This Pet Gear Makes Flying With a Cat a Breeze

My cat, Isabelle, has accompanied me on more than 35 flights in the past two and a half years. She even has her own European Union pet passport, so she has definitely reached frequent flier status. We’ve flown between North America, South America, and Europe, accumulating thousands of miles and dozens of hours in the air.

Throughout that time, I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error to make flying as simple as possible for both of us. We are full-time digital nomads, learning lessons about what actually works (and what doesn’t). Below, my favorite gear to make flying with a cat (or dog) a breeze, even on long-hauls.

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A trusty pet carrier

Pecute Pet Carrier Backpack

The most critical piece of gear when flying with a pet is the carrier. I’ve used the Pecute Pet Carrier Backpack for two and a half years, and I couldn’t recommend it more. It easily fits under the seat in front of you on almost any plane—from a first-class flight from North Carolina to Miami to a tiny economy-only plane flying from Bulgaria to Greece, the carrier has seen it all.

I prefer a backpack over a traditional carrier due to the ease of use while wandering through the airport or a city. The Pecute carrier is perfect because it’s expandable—so, when we sit in the lounge before boarding, I can open it up to give her some extra room. Bonus: The mesh is very strong, so no amount of claws will rip through it.

Packable calming treats

Pet Naturals Calming Chews

I am lucky that Isabelle is a very calm traveler. She never gets stressed, but she can get a little restless on extra long flights, like when we flew from Athens to New York, which was around 11 hours. It’s great to have some calming treats on hand to give to her when she starts wanting out of her container. I highly recommend the Pet Naturals Calming Chews for Cats. She loves their taste, and one or two treats will usually put her to sleep for a few hours.

A comfy blanket

Blackhawk Shemagh

Even the best carrier can be uncomfortable, so I recommend putting a small blanket inside for added comfort. I use a Shemagh, which one of my favorite digital nomad travel blogs recommended. It’s a multi-purpose item that can be used as protection in harsh conditions, a beach towel if you’ve forgotten yours, or a blanket in your cat carrier.

Travel accessories

PetSafe Come With Me Kitty Harness and bungee leash

If it is your first time traveling with your pet, you’ll want a high-quality harness and leash. You have to take your pet out of its carrier when you go through security, so if you’re worried about them getting scared and running off, it’s best to have a harness securely fastened. I don’t use it on Isabelle as often anymore because she’s used to traveling, but it’s still great for walks or excursions on the balcony.

Other accessories you should bring are your pet’s favorite toys and a brush. Isabelle tends to shed a lot since we live in a warm climate full-time, so it’s helpful to have a brush on hand to catch her fur. I keep her toys in her carrier when we fly and then bring them out for her to play with when we reach our destination.

An organized folder

Sooez expanding file folder

Although it’s not technically “pet” gear, you will want a folder to keep all the required documents in order. If you’re flying internationally or to certain states in the US, you need a fair amount of paperwork to be permitted entry with a pet. This can pile up, making you disorganized and causing unnecessary stress if it’s not kept in one place.

What not to bring

When I first started traveling with my cat, I purchased a collapsible travel litter box. If you’re going on a short trip, this could be effective, but I found it much more trouble than it was worth. I typically stay in a destination for months at a time, so I buy a litter box on arrival. Collapsible litter boxes are fabric, so you’ll never fully be able to get the smell out. They’re also relatively small if you have a larger cat like mine.

Flight logistics

While every airline has slightly different restrictions, you typically have two options for flying with a cat or dog: in the cabin or the cargo hold. If your pet is small, it can travel with you in the cabin. If it is too large, it must go in the cargo hold.

General carry-on pet requirements:

  • The pet should be at least 8–16 weeks of age.
  • You cannot sit in an exit row, bulkhead seat, or any seat without floor storage, like lie-flat seats.
  • The kennel must be soft-sided, leak-proof, and have ventilation.
  • The exact size requirement will depend on the aircraft, but the kennel I recommended earlier is standard for most planes.
  • There’s also typically a weight limit for carry-on pets, which is usually around 17–22 pounds.
  • Cost varies depending on the route, but can be up to $200 for an international flight.

Contact your airline directly to find the most up-to-date information, learn about restrictions, and book your pet’s ticket well before travel.

Before any international flight, know that you must go to your veterinarian and get an exam and any required vaccinations for your destination. Then, your veterinarian will fill out paperwork and submit it to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which will review everything. They will issue your paperwork and send it to you or your veterinarian. You cannot start this process more than 10 days before your departure.