The 9 Best Airline-Approved Cat Carriers In 2021

Traveling with cats is no easy feat, especially if you’re headed via plane to your destination. While there’s plenty of preparation that goes into flying, period, one of the most crucial things you’ll have to figure out is how to find the best airline-approved cat carriers, since using one is not only necessary for the safety and security of your pet, but for the success of your trip, too.

When you’re flying with cats, it’s important to do your homework before you even set foot in a terminal. For starters, most vets and pet experts recommend reaching out to your airline to figure out their requirements for pet travel, since these can vary widely. In addition to vaccination records and other paperwork, you may also want to bring along toys or a Thundershirt to help soothe your cat, especially those prone to anxiety.

Cat carriers come in all shapes and sizes, but ones that are TSA-approved for air travel tend to be more compact. Whether you prefer the lightweight flexibility of soft-sided carriers or need the durability of a hard-sided option, the best airline-approved cat carriers are priced to fit your budget. Some even have detachable wheels to make your travel experience more comfortable while also guaranteeing your pet stays safe and secure throughout the flight.

Best Overall: A Soft-Sided Sherpa Carrier With 12,000+ Reviews

  • Available sizes: Small, Medium (featured), Large
  • Dimensions: 17 x 11 x 10.5 inches (length x width x height)
  • Weight limit: Up to 16 pounds

With more than 12,000 reviews and a 4.7 overall star rating, the Sherpa Original Deluxe pet carrier is a favorite among pet owners. It features a flexible wire frame that’s easy to push under airline seats, and large mesh windows provide lots of ventilation for your pet. There are top and side entry doors with locking zippers and a machine-washable faux lambskin liner to keep your cat cozy. The carrier also has convenient top carry handles, an exterior pocket, and a padded shoulder strap that’s adjustable for comfort. Plus, the luggage strap doubles as a seat belt security strap, so this carrier is great for car trips, too. The carrier comes in seven colors and three sizes. The small and medium versions are part of Sherpa’s Guaranteed on Board program, so they’re guaranteed to be compliant with several major airlines’ specific rules and regulations, including Delta, Southwest, and United. All you have to do is head to the company’s website and provide flight information, then you’ll receive a form guaranteeing you’ll be able to bring your pet along, otherwise the company reimburses your flight costs.

An enthusiastic review: “The bag is squishy enough that if you need to push the sides in a bit or maneuver it into a space, it has the "give" to do so, yet retains its shape and doesn’t fall in on your pet. I was surprised at how effortless it was to carry with the cat. She didn’t bounce around or slip to the sides […] Very comfortable, and the flooring provides the lower support that keeps the bag in shape and level […]”

Most Rugged: An Innovative Backpack Carrier With A Window

  • Dimensions: 12.99 x 11.8 x 16.14 inches (length x width x height)
  • Weight limit: Up to 13 pounds

Looking for a cat carrier that’s as extraordinary as your favorite feline? With this innovative backpack, which comes with a semi-sphere window design, you’ll get it. Its convenient style allows you to economize your carrying effort and take your pet literally anywhere. Ideal for cats up to 13 pounds, this comes with mesh panels and ventilation holes, plus a built-in leash and top and side entries that allow for maximum accessibility and comfort. It’s even available in three colors: ash black, coffee, and light gray.

An enthusiastic review: “[…] This backpack is worth the money, and is a comfortable, fun, and easy way to transport your pet without sacrificing their security, safety, or comfort. Just make sure your pet is small enough to fit before you buy!”

Best For Small Cats: A Budget-Friendly, Soft-Sided Carrier

  • Dimensions: 17.3 x 7.5 x 11.4 inches (length x width x height)
  • Weight limit: Up to 8 pounds

For the best overall pick when you’re shopping on a budget, this soft-sided carrier from Bencmate really is a must-own. Designed to be lightweight yet still durable, it comes with four soft sides and mesh panels for better ventilation. Since this has a padded shoulder strap, you can carry it with you easily as a tote, but because of its slim size and enclosed D-rings, you can also store it easily under your seat or with a seat belt. While this carrier isn’t ideal for all breeds since it can only carry pets up to 8 pounds, it’s more than enough if you’re traveling with kittens or a single average-sized cat. This also has a small zipper pocket on the side exterior, which makes for convenient additional storage.

An enthusiastic review: “My little kitty weighs about 7 pounds, so she’s "small" for an adult cat. She fits really well in this, and it fits under the seat on the airplane. I also really like the strap because I can put her over my shoulder like a duffle bag when I am rolling two suitcases, which is a feature that none of her hard carriers had.”

Best For Heavy Cats: This Carrier With Wheels & A Telescopic Handle

  • Dimensions: 19.7 x 12.2 x 11.8 inches (length x width x height)
  • Weight limit: Up to 25 pounds

If carrying your cat puts too much strain on your back and shoulders, this carrier with wheels is good for pets up to 25 pounds and can help you comfortably breeze through the airport. The soft-sided carrier rests on a four-wheeled platform with a telescopic handle, and there are also hand straps and an adjustable shoulder strap for those times when you need to lift it. There are mesh windows for ventilation, side and top zippered openings, exterior pockets, and a machine-washable fleece pad to keep your cat comfy. Keep in mind, some reviewers mentioned having to detach the wheeled platform to fit the carrier under their airplane seat — but that’s easy to do, and you can also fold the carrier flat for convenient storage when your trip is over. A collapsible bowl is also included.

An enthusiastic review: “[…] In order to slide it under the seat in front of me on a plane I had to remove the wheels but that was quick and easy to do. Over all it worked very well for both a long car ride over Thanksgiving and a 3 hour plane trip.”

