9 Tips for Flying With Your Cat

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A kitten in an airline pilot's hat waits to board his flight with his owner.By Arden Moore, a certified dog and cat behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Arden is an author, radio host, and writer for Pets Best, a cat insurance and dog insurance agency.

I’m living proof that you can make the friendly skies more feline friendly for those times when you need to relocate or wish to have your cat accompany you on an airplane. Murphy, Callie, Little Guy and Zeki – my cats past and present – have earned their pet etiquette wings for behaving like hush puppies on flights.

Here are nine tips to increase the chances of a smooth flight for you and your cat:

1. Study the pet policy

Check the airline’s pet policy in advance before booking a flight. Be aware that pet policies can change.

2. See the vet

Before paying for the pet fee, book an appointment with your veterinarian who will conduct a nose-to-tail examination on your cat and deem that he is flight ready. Some airlines require you to present a pet health certificate before allowing your cat on board.

3. Practice the airport screening procedure

The security officer will require you to pull your cat out of the carrier and hold him in your arms as you walk barefoot through the security checkpoint. At home, stage rehearsals by putting a feline harness and leash on your cat, placing him in the carrier, walking around your home, then pulling him out of the carrier and holding him in your arms. Praise and give him treats after each practice session so that it becomes a more pleasant (or at least tolerable) action for him.

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4. Do not expect your cat to behave like a small obedient dog

He will not sit and stay on cue. That magnifies the importance of keeping your cat in a harness and always making sure he sports a collar with your cell phone and an identification microchip that includes contact info for you and your veterinarian. You don’t want to run the risk of him escaping and running inside the huge airport.

5. Pack feline essentials

Select an airline-approved carrier that features a zipped pocket to stash feline essentials: small bag of treats, leash, an extra breakaway collar with ID tag, wet naps and collapsible water bowl. Consider adding a mini-litter box in the back end of your cat’s carrier, especially for long or multi-leg flights.

6. Know your on-board limits

Keep in mind that your cat carrier counts as your carryon luggage. You can only bring on one other – be it a purse or a tote or a backpack that must fit in the overhead compartment. All other luggage must be checked in.

7. Pad in added time

Give yourself an extra half-hour than you normally do to arrive at the airport in case there is any delay in reviewing your cat’s paperwork to allow you both to go through the security checkpoint.

8. Respect other passengers

Do not open your carrier during flight and put your cat on your lap. People in your row may be allergic to cats or even afraid of felines. And, this action will only motivate your cat to meow loudly and persistently to get out of his carrier.

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9. Try calming measures

Consider spritzing the carrier with a commercial feline pheromone product that mimics calming feline scents. Or, work with your veterinarian on a suitable calming solution for your cat’s temperament and health condition.

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