The Best Cat Carrier for Airline Travel

Passengers walking through airport terminal with suitcases

Cats might be territorial but us humans often have to be more flexible with where we work and where we live. 

We can drive long -distance with our cats in our cars and we can take epic bus or train journeys with our pets but sometimes we have no choice but to fly. It’s rarely an ideal situation. 

airline departure board airport

A quick word on 'airline approved' cat carriers

Airlines have strict regulations on carriers and breeds which can add to the amount of work you probably already have in arranging your own relocation.

Choosing the best cat carrier for airline travel is one way you can help make your trip as safe, stress-free and as comfortable as possible for both you and your pet.

It’s worth mentioning that all airlines have different requirements for cat carriers.

You should always check directly with the airline before you book. Information on the internet can be out-dated so don’t rely on blogs or websites when ordering a crate or carrier.  Some manufacturers will say theirs is an airline approved cat carrier but with so many airlines it’s really not possible for them to promise that without some risk of error.  The last thing you want is to turn up at the airport only to be told that your pet can’t fly.

That being said, in-cabin carriers are usually fine so long as they’re soft-sided and can be pushed under the seat in front of you.

If you’re just browsing before buying, then that should be enough of a guideline to give you some idea of what’s available.

Remember, too, that there are different requirements for traveling in the cabin of the aircraft and the hold.  We’d always advise that you try to get your cat into the cabin with you.  It’s more dangerous for pets in the hold.

In a Hurry? The Best Selling Cat Carriers for Airline Travel on Amazon

We’ve listed our top picks below but here are 2 of the best selling cat carriers on Amazon right now if you’re in a rush to get started.

We’ve added a mix of soft-sided carriers for in-cabin as well as plastic-sided carriers for the hold.  You’ll find details and links further into this post.  We’ve also included a short buyers guide to help you identify what to look for in a product.

If you click one of our links and make a purchase, we may make a small commission at no cost to you 😊

How to choose the best cat carriers for planes

  • We said it earlier in this post but it’s worth repeating: check with the airline what size they accept.  For travel in the hold, you’ll also need to check about top-loading carriers and what kind of lock or latch system they’d like you to have.
  • If your cat is nervous or aggressive, then a soft-sided carrier can be tricky because it’s easier to damage.  Look for carriers made from durable fabric with zippers that can’t easily be undone.  Some cats prefer to be able to see what’s going on and others prefer to be covered over so bear in mind you may need to take a sweater to cover over it.
  • There are expandable cat carriers (we’ve included one below) which conform to in-cabin airline regulations but which can also be opened out slightly in the terminal or once onboard allowing the cat more room to move. This might but useful if your cat is slightly larger.
  • Carriers with pockets are useful for keeping documents and treats easily to hand.
  • We’d recommend adding a lease or harness if you don’t already have on.  At security, you’ll have to take your cat out of its carrier and it’s far easier if they’re already on a leash.  The added security when they’re in the carrier should help reassure you that they’re safe, too.
  • Before purchasing, it’s always a good idea to read the reviews from verified buyers. Many of them will have included photographs and experience of using that product.  This will give you a better idea of what to expect than product specifications alone.
  • There are additional requirements for pets traveling in the hold of an aircraft.  You’ll need to ensure you have ‘live animal’ stickers as well as drinking bowls.  Some carriers include these with the carrier but you’ll need to buy some if not.
  • Some owners add puppy training pads to the bottom of the carrier in case there’s an accident. This will help absorb any mess.  You’re unlikely to fit a litter tray inside a cat carrier for airline travel but most cats wouldn’t use it anyway.  You could pack disposable litter trays for use in a completely contained bathroom stall when you’re at the airport and when you arrive.
  •  We wouldn’t recommend buying sedatives for traveling by plane. Some airlines will insist that you don’t do it as the reduced oxygen at altitude can cause distress in pets.  If you’re worried about your cat getting anxious, then you could use a cat calming spray on the inside.

     

5 best cat carriers for air travel

This is one of the few carriers that seems specifically designed for cats rather than dogs. It’s small enough to be carry-on approved by major airlines – although, please double-check before booking – its dimensions are 18″ x 11″ x 10″.

