A Guide to Flying Overseas with Cats

One of the biggest tasks for our move to Amman, Jordan was preparing our two cats Penny and Lulu for the long trip. In the lead up to our departure many people asked us “Are we going to bring our cats?” which when we said “Yes” was almost always followed-up with “How long would they need to be quarantined?” First, not bringing our beloved kitties was a non-starter for us. If we couldn’t bring them with us we wouldn’t move. End of story. Second, through these conversations and our own research we realized how little most people knew about the process for bringing cats or pets in general overseas.

We of course did our research and learned about what was required and what wasn’t. As you may be aware the policies and procedures vary country-to-country so do your own investigation well in advance of your trip to ensure you have everything you need in advance of your move. Through this post I’m going to cover the ins and outs of taking your cat(s) overseas, specifically to Jordan.

This is where you should start. USDA APHIS

 Penny is ready for the trip!

Penny is ready for the trip!

 
 Lulu! You can’t travel in a box!

Lulu! You can’t travel in a box!

Most destinations don’t require you to quarantine your pets

This was by far the biggest misconception about taking cats overseas. As I mentioned earlier, nearly everyone asked us about quarantining Penny and Lulu in Jordan. When it comes to a mandatory quarantine for pets most destinations don’t require it, but there are a few notable exceptions that do like Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. Perhaps it’s celebrities like Johnny Depp who illegally brought dogs to Australia in 2015 that have contributed to this misunderstanding among the public!

Jordan is one of those countries that doesn’t require pets to be quarantined. They do however require that you obtain a certificate of health that certifies your pet is healthy and up to date on the necessary vaccinations. The certificate can be obtained from a veterinarian. Simply let them know before your vet appointment the purpose of your visit and they will be sure to double check the USDA database on the requirements for traveling with your pet to your destination.

 

The rules on bringing your pet in-cabin are not equal across airlines

The biggest hurdle we had to overcome was identifying which airline we could fly with. We needed of course an airline that flies to Amman and allows cats to travel in-cabin. Our number one choice would have been Royal Jordanian non-stop from JFK to Amman, but they don’t allow cats and dogs in-cabin on flights longer than 5 hours. All of the Gulf airlines like Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways don’t allow cats or dogs to be taken in-cabin at all and therefore must be checked as cargo, except for Qatar which makes special exceptions on certain routes for service animals. It’s worth noting that Etihad and Qatar allow falcons in-cabin, but not cats or dogs.

Another airline serving Amman is British Airways who also don’t allow pets in-cabin either (except for service animals), so that basically left us with United/Lufthansa, Air France, and Turkish Airlines, all of which allow a limited number of pets in-cabin. Once we had narrowed down our options the next decision was which airline had the best travel time, and of course still had room for Penny and Lulu on-board! Of all the options the best choice for us was United/ Lufthansa which departed Washington Dulles late evening, meaning I had plenty of time to administer the sedative, feed them a good meal early that day and give them plenty of time to use the litter box before we departed for the airport. The other advantage was the short (2 hour 40 minute) layover in Frankfurt, long enough to manage the security screening, but short enough to minimize our time in transit.

Airlines that allow pets in-cabin limit the number of pets on-board based on the aircraft. Since our flight to Frankfurt from Washington Dulles was on a United Boeing 777 the airline allowed up to four pets per cabin. The Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Amman was on an Airbus 321 which allowed only two pets in-cabin. This means when you find the flight you want you need to act quickly by contacting the airline to make sure there is space. This must be done by calling customer service and cannot be done online. It’s worth noting that Lufthansa has a generous policy that allows one passenger to bring two pets which we didn’t see any other airline offer. Oh, and the cost per cat to travel in-cabin is $125 as of November 2018.

It’s important to note that at no point did we consider shipping the cats as cargo. That is an option with most airlines, but that was never something we considered. Bringing the cats with us in-cabin was really the only way we would feel comfortable with the long journey.

Airlines also each have their own weight restrictions for your pet which include the weight of the carrier. The most most common is 8 kg or 17.5 lbs. The same applies for the size of the carrier which brings me to the next topic.

 

Which carrier to buy for the long journey

This was another tough decision that we had to make. There are lots of different carriers which made the decision a challenge. We needed something that would provide the most comfort and protection for our cats. We relied on the advice of fellows bloggers like the well known Kitten Lady to help with our decision. She has a great YouTube video about traveling with her three cats from DCA to SAN using SleepyPod Air (22 x 10.5 x 10).

