Cats on a Plane! First Time Traveling with Kitty

Traveling with our furry family members is a question or concern that comes up often. Do we take them with us, do we ask someone to watch our pet while we are away? Do we board them? Depending on your pet and where you are going, the answer to this question could be different in a lot of ways. In this post we are going to talk about our experience in flying within the domestic U.S. with our cat, Sake (pronounced like the Japanese rice wine).


To give a little background on our pet travel situation, Sake, our 11-year-old cat, travels with us around the country in our RV (a full article on RV’ing with pets to come). Recent travels took our coach to the Southwest and our family is located in the Northeast. We planned a 3-week trip home for Christmas and wanted to take Sake with us. This would be the first time he would travel on an airplane. So the pet travel planning began…

Step 1- Research Pet Travel Requirements and Restrictions

For starters there are different pet rules and regulations for each airline. Depending on what airline you are flying make sure to research the rules; for example, some breads aren’t even allowed to fly so even knowing if that is an option up front is a big factor. Also check what is required for your pet for travel; for example, health requirements, kennel/carrier requirements, weather restrictions and aircraft restrictions.

We flew with Delta and the following link was a great starting place to get information on pet travel requirements and restrictions to let us know what was even an option before we booked travel.

Step 2 – Make your pet travel reservation

Once your flight is booked called the airline right away to reserve a spot for your pet. Most airlines only allow 2-3 pets in the cabin. A separate reservation could be required if you are traveling with your pet in Cargo. Many breeds are not allowed to fly due to sinus or health issues. We recommend booking your pet’s spot early and calling to confirm the exact requirements for your flight or flights remember that your flight out may differ from your return flight.

We called and booked Sake’s spot as a carry on right away for both flights that way we wouldn’t run into any issues. Payment for Sake’s travel was required upon check in. It cost us $125 one way on Delta.

Tip: We also called Delta (4 times!) and received different information each time which was very unsettling. The first representative gave us correct info, we called back to double check and the second rep gave us different information and the third rep said our pet reservation didn’t exist anymore! Bottom line do whatever you can to get the information in writing as many of the people you encounter might not know what the actual policies are or how to book your pet reservation.

Step 3 – Call your Veterinarian and schedule a vet appointment if needed

Call your primary veterinarian to make sure your pet is healthy enough to travel and to get additional documentation. Delta asked for a Health Certificate and rabies vaccinations documentation.

We already had Sake rabies vaccination from our annual appointment earlier in the year and our vet was able to email me his Health Certificate. Note that some airlines required the health certificate to be issued a maximum of 10 days before travel so make sure to check if that is needed for your travel situation.

We opted to get Sake medication for our travel. Since our primary vet was located in Connecticut and we were in California days before flight, we couldn’t visit our primary vet. Vets will not prescribe medication over the phone (unless you know a guy lol). I found a well rated vet that was close, Desert Dunes Animal Hospital located in Bermuda Dunes, CA. We saw Dr. Conner who was great. He prescribed Sake a mild sedative called, Acepromazine. We were to give him ¼ of a table orally 30 minutes prior to travel.  One thing I really liked about this medication was it doesn’t completely sedate your pet. We tested the medication before travel while the vet office was open to treat any complications. While he was a bit tired and clam, he could still react and be alert. It was about $24.00 for 8 tablets and we visited them during a special where all new clients first visit was only $1. So for $25 it was worth it for us.

(Please note that giving your pet any type of medications is personal choice but always make sure to check with you vet.)

Step 4 – Prep your pet and pet materials for travel

Prior to travel day make sure to have everything you need. Correct sized and quality pet carrier, documentation, food, water/ice, medication, towel/wipes in case of emergency clean up, harness and leash.

There is no universal size for pet carriers. They vary greatly by airline and also by airplane so make sure you check. Guaranteed on Board is a great reference for airline carrier sizes. It wont show you all the carriers you can use but once you have the dimensions you should find what you need on amazon or your local pet store.

car-carrierWe purchased the Petsfit – expandable, foldable, washable, airline approved, soft sided travel pet carrier. Which fit our airline kennel requirements and had a few great travel add-ons including an expandable side, shoulder strap and slid side strap for rolling suitcase handles.

One week prior to travel we put treats and catnip inside so Sake would like going into the carrier. He actually slept in it quite a bit so that was a good sign!

The vet recommended we test the medication before the travel day to ensure Sake didn’t have a bad reaction, which we did and he was totally fine.

One additional recommendation, which we didn’t do but is a great idea. Bring ice for your pet while traveling. Water is not allowed through security but ice is, so by the time your pet is ready for some water the ice will have melted and you will have some on hand.

Travel Day

Make sure you have everything you need. Pack up your pet with all needed materials and documentation and off you go…

A few “good-to-knows” –

  • Give Yourself Extra Time – We were surprised how many airport and airline employees were not versed in pet travel policies. We were very glad we gave ourselves a full 2 hours before departure to sort out any problems and mishaps before take off.
  • Bathroom Breaks/Pet Relief Areas –  Both JFK Airport in New York and Sky Harbor Airport in Arizona had them. While Sake, and probably most cats, didn’t ‘go’ it was a great place to take your pet to let them walk around and relive themselves if needed.
  • Food & Water – I brought some cat food with me on the plane. Sake wasn’t interested in any food or water while traveling but I still offered it to him in case. I suggest keeping some on hand in case your traveling pet is hungry.
  • Leash! – We also suggest putting a harness on your pet. The harness was especially useful for me when taking Sake through security. You need to remove your pet from the carrier and walk with them through security. You may be asked to go into a private room if you are unwilling to take your pet out of the carrier while in line.  I found it much easier to carry Sake with a harness that way he couldn’t get away from me, while we walk through security and his carrier was going through the x-ray machine.


Overall Sake did a great job. He slept mostly through the flight and was alert as we walked throughout the terminals, carports and during car rides. He also had food, water and a litter box waiting for him once we arrived at our locations which he used rather quickly once we arrived. Sake is used to traveling but is an indoor cat that does get stressed when things are not familiar.

If you have any other questions or suggestions on ways we could have improved our pet travel experience, we would love to hear it. If you are planning on traveling with your pet, feel free to comment or ask questions. We hope your trips goes just as smoothly as ours.

Happy Travels!



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