cat carrier eenie meenie miney mo
June 7, 2015 5:51 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are flying from the west coast to the east coast at the end of July with our 15lb cat, Buddy. Which carrier should I choose?

Obligatory cat photos!

I have read many, many of the AskMes about flying with a cat, moving with a cat, etc. and feel pretty good about the upcoming process. We will be flying JetBlue, which is the only airline that offers nonstop from our city of origin to a city close enough to our destination. (No one flies nonstop to our destination city and we figure it's more merciful to have a family member pick us up 3 hours away than it is to have a layover and then get on one of those small propeller jet planes.)

We will get sedatives from the vet, but don't want to use them unless he gets really out of control. He is a mild-mannered cat but tends to get VERY loud (that awful cry-meowing) when going to and from the vet in a cardboard carrier in the car. Once we get to the vet, I talk to him and put out my arm and he lies down on my arm and doesn't let me move.

We want to have him in the cabin with us, both because JetBlue doesn't offer pet-in-cargo and airlines that do have non-optimal flight times/connections, and because we would just rather have him with us.

JetBlue's pet policy states that the carrier must not exceed 8.5 inches in height. Many soft-sided cat carriers which advertise as "airline approved" or "for the plane" are between 10.5 and 13 inches in height. Am I right in thinking that they'll be able to squish down enough to fit under the seat? Will anyone measure my carrier, or (as most of Mefi seems to tell me) no one will care enough to measure it and I'll just have to be able to squish it under the seat?

We are considering:
* Sherpa Carrier, medium: 18 x 11 x 10.5, $42 - smallest in height I can find for a cat of Buddy's weight
* Bergan Comfort Carrier, large: 19 x 10 x 13, $30 - a friend with similarly large cats recommended this brand
* OxGord carrier, large: 19 x 10 x 13, $27 - never heard of the brand but it's a #1 bestseller carrier on Amazon

I would love to hear any positive or negative experience anyone has had with these or any other brands of carriers, specifically for a cat of Buddy's weight and size. Any other general advice on flying with cats is also appreciated.
posted by wintersonata9 to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My mom flew her large cat from east to west coast in a Sherpa Carrier and we also borrowed it for our "big boned" cat (15 lbs). Haven't tried the other two but the Sherpa was comfy for cats and humans. I liked the option of opening the top or the sides for reassurance and also reluctant entrances.
posted by girlhacker at 5:59 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have the Sherpa carrier you linked, but I use it for my dog. MeFi if I remember correctly usually recommends hard sided cases for cats. I don't know why, exactly, but it's got something to do with cats being weird.

Anyway, the Sherpa carrier has worked great for me and my dog (who is larger than your cat and technically exceeds the weight limit for the Sherpa but shh don't tell him that).

Things I like about the Sherpa:

-it does, indeed, compress, and it compresses easily and in a not-stupid way. (i.e. It has little strut bars in it so when you compress it it goes the whole way down the length and doesn't do some odd crumple in the middle that would poke into my dog.)

-it opens from the top and the side independently, which has been crucial depending on how willing my dog is to be cased on a given day

-the inside parts come out for relatively easy cleaning and washing

-the zippers are strong. I've flown with my dog probably a dozen times and those zippers don't budge unless I want them to. They've never gotten snagged or stuck.

I've never flown JetBlue (I prefer Southwest among the airlines I've taken my dog on), but here are some general things to expect:

-they probably won't weigh your cat or measure your bag, just eyeball it

-if they decide the carrier is "too big" simply show them how it compresses and you'll be A-OK

-you'll have to take the cat out to go through security, so get a harness or something to get a really tight grip on the cat

-they will need to bomb paper your hands, so practice holding an angry cat with both of your palms facing up. (My dog is a hugger so he just clings to me like the little weirdo he is, so this is always easy for me...I've seen other pet-owners struggle at this stage, and TSA generally isn't amused by waiting around for you to fiddle your hands free.)

Make sure you call the airline right after you book your flight to book your pet's flight, too. They only allow so many pets in cabin per flight and need to have a record of it, so you're better off calling ahead than waiting until check in.

Also, kitty will count as one of your carry ons, so make sure you take checked baggage into consideration.
posted by phunniemee at 6:05 PM on June 7, 2015

Best answer: I haven't flown with it, but we have a Sherpa carrier and it's super roomy for our 9lb cat and quite flexie (for putting it under a seat potentially). The top opening is great for tricking stubborn cats inside and also offers an easy way to pet without taking cat out. Get an extra liner if they offer it for travel accidents or carry a towel to swap it out with just in case (and a large ziplock bag for possibly wet liner -- I speak from experience). Handily my Sherpa case has zipper pockets for cat supplies, and is comfy enough that you can hold it on your lap while filled with anxious cat for long periods of time.
posted by palindromeisnotapalindrome at 6:08 PM on June 7, 2015

Response by poster: Awesome responses so far. Thank you!

We already have leak-proof pee pads (from a previous cat who was a nervous pee-er) and are planning on tucking treats, a collapsible water bowl, hand sanitizer, etc. in my backpack, which I understand will be the carry-on item while Buddy & carrier will be the personal item.
posted by wintersonata9 at 6:11 PM on June 7, 2015

Best answer: We flew with our 16-pound cat using the Sherpa and it was awesome. (Well, the flying was not awesome -- the cat still hated it -- but the carrier was awesome.) We did not do sedatives -- the cat meowed, but the plane noise was loud enough that you couldn't really hear it unless you put your head right down by the carrier.