The two carriers we had were great for short trips to the vet, but an 18 hour trip door to door requires something stronger and more comfortable. We ended up buying two SleepyPod Airs (Glacier White and Strawberry Red). While the carriers are not the cheapest, they are highly recommended by various pet organizations and are durable carriers that maximize the space your pet has with flaps on either side that fold up to meet under the seat space requirements on smaller aircraft. The mesh on the carrier is also very dark which allows the cats to feel safe inside the carrier. This totally makes sense considering Penny loves to sleep in the closet or under the blankets!

 Penny and Lulu ready for the long trip!

Penny and Lulu ready for the long trip!

 

What to bring for the long journey

Since you can’t bring everything here’s what I recommend you bring for the long journey.

  • Bag of treats

  • Zip lock bag of dry food

  • Sedatives (just in-case)

  • Pee pads in the carrier and some extras

  • Banker box lid to serve as an impromptu litter box while at an airport that doesn’t have a pet relief station. Most major U.S. airports have facilities.

  • Zip lock bag of litter

  • A small glass container with lid for water and or wet food

  • Toys

  • Lots of patience!

 Patience not included in photo :)

Patience not included in photo :)

How to Manage airport security with cats

Now that we had taken care of obtaining the necessary health certificates, secured a spot on our two flights, bought new carriers and stocked our carry-ons with important supplies for the long journey it was time to actually travel to Amman. Since Carrie was already in Jordan my brother (Christian) traveled with me to help with the cats. The part of travel I was most concerned with was airport security, as the cats have to be removed from their carriers. I learned from other bloggers and friends that you can ask TSA for private screening. This means you and all your belongings are checked first and the cats in their carriers are handed over to a TSA agent. The TSA agent then escorts you to a private room where under the watch of two agents one cat at a time is removed from the carrier and the carrier is taken away by one of the agents to be screened. Once the carrier is checked you place your cat back in the carrier and continue on with your journey. This avoids the unpleasant experience of taking your cat out of the carrier at the security check to go through the metal detector with your cat in your arms. Needless to say that option would not be ideal and I was grateful another option existed.

Before I arrived at the airport I was nervous that the private screening might not be available or that the request may simply be denied for some reason. But as we started the security screening the TSA agent who I requested the private screening from was happy to oblige and the two other TSA agents that took care of the screening were excellent. Honestly, they were well beyond what I had anticipated which was a huge relief. If you are traveling with a pet you should request this option. The security process at the airport is stressful on people so you can only imagine how hard it is on a pet.

Since we connected in Frankfurt and had to go through security again and I made the same request there. It took a minute to find an agent who was able to speak English well enough to understand my request, but without any hesitation they obliged. So feel comfortable making this request when traveling in Europe too.

 

During the flight with cats

Both cats in their carriers went comfortably under the seats in front of us. Lulu unsurprisingly didn’t fuss at all the entire trip. Penny on the other hand would meow a little every now and again. I gave her some treats which quieted her for a bit, but at one point in the middle of the night while everyone around us was trying to sleep she began to meow really loudly, and not wanting to disturb everyone I took her with me to the toilet hoping I would be able to calm her. I let her out of the carrier and had her sit on my lap. Since most people were sleeping and there was no line for the toilets I was able to sit in the bathroom for about 20 minutes while she laid on my lap. I think being out of the carrier and close to me calmed her down and for much of the remaining flight thankfully.

 Penny and Lulu halfway to Amman

Penny and Lulu halfway to Amman

If you feel your pet needs some attention while in the airport and you don’t have access to a pet relief facility feel free to pop into the family changing room, which I did while in Frankfurt. The room was big enough to let Penny walk around (not on the diaper changing area or counter of course). Be mindful of how much time you spend in there as others may be lined up to use the bathroom too.

 Penny says hello!

Penny says hello!

Arrival

Like the cats I was ready to get off the plane and get to our new home. We went through immigration without so much as a question about the cats even though I had their health certificates on-hand. I’m sure Penny and Lulu would have been happy to say hello, but they were probably more interested in getting out of their carriers and into the arms of Carrie who they hadn’t seen in weeks!

 

Life in Amman

The cats have since adjusted well to their new home. They have sufficiently sniffed every inch of their new home which includes a large patio! Something they didn’t have back in DC. We made sure to bring a lot of their toys, food (wet and dry) and litter so they didn’t have to adjust to everything.

 Lulu resting after the long journey

Lulu resting after the long journey

 
 Penny on the lookout for birds

Penny on the lookout for birds

Overall, traveling with your cat or cats requires a lot of advance planning and of course lots of patience during the trip. Most travelers will be happy to see (or hear) your cat and it’ll make for good conversation too! If you’re moving overseas or across country don’t think twice about bringing your pet. As you can see it’s possible! Our home in Amman wouldn’t be our home without Penny and Lulu.

Have a question about traveling with your cat(s) feel free to reach out and we will do our best to help or direct you to those who can.