Empty it weighs only 2.2 pounds but benefits from durable material with mesh windows, plenty of ventilation and comfortable internal padding.  There’s a padded shoulder strap, too. This folds flat for storage and is easy to clean.  The material is waterproof. The packaging suggests it’s ‘resistant to animal bites’ which is very good news if your cat is anxious. 

Pet Magasin Soft-Sided Pet Travel Carrier (Airline Approved) for Cats, Small Dogs, Puppies and Other Pets by (Large, Blue)
  • MAJOR AIRLINE CARRY-ON APPROVED: Product dimensions: 18" x 11" x 10", a perfect size for most cats, puppies and other small pets [do NOT fit Large dogs, please refer to measurement] works with all major airlines
  • SAFETY FIRST: Constructed to keep your pet safe; holds its shape when end panels are zipped up
  • LIGHT WEIGHT & FASHIONABLE DESIGN: Only 2.2 Pounds; and made with durable & luxurious material. Soft-sided pet carrier with comfortable padding inside, mesh window for ventilation, carry-handle and adjustable padded shoulder strap
  • EASY TO STORE & CLEAN: Folds flat for storage, and made from waterproof material so it's easy to clean
  • DURABLE & LONG-LASTING: Sturdy construction to keep your pet safe. Resistant to Animal bites. Exterior are made from waterproof material so it's easy to clean.

Last update on 2020-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros:

Comes in different colors
Folds flat when not in use
Water-resistant
Collapsible

Cons:

 More suitable for small to medium cats than large ones

We love this carrier because it adapts to the under-seat requirements of most airlines.

It can compress from 22 inches down to 19 or 16 inches.

The dimensions are 22 x 10.5 x 10 inches, and you can open up both ends up, too.

It’s ideal for traveling by car, too, which makes it more versatile compared to other pet carriers.  It has tear-resistant mesh and is suitable for cats up to 18 pounds.  We all know going through the airport can be a big hassle but this has a pocket for documents or treats.  There’s also a safety tether to help prevent escapes.  

Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier, Glacier Silver
  • Mobile pet bed, in-cabin airplaine carrier and car seat, fits pets up to 17-1/2-pound
  • Includes padded shoulder strap, machine washable Ultra Plush bedding and an instruction card
  • Top and ends open for easy access to the pet, large zipper pockets on both sides
  • Luggage grade nylon outside and Ultra Plush polyester inside
  • Compresses from 22-inch long, 10-1/2-inch wide, 10-1/2-inch high down to 16-inch long, 10-1/2-inch wide, 8-inch high

Last update on 2020-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros:

Adjustable to different airlines

Luggage-grade nylon

Very attractive carrier

Easy to clean

Comes in a range of attractive colors

Cons:

More expensive than regular carriers

We like that this has a spring-frame that allows it to be pushed under the seat in front easily. 

It’s also part of Sherpa’s Guaranteed On Board scheme where the company will refund your flight if you’re refused boarding because of the carrier. 

It has castors for smooth and steady movement which won’t disturb your cat and it has a cute flag to make it easier to spot in a crowded terminal so your pet won’t be trampled on.

The carry handle is versatile, too, and can be switched from pull-along to luggage strap.  The zippers lock, too, for extra peace of mind.  It’s sized at 20.00 x 12.25 x 10.50 inches and comes in black. 

Sale
Sherpa on Wheels Pet Carrier, Black
  • Pet carrier with recessed wheels for easy-glide motion
  • Adjustable shoulder strap converts to a padded pull handle
  • Four mesh panels for ventilation, roll down privacy flaps, top and side entry with locking zippers, machine washable faux lambswool liner and Pet on Board flag for better visibility
  • Guaranteed-On-Board Program and approved for use on many major airlines
  • For pets 19” in length x 9.5” in height and up to 22 pounds

Last update on 2020-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros: 

Guaranteed on board

Not bulky like other wheeled carriers

Secure zippers

Travel bed slides in and out for cleaning

Cons:

No storage space for supplies

 

The guaranteed onboard scheme could change at any time.

If you’re putting your cat into the hold of an aircraft, then it’s even more important that you double-check the airline’s requirements and that you have a hard carrier.  