In terms of carry-on vs. personal item, just keep in mind that the carrier needs to go under your seat (in the personal item space). They might let you take it out and keep him on your lap (in the carrier) for part of the flight, but definitely not for take-off and landing. Our flight attendants weren't even crazy about that and preferred us to have the carrier under the seat for the majority of the flight. So just keep in mind that any other bags will need to go in the overhead bin and won't be quite as accessible (the Sherpa basically takes up 100% of the under-seat room, unless you are flying first class or something). The Sherpa does have a nice pocket that you can stash some treats in.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:34 PM on June 7, 2015

Best answer: I've traveled several times on 5-6 hour flights with an 18 lb cat in the Sherpa carrier (not sure what size). For sure, the hardest part was carrying him through security because my cat does not allow himself to be picked up/carried under normal circumstances. I've used both Benadryl and Acepromazine (on separate occasions; under the vet's directions) and both were fine. The actual flights have been no problem and we have never had any bathroom accidents. Don't worry about the loud meowing. It's very unlikely to be audible over the jet engines.
posted by karbonokapi at 6:35 PM on June 7, 2015

I haven't flown with my cat, but I have the large Bergen and just wanted to vouch for it. I really like that the zippers lock closed and I'd be comfortable using it in-cabin on a flight.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:44 PM on June 7, 2015

Best answer: If you can get Buddy accustomed to wearing a harness, having him harnessed and leashed (while inside the bag) makes going through security a lot easier.

A breakaway collar with your contact information on it might be prudent, as well.

Before we flew for the first time, several practice runs to the airport helped acclimate this concerned feline to previously-hated sounds and sights such as rolling suitcases.

For the sake of keeping in-cabin flights available to pets, please, please follow airline guidelines to the letter and keep the carrier under the seat, even if the attendants on your flight are fine bending the rules. Or if he needs to cuddle your arm in order to be quiet, at least find a way to keep it discreet. Passenger complaints have resulted in some airlines not allowing pets in the cabin, or no longer in certain classes. It's a bummer to have to decline an upgrade to business class because that airline now only permits pets in coach.

One further bag to consider is the SturdiBag. The "small" is a very generous 18x10x10. It squishes down to fit under various seat constructions, but springs bag to retain the bag's structure. The zippers lock, and there's a top opening. I've seen it sold for significantly less than the MSRP. Ours has traveled extensively, and when not traveling it sees daily use both out and about (car/bike/bus/rail/ferry/etc) and at home/office as a portable cave. When a well-meaning but mechanically challenged human broke one of the clips through non-standard use, the company quickly sent a replacement strap free of charge.

A bag we wanted to love but quickly returned was the Kobi Pet Carrier. It's probably fine for dogs, but collapses almost completely, so no good for cats.
posted by captivepredator at 8:44 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I flew fairly often with my cat, who was 12-15 pounds, and had the same Bergan Comfort Carrier. It was plenty roomy for him and held up well through several flights and lots of car trips. No one ever measured or weighed it and yes it just squashed down a little bit to fit in the underseat space (mostly JetBlue and Southwest) with room for shoes or a small bag next to the carrier. Seconding the harness, a short leash also helped rein in Huey's exploring while I got my liquids and shoes and bags in order.

I also kept a few individually sealed antihistamines in the carrier on the off chance someone very allergic ended up sitting next to me. (I don't think it was a real concern and only one person ever took me up on it but it was nice to be able to offer it if someone looked uncomfortable.)
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:55 PM on June 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I used that very sherpa to transport my cat with me from Florida to northern California (two planes). It worked out well - he was comfy and slept the whole time. I still use this carrier to bring him to the vet and that sort of thing.

Now, about the cat is the chillest little guy ever but everyone I talked to strongly recommended that I administer them anyhow. I'm glad I did, because he slept through the whole thing basically. The one time I thought I was helping by petting him and talking to him on the plane, he woke up enough to be cranky and started ripping out the inner stitching of the carrier - little would-be escape artist. Once I left him alone, he went right back to sleep.

Have a good trip!
posted by destructive cactus at 11:11 PM on June 7, 2015

Best answer: I have the same Sherpa carrier and I love it. I used it to move my 13-pound cat from the U.S. to the Netherlands. It easily fits under an airplane seat, and the top opening makes it easy to take the cat out for the security check. I recommend using a nylon harness made for small dogs, so you'll have something to hold onto while he's out of the carrier.

I put a hand towel inside to help with absorption in case my cat urinated. I had a sedative with me, but didn't use it; my cat is normally pretty vocal but she was in silent mode throughout the trip.
posted by neushoorn at 12:34 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding the Sturdibag - Dog Jaunt is a fan and has lots of posts about the Sturdibag, and also reviews other bags and has a lot to say about various carriers in various planes with various airlines - here are all her posts tagged JetBlue, including some that talk about the best seat to select in specific aircraft when travelling with a pet carrier, including under-seat measurements and photos in some cases. She has a small dog and most/all of what she says will apply to cats. She also has posts discussing negotiation with check-in agents if someone thinks the bag looks too big, and many photos of the carrier under airline seats in different planes. I've got a large Sturdibag and a 10-ish pound cat. It definitely smooshes down.
posted by you must supply a verb at 1:13 AM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One comment about the sedation. My daughter moved her two cats from Seattle to NYC recently. She did a trial run to make sure the sedatives would be ok and it turned out that one of her cats became a "noisy drunk" on kitty sedatives. He was loud and pissed off for many hours. So you might want to test that out if you decide you want that option. She ended up not drugging them and he did complain the entire time - but not too loudly apparently.
posted by leslies at 5:15 AM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Just remembered, the other thing I always carried when traveling with Huey was an aluminum foil baking pan folded flat and a small ziploc bag of kitty litter. Instant disposable litter box! Very helpful in the event of layovers and unexpected delays, I could take him to a family bathroom and let him out of his bag for a bit and use the box. I think someone manufactures a version but foil pans are pretty cheap.
posted by yeahlikethat at 10:58 PM on June 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

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