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Travel by Air for Cats

Air Travel Alone for Cats


Sometimes circumstances require that cats be unaccompanied on flights. One of the most common instances is the long-distance sale of a pedigreed cat. Some breeders will allow this, although most reputable breeders prefer to sell their cats locally. Only after a complete and thorough application, check of referrals, and interview with a prospective purchaser, will these breeders consider the sale and long-distance transportation by air of one of their cats.

The introduction of Pet Airways offered a whole new concept of air transportation for cats and dogs. It was founded by husband and wife Dan Wiesel and Alysa Binder, and its first commercial flight was in July of 2009. Pet Airways' passenger list consists of pets only, which are carried in the passenger compartment of its planes. Presently it flies from only smaller airports between five major cities: New York, Washington, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles.

The planes have been refitted with traditional passenger seats being replaced by pet carriers. Pet attendants onboard check each pet every 15 minutes, and attend to all their needs. This airline is a definite preferable alternative to flight alone in the baggage compartment. I'd definitely consider it for a long-distance move for my four cats, were it to go to a city of my choice.

Should Cats Be Sedated for Air Travel?

Although mild sedatives prior to air travel were commonly suggested, the AVMA and the American Humane Association now strongly caution against the use of sedatives and tranquilizersfor dogs and cats before flight. The reason is that, whether in baggage, or the passenger compartment, the increased altitude pressures of approximately 8,000 feet can contribute to heart and lung problems, often causing death. While it is possible that homeopathic substitutes, such as flower essences, might help, you should always consult your veterinarian after he/she has performed a complete preflight physical examination.

Carriers for Cats During Flights

The type of carrier you will use for the flight, will depend on two sets of circumstances: whether the cat will be transported in the baggage or passenger compartment, and the individual airline carrier's rules. As a general rule, hard-sided carriers or wire crates (for two or more cats) would be preferable in the baggage compartment. In the passenger compartment, the soft-sided carrier would be preferable unless the cat is extremely small.

Most suitable pet carriers are labeled to the effect that they "meet airline regulations," which makes your choices easier. It is even likely that you will be able to use the same carrier you use for transporting your cat to the veterinarian. See my list of choices for both soft and hard-sided cat carriers.

Organize Kitty's Flight Plan With a List

I've given you the tools you need to compare and choose your options for cats' travel by air. Once you've decided whether your cat will be accompanied or not, all you will need is to make a checklist of the final details you'll need to arrange. This will include:
  1. Vet Exam and Certificate of Health
  2. Vaccination Records, When Required
  3. Identification
  4. List of Cats' Medications, Medical Conditions
  5. Medications
  6. Other Documents Required for International Flights
  7. Airline Reservations
  8. Escort to and Pick-up From the Airports
  9. Airline-Approved Carrier & Leash
  10. Food, Water Dish, Litter Pan
    (For baggage compartment flights)
If flying with your cat, carry the first five items with you. It would also be helpful to carry a small package of treats and a toy for entertaining your cat in the airport waiting-rooms and during long flights. Your cat should not eat within six hours prior to a flight, but water should be available. If your cat is to be shipped alone, a "Live Animal" label in one-inch letters should be affixed to the side of the crate. Also, written instructions for feeding should be attached to the outside, in the event of a flight delay or unplanned re-routing of the flight.

By doing your homework and having a well-organized plan, you can help mitigate the stress for both you and your cat, resulting in a pleasant flying experience for your cat, and for yourself, if you accompany him.

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