Best Expandable: This Carrier That’s Perfect For Cats Who Like To Stretch Out

  • Available sizes: Medium (featured), Large
  • Dimensions: 17 x 11 x 11 inches (length x width x height) when zipped up; 29 x 17 x 11 inches (length x width x height) when expanded
  • Weight limit: Up to 13 pounds

With over 2,000 reviews on Amazon, this highly-rated cat carrier gives cats space to stretch out, even when they’re in a packed cabin in the air. Made with mesh panels and a convenient wire frame that adds extra support to this carrier, it’s definitely one of the most flexible options you can invest in before a long trip. It comes with a shoulder strap, two zipper doors, side pockets for storage, and a soft fleece pad for cuddling. This medium-size carrier is good for cats up to 13 pounds (the large size accommodates kitties up to 18 pounds) and it works especially well for longer international flights since it gives cats a little opportunity to roam. While reviewers definitely recommend checking with your airline’s rules and regulations before traveling with this, it’s a terrific option that could help your pet feel less anxious during flights.

An enthusiastic review: “I needed a smaller cat carrier for taking my cat on an airplane. While this model is small, it is perfect for the airline requirements and I was able to open up one of the sides on the plane to make my cat’s flight more comfortable! Would highly recommend!”

Most Luxurious: This Mobile Pet Bed That’s Crash-Tested For Safety And Straps Directly Onto Your Luggage

  • Dimensions: 22 x 10.5 x 10.5 inches (length x width x height)
  • Weight limit: Up to 18 pounds

Upgrade your cat to first-class instantly with this amazingly welcoming mobile pet bed. Designed to function as a car seat and in-cabin airline carrier for pets, it can fit cats up to 18 pounds and is one of the poshest options for traveling that you’ll ever come across. Crash tested for car use and certified with a five-star rating from the Center for Pet Safety, this tear-resistant carrier also comes with a trolley pocket, so you can attach it to your luggage instead of having to carry it over your shoulder. Because the Sleepypod Air has such a unique design, it actually contracts in size to fit in the space below most airline seats during the restricted times of takeoff and landing. However, once your plane is actually in the air, you can expand the carrier to allow your pet more space below the seat.

An enthusiastic review: “[…] It’s very well made and sturdy. The inside is very roomy. My cat is 13lbs and can turn around in it. I don’t feel that it’s too big, just perfect for a long car ride or plane yet still cozy. And the inside has a very plush interior […]”

Best Front Carry: This 6-In-1 Carrier Backpack

  • Available sizes: XX-Small, Medium (featured)
  • Dimensions: 17 x 9.5 x 11 inches (length x width x height)
  • Weight limit: Up to 14 pounds

If you find front-carrying your cat more comfortable, this convertible carrier backpack is a great choice that can also be used as a traditional backpack or carried by the shoulder strap or handles. It’s made from water-resistant Oxford fabric and features side and top entry doors, breathable mesh panels, reinforced zippers, security locks, a photo ID tag, and a washable fleece pad. There are also seatbelt loops for safer car travel. Also great: The carrier folds down for easy storage. The medium size featured here is suitable for pets up to 14 pounds.

An enthusiastic review: “I use this carrier to take my cat with me on Delta flights. This is the best flight carrier I have used so far because of three features. The case is designed to fit under the airline seat either standing up, or on it’s side, making it possible to go on big planes and small planes. The materials are high quality, and there are several options to carry your cat. The backpack straps do work; there is an over the shoulder strap, and there is the regular hand carry handles […]”

Most Versatile: This Roomy Carrier With A Reversible Mat

  • Dimensions: 16.5 x 11.8 x 13.4 inches (length x width x height)
  • Weight limit: Up to 25 pounds

This roomy cat carrier has a tent-like design, breathable mesh panels, and comes with a reversible mat — one side is warm for winter, while the other side helps kitty stay cool in the summer. What’s more, you can carry it using the top handle or adjustable shoulder strap or attach it to your suitcase using the built-in luggage strap. There are top and side zippered openings as well as two zippered side pockets. Also great: This carrier folds down for easy storage when your trip is over. This carrier is good for pets up to 25 pounds and you can choose from three colors: green, gray, and navy.

An enthusiastic review: “This pet carrier is awesome. I really like the look of it and the color is nice. There are zipper pockets on either side of this in case you need to carry treats or medication or whatever. We don’t have a lot of storage space in our house, so I love that this can fold up and fit under the bed or on a shelf in the closet […]”

Best For Cargo: A Heavy-Duty, Hard-Sided Carrier

  • Available sizes: 21-inch (featured), 28-inch, 32-inch, 36-inch, 40-inch, 48-inch
  • Dimensions: 21 x 16 x 15 inches (length x width x height)
  • Weight limit: Up to 15 pounds

If your cat has to travel in the cargo hold, opt for this durable hard-sided pet carrier. It features a secure interlocking door and ventilation openings and comes with two “Live Animal” stickers, ID stickers, and clip-on bowls. This carrier comes in six sizes. The 21-inch and 28-inch carriers have top handles for easy transport, while the larger sizes have vaulted doors for added security. The 21-inch carrier featured here can accommodate pets up to 15 pounds.

An enthusiastic review: “I purchased this kennel for my cat, to use during her (unaccompanied!) journey from the US to the UK. The trip involved a 3.5 hour drive, followed by about 35 minutes of walking around lost in Newark Airport, and then a 6 hour flight to Manchester. Little miss kitty had an entirely safe journey and was back to her curious self again by the evening after she landed! […]”

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