The Petmate Sky Kennel comes in 6 different sizes and is made from durable plastic and extra strong steel wire.  Its 4-way vault door gives additional security by helping to reduce the chance of a cat sliding or shifting the mechanism.  The ventilation is very good and it offers good visibility and fresh air on all sides.  Clip-on bowls are included as are 2 Live Animal stickers.  There’s a strong carry handle and its touted to meet most airline cargo specifications.

There’s no padding so you’d have to add your own blanket, towels or comforter to make this more comfortable for your animal.

In Amazon’s Q&A section are a ton of people who’ve flown domestically and internationally using the Petmate Sky Kennel without any problems but a few users have said that some airlines won’t accept latches or bolts that aren’t metal. Check before you fly. The latches can be replaced. One reviewer swapped them over for these.  

Sale
Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier - 28 Inch
  • Extra Security: 4 way vault door provides extra security for the travel dog crate by preventing sliding and shifting (available on 36 inch size and up)
  • Durable, Heavy Duty Construction: Durable plastic shell, non corrodible wing nuts, extra strong steel wire, and interlocking door provide heavy duty protection
  • 364 Degree Ventilation: Ventilation openings surrounding the travel kennel give pets fresh air and visibility from all sides
  • Travel Necessities Included: Portable dog kennel includes 2 Live Animal stickers, clip on bowls and ID stickers for easy modification for travel. Top Handle available on 21 inch and 28 inch sizes
  • Airline Adaptable: The Petmate Sky Kennel meets most airline cargo specifications for easy and safe travel, but pet owners should always check with individual airlines

Last update on 2020-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros:


4-way vault door for extra security

Includes stickers and clip-on bowl

Comes in multiple sizes

 

Durable and robust design

Cons:


May need to switch plastic bolts for metal

One of this carrier’s best features is that you can expand the sides out to create a bigger space.   This would be so helpful in the terminal before your flight or during a connection.  Always check with the airline before you fly but the manufacturer says it’s been designed to fit under the seats of most major airlines 

The solid metal fasteners mean that the shoulder strap won’t pull on the seams – providing added security.  There’s good ventilation and it’ll give your cat a good view of the world outside. Although, these are easy to cover up if they become anxious.  

It’s lightweight with a padded shoulder strap and velcro-closed handles. There’s comfortable padding on the bottom that is hand-washable and replaceable.

The carrier includes an outer pocket that’s handy for keeping notes, documents or treats. It’s approved for pets up to 20 pounds and folds down when not in use. Dimensions are: 18 in. L x 12 in. W x 12 in. H and it expands to 30 inches.

 

Premium Small Pet Carrier for Puppies, Small Dogs & Cats - Airline Approved - Expandable Walls for More Room, Top and Side Exits, Ultimate Comfort with Sherpa Padding, Washable, Durable Construction
  • 🐕 DESIGNED FOR TRAVEL - Safely transport your pet by plane or car, in style and with peace of mind. Pets Go 2 is approved by most major airlines.
  • 🐕 HIGHLY DURABLE – Made with heavy-duty polyester that can withstand the toughest use while traveling
  • 🐕 WELL-VENTILATED – Features four breathable mesh windows that may also be unzipped to allow your pet to exit or for you to simply interact with your pet
  • 🐕 ROOMY—Easily accommodates your pet with its 18 in. L x 12 in. W x 12 in. H frame and when fully expanded to 30 inches wide, your pet can have extra stretching space
  • 🐕 SHERPA COMFORT - The luxuriously soft, washable bedding inside has the thickest Sherpa cushioning available in a travel carrier

Last update on 2020-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros:

Expandable sides make it roomier whilst still respecting airline regulations

Includes washable bedding

Four entry points for easy access

Safety leash included

Cons:

When zipped up the expandable sides take up some of the cat’s free space inside. 

The Best for Most Airlines (cabin) - Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe

This carrier is well ventilated with roll-down flaps providing privacy as well as reducing light to help your cat feel more safe and secure. It has a spring wire frame allowing the carrier to be pushed down by several inches to fit under the seat in front.  The top and side entry allows for easy access at all times.

There’s a carry strap, too, making it easy to hold and maneuver around the airport.  A faux lambskin liner will keep your cat warm and comfortable and it’s machine washable, too, in case of any messes. The handy side pocket allows for veterinarian notes to be kept close at hand as well as any special treats or toys.

