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Travel by Air for Cats

Options, Pros, and Cons for Cats Traveling by Air

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Is Travel by Air Safe for Cats?

In the not-too-distant past, horror stories were told of the death of pets in the baggage department of airlines, often due to the extreme heat during summer months. Since then, a number of laws have been changed to protect pets and other animals during air transportation. One of the more important ones is that pets may not be transported in the baggage compartment during those hot summer months.

Other rules are that kittens under the age of eight weeks may not be transported in the baggage hold, nor may sick animals, according to USDA Aphis rules. Generally, airlines and most states have requirements for a veterinary certificate of health, before being allowed on airlines. Some states and countries may have additional laws covering vaccination requirements. Each airline has its own additional rules for air travel for cats. Some allow certain cats to be carried in the passenger compartment of planes, with a human companion. There are very specific requirements for the size and type of carriers, as well as the size and type of carriers for use in airline baggage compartments. A short list of airline regulation links may be found from the USDA at the bottom of this page. The Air Transport Association also has a membership list containing web sites links of its members.

Before making plans to fly cats to any destination, it behooves you to be aware of and comply with all the laws and rules during your preparations.

Resources for Safe Travel by Air for Cats

Although all these rules and lists may seem daunting at first, I think that once you've mastered the basics, you will be able to fly your cat or cats, with or without your company, with relative confidence and peace of mind.

Travel With a Human Companion

Travel by air for cats is often the best means for transporting them lengthy distances. Depending on the circumstances, a cat may or may not be accompanied by a human companion for the trip. Instances that would require a human companion might include:
  • Long-Distance Family Move
    There are several reasons why you might choose to travel by air with your cat, but probably one of the most compelling one would be a long-distance move. While travel by car may be more convenient for a move requiring only one or two days travel, a move across several state lines, or even to another country, would call for quicker, albeit more expensive air flight. An example of the latter was described by Marion Boddy-Evans, who shared her experiences in moving with six cats from South Africa to the U.K.
  • Long-Distance Single-Destination Vacation Trip
    I wouldn't recommend subjecting cats to the stress of large gatherings. However, a visit to parents or a sibling for a week or two with a cat along for the trip could work, particularly if the cat is familiar with the people and the surroundings. The best alternative to bringing the cat along would be to hire a professional pet-sitter. A Pet Owner's Guide to Pet Sitters offers information on screening and hiring a pet-sitter.
  • Trips to Cat Shows Accompanied by Owner or Handler
    Many reputable breeders enter their cats in cat shows worldwide. Show quality cats soon become familiar and comfortable with the routine of travel by air.
  • Cat Rescue Relay Trips
    On occasion, rescue relay transportation may involve a flight for a cat, usually including a human companion. A heartwarming example of the latter was Project Orange , in which the About.com Cats Forum members banded together in the rescue relay from Toronto, Canada to Fairbanks, Alaska, of a big red cat, named aptly, "Orange."

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