My Cats On A Plane: NYC to LA in Pet Cargo

Brownie, Bowie and Brooklyn had no idea our family life was about to change - forever. My three rescue cats joined our Brooklyn family only a few years ago and they were about to embark on a new chapter of our lives. We were New Yorkers for 20 years and decided to make a quantum leap to sunny California.


To Fly or Drive with Cats, That Is the Question

Once I started thinking through the moving plans, I realized I needed practical tips to cross-country moving with cats. I had no idea how to transfer our three cats from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. At first, the idea of taking a family road trip with kids and pets appealed to me on many levels. The notion of a family road trip sounds far less stressful and a lot more fun. The cats would be safe with us and I would not have to worry about "an airline pet cargo" situation which I thought was more stressful and dangerous.

Below is the compilation of practical tips and advice that were shared with me to drive across the country with cats in the car. Driving with cats can be stressful too, so I hope below points will be helpful: 

How do you travel in a car with a cat long distance?

  • Start with prep work. Take your cat on some practice drives and see how he/she behaves. Remember every cat is different. If you're going to drive across the country with multiple cats, then observe each cat's behavior before starting your trip. See how your cats handle the car trips. If your cat is a psycho in the test drive, he will be psycho till the end of time and you should proceed with a plan B.
  • A pet carrier is a necessity for your cross country trip. Buckle it in the back seat. Surround your cat inside the carrier with a blanket that smells of home. Buy the crate ahead of time so your cat gets used to it at home. We recommend Miacara Lana Cat Blanket or Barbour Pet Blanket.
  • Never open the car door unless your cat is secured in her carrier. Cats are very quick and can escape before you realize what's happening. 
  • Make time for outdoors and keep your cats on a harness and leash. Make sure you microchip them before the trip and/or keep their name tags in the collar incase they run away.
  • Keep a careful eye on their water intake, urine and bowel movement. If your cats are too stressed and are constipated more than 48 to 72 hours, you should contact a vet asap.
  • Place a litter box in the car. Where and how, I don't know. Use your creativity depending on your car and car load. 

Drive together across the country with your cats with this super comfortable, modular pet travel carrier from Wild One. Also airline compliant. Shop Wild One Travel Carrier in Tan Color at Wunderpets


Why I decided to fly with my cats from Brooklyn to Los Angeles?

As suggested, we planned a four hour test-drive to upstate NY with the kids and our cats. After the trip, my husband and I decided that the cats would definitely fly to California. Not only we had overly active children who complained a lot, we also had teenager cats at age 7 months, 18 months and 2 years old. How did the test drive go? The car was utter chaos with cats screeching for their lives and kids accusing us of animal cruelty. The little cat was always out of the crate sleeping on my 12 year old's laps (she refused to keep him inside the crate) while my 7 year old son constantly nagged it was his turn to hold the cat. An hour into the 4 hour car drive, the cats threw up one by one, Brownie had an explosive diarrhea, my daughter got cramps from sleeping the cat in her laps, my son lost his mind and my marriage almost ended. 

We were NOT going to drive for 10 days with kids or cats.


How do you transport cats across states? From New York to Los Angeles ✈️ 

The safest way for any animal to fly is in the cabin as carry-on luggage, provided that's an option but in truth, millions of animals make it through a plane flight in the cargo unharmed each year. My cats travelled in the cargo and it ended up being a safe travel option for us. Most airlines require a valid health certificate for travel completed by your veterinarian in order for your cat to fly in the cargo. I flew my cats with American Airlines and cannot recommend them enough. Animals can travel in-cabin with American Airlines, as checked baggage and also as unaccompanied cargo. That being said, American Airlines has a strict pet policy in place so it’s best to know ahead of time what you can and cannot do/bring when flying with your furry friend. It is NOT a simple process. I will try to explain why.

  • Make sure you get your Health Certificate from a licensed veterinarian who has experience filling out travel documents. They need to sign them within 10 days of travel.  Here's the link to American Airlines PetMark link for documentation requirements.
  • If forms are not complete, or older than 10 days, AA will not take your pets. Everything has to be perfect. (I should know because my cats couldn't travel due to incomplete form and was sent home from the airport) They had to fly a few days after with corrected forms and as unaccompanied cargo. 