You should always check with the airline before you fly about the requirements they have for transporting pets BUT Sherpa says this bag is approved for use on most airlines and that it’s included in their Guaranteed on Board Program

Sherpa Travel Delta Air Lines Pet Carrier, Medium, Black
  • Perfect for traveling in style and comfort by plane or car, for an adventure or just a trip to the vet
  • Patented spring wire frame allows the rear end of the carrier to be pushed down several inches to conform to under-seat requirements
  • Mesh windows for ventilation, roll down flaps for privacy, top and side entry with locking zippers for safety, padded adjustable, no-slip carrying strap, seat belt/luggage strap, machine-washable faux lambskin liner, Delta luggage tag
  • Side pocket for convenient storage of treats, leash, bags, or anything else your furry friend might need on the go
  • Approved for use on most airlines and included in Sherpa’s Guaranteed on Board program.Carrier is intended for safe and comfortable travel; the pet will not have excess room to move around

Last update on 2020-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros:

Side pocket for storage

Fake lambskin liner inside

Privacy flaps for cats prone to motion sickness

Top and side entry

Cons:

The guaranteed onboard program could change suddenly

Hard to clean

Best Backpack for Planes: PetAmi Deluxe Pet Carrier Backpack

Shoulder carriers aren’t always suitable for everyone, and it’s great to see that there’s the option for a backpack, too.  This is a versatile design and one that can be used to transport your cat on aeroplanes as well as taking a cat on a hike or to and from the vet.

It measures approximately 12.5″ x 10.2″ x 16.3″

This backpack is well-ventilated and has two-way entry to help get your cat in and out quickly and easily. There’s a zip-up mesh window that gives good visibility and additional headroom.

There’s comfortable bedding, a safety strap and a buckle, too.

For the human, the shoulder straps are well-padded and come with waist and chest buckles. The side pouches and front pocket make storing vet notes, treats and supplies easy. There’s a collapsible pet bowl, too.  

This backpack comes in a range of colors.

It carries cats up to 18 pounds and weighs 3.4 pounds empty.

Many Amazon reviewers have taken this product onboard numerous aircraft and been fine but a few have suggested that it’s a bit tight under the seat although, this depends on the airline and class you’re seated in.  Again, it’s worth checking with the airline and then double-checking the dimensions of the seat.

PetAmi Deluxe Pet Carrier Backpack for Small Cats and Dogs, Puppies | Ventilated Design, Two-Sided Entry, Safety Features and Cushion Back Support | for Travel, Hiking, Outdoor Use (Heather Gray)
  • Designed for the maximum convenience and comfort for you and your pet while hiking, traveling, or taking your best friend to the vet, or going for a walk in the park. Measures approximately 12.5" x 10.2" x 16.3" (L x W x H). Easily fits cats, small dogs, and most other small/medium sized pets!
  • YOUR PET WILL TRAVEL IN COMFORT – Well ventilated design for optimal airflow, two-way entry for easy access, zip up mesh window for more headroom and visibility, and thick, cozy sherpa lined bedding so your pet can rest and relax. This backpack is firmly structured, providing ample room for your pet to move around.
  • DESIGNED WITH SAFETY IN MIND – Equipped with a firmly reinforced structure to prevent itself from collapsing on your pet while traveling. Also comes with a safety strap and buckle to secure your pet and prevent escape.
  • SUPERIOR COMFORT, FIT, AND CONVENIENCE – The back and shoulder straps are equipped with extra thick padding for more comfort during long trips. This backpack comes with both waist and chest buckles to give you extra support. We also added side pouches and a front pocket to store essential pet supplies and a collapsible pet bowl so you can keep your pet hydrated on the go!
  • QUALITY CONSTRUCTION - Made with durable 600D high grade polyester for a long-lasting experience; Available in 9 Colors – Black, Dark Gray, Heather Gray, Heather Taupe, Light Blue, Light Gray, Pink, Royal Blue, Red

Last update on 2020-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros:

Includes name ID tag and a collapsible bowl

Safety buckle and leash for security

It comes in multiple colors

Allows hands-free traveling

Cons:

 

Reviewers suggest the zipper isn’t very sturdy

Finding the best cat carrier for airline travel isn’t easy, but we hope we’ve made it a little more straightforward for you and your pet – happy travels!

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