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10 Best Airline-Approved Cat Carriers in 2021 – Reviews & Top Picks

Kathryn Copeland

July 18, 2021

woman with her cat inside a carrier

Air travel isn’t always the most pleasant experience for some of us, but when you need to bring your cat with you, it can really add to the stressful event—for you both! Did you know that some airlines expect your cat to be over a specific age? For example, Delta Airlines won’t let you bring a kitten under 16 weeks old if you’re traveling internationally.

The next important step is to find the right carrier that you can bring onto an airplane. Many carriers are listed as safe for airline travel, so we’ve written reviews on the 10-best airline-approved cat carriers available today. We hope this article might help you find the best carrier for your needs and will make your cat’s trip as comfortable as possible.

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A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Sherpa Original Deluxe Cat Carrier Sherpa Original Deluxe Cat Carrier
  • Padded shoulder strap
  • