What makes you comfortable on a long flight? Soft music? A good book, or an engrossing movie? Maybe a petite pillow and blanket for a high-altitude snooze? Unfortunately, our pets aren’t allowed to enjoy amenities like that when they travel by air. But that doesn’t mean your favorite feline can’t be comfortable while she is in transit. You’ll simply have to prepare her a bit differently.
She will need an airline-approved carrier
If your kitty is an on-the-go girl – used to hopping into your cat-friendly tote to accompany you, she’ll feel right at home if you’re taking her on board the plane with you. As long as your tote meets the airline’s rules for size, ventilation, etc., you’re all set. There are many acceptable styles to fit your (and your cat’s) personal style and travel preferences.
Do be aware, however, that the carrier will have to fit under the seat in front of you, and under-seat dimensions can vary significantly from one airplane to another. It is essential to check with your airline about the specific type of aircraft you’ll be in.
Soft-sided pet carriers typically come with pockets on the outside to stash your kitty’s accessories – everything from her collar or harness and leash to a toy and a snack. (You’ll want to keep her travel documents safely tucked away with your own passport.) If she’s more relaxed having her favorite catnip mouse inside the carrier with her, that’s fine, too. As long as you follow the rules, things are comparatively informal for in-cabin travel.
Not so if she is traveling as cargo
Many airlines (and some countries) don’t allow pets to travel in-cabin on international flights, so your girl will have to travel as “pet cargo” instead. She’ll have the benefit of pressurized, temperature-controlled surroundings, but she will ride in the hold, not under the seat in front of you. For this, she will have to travel in a heavy-duty, airline-approved crate. More than just a carrier, every detail of these kennels is designed to keep your dear girl safe and sound.
The rules are strict, and you will have no choice about following them. That can seem annoying and even intrusive at first, but every rule is there to add a layer of protection for your girl. Knowing that makes it easy to get on board, doesn’t it? Perhaps not so much for your cat, though. Most cats are not fond of change, and taking an air journey brings plenty of change. New sights, sounds, smells, and strangers. Any right-minded kitty would be suspicious.
Technically, it’s not the individual airlines that approve crates, it is the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – the trade association that represents quality air carriers and professional animal transport companies worldwide. Their primary concern is your kitty’s safety as well as comfort. Pets must be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down normally within her crate, which means size matters.
At least, with a cat, it’s easy to know which size crate to purchase. If Fluffy were a dog, you’d have to measure to make sure she and her crate were an approved match.
Travel crates built for cargo also provide plenty of ventilation so your girl can breathe easily as she travels. She’ll be safe, too, because the crates are constructed of super-sturdy materials, the doors are pet-tamper-proof, and there are no holes large enough for her nose, toes, or tail to protrude. For added comfort, you’re required to add a liner of some absorbent material. If your cat has a small blanket she loves, use that. Otherwise, use a soft shirt of your own – don’t wash it, because your scent will comfort her immeasurably.
The most important factor in travel comfort is crate comfort
If your cat is familiar with her crate, she will be cocooned in a space that feels and smells like home to her. All those potentially anxiety-producing changes? They won’t go away, but at least they will be outside her cocoon.
So, as soon as you know you’ll be traveling overseas with your kitty, schedule a vet appointment to get the health-related paperwork underway (it can take a lot of time), and purchase her travel crate. That way she will have maximum time to get used to it. Even better, practice traveling, too. Start with short car rides (not to the vet, a known negative for her), then gradually increase the length.
By the time her departure day arrives, your furry girl will be almost a travel pro. And you can rest easy knowing she is resting easier on her journey.