PetMate 21inch kennel for airplane cargo travel

It is stressful to drop your best friend off for a flight and say goodbye. With Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier, you can put your mind at ease knowing they will be safe in this durable & heavy duty carrier. I chose 21" carrier for my big cat Bowie - who had plenty of space to stretch & sleep.


How can I sedate my cat for air travel?

You Don't! At one point, I had to stop my mind from spinning with negative thoughts and get over the fact that my cats will HAVE TO fly unaccompanied in pet cargo with American Airlines. They will be brave and cargo will be safe. Although I read on the internet that many vets prescribe sedatives for animals to relax during the trip, my trusted and long-time vet in Brooklyn advised against it. She said except in unusual circumstances, veterinarians should not dispense sedatives for animals that are to be transported. Air travel may increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems if pets are drugged. I then found out American Airlines won't even accept sedated/tranquilized dogs and cats - knowingly. Like I said, they are VERY strict before accepting the animals to the flight so be aware! We were sent home due to minor paper work errors and I would not want that to happen to anyone else.  

 Cats flying cargo in kennels with American Airlines Pet Cargo

My cats Bowie & Brooklyn seem to be calm and collected while check-in. This is a picture my husband sent from JFK while I anxiously awaited to pick them up from LAX in the afternoon.


What do you need to buy for your cat's air travel?

My cats are too large for cabin travel and barely fit in the required carry-on bags. Therefore, I made reservations with American Airlines PETEMBARK. All I had to buy ahead of time were crates, pads and water bottle. I didnot leave food inside the crates as I knew my cats would be ok without food for up to 12 hours. After all, everyone can benefit from an intermittent fasting. Airlines did require for us to tape some food on the crate, incase of an emergency or long delays. You can see it on the picture above. Thankfully, we had no such problems during their journey. To learn more about transporting animals, kennel guidelines, policies & restrictions and documentations visit this American Airlines Pet Cargo link.

Air travel with cats cross-country PetEmbark American Airlines

Kennel requirements for pet air travel 


Is the cargo area safe for pet travel?

In my experience, YES! Turns out, it is not scary or unsafe at all. I had a lot of paranoias but in the end, my cats came to LA in one piece (I mean how many pieces of them was I expecting?!!!), looking completely happy and healthy. I was pleasantly surprised. They didn't look distressed AT ALL when I picked them up. American Airlines texted AND emailed me before arrival which was very helpful. Minutes after the plane landed, they were ready for pick up at the cargo entrance of LAX. My friend who was driving didn't even have to park the car. In and out, I picked up the cats from the claim room quickly. How amazing is that?!


Traveling cross-country with our cat in-cabin

We have three cats and I hate to admit, we favor the youngest one the most. Brooklyn, clearly named after our beloved home-town, is all white and the sweetest cat in the world. At the time he was only about 8 months old. Shy and timid - he still weighed only a few pounds compare to his giant older brothers. I convinced my husband to fly him in cabin and he agreed. 

They flew Alaskan Airlines and sat next to a lovely guy who also loved cats. I'm told the flight attendants were very friendly and let my cat dad keep the carrier on his laps through the ride - except for take off and landing. Here's a picture of him letting Brooklyn peek out. He said our kitty cat slept through the whole trip and / or just sat quietly in his carrier. Brooklyn travelled with Wild One Pet Carrier in black color and you can shop it here at Wunderpets & Co.  

Cats flying cabin vs cargo

 Left: Brooklyn flying in cabin on his dad's laps Right: Bowie looking jet-lagged after completing his 8 hours journey in cargo


Moving cross-country with cats was a more of an emotional roller-coaster for me than actual work. There is a lot written on the internet to worry pet parents and while it's good to be in the know, I witnessed first hand that the Airline personnel make every effort to handle these animals with the care they deserve to assure the safest trip for your petFlying my cats cross country with American Airlines was a very good and safe experience for us. 

Again, keep in mind the pet policies vary among airlines. It’s best to check directly with your airline when flying your cat to ensure you and your cat arrive at your destination safely.

Airline pet policies:

Please drop us a line in the comment section if you have any additional questions Safe travels!

Asli + Brownie + Bowie + Brooklyn

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