he does decide you are OK, he can be a pretty affectionate cat. He is not fond of treats like many of our cats, so enticing him out with them doesn't work. But he is especially fond of coming out to share a tray of food with the other cats in Room Three.

• Duchess is a female cream point Siamese. She was found in a warehouse and was pretty unfriendly when she arrived. She spent some time getting adjusted to people, but has become much more friendly. She still remains shy when you go into the her room, but if you sit a minute and offer some treats she will come to you for a visit and a little petting. She also loves to play and jump up at string toys. Duchess is a very pretty cat that would love to find her forever home.

• The Buddy Foundation, 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights, is a nonprofit (501c3), all volunteer, no-kill animal shelter. For information, call (847) 290-5806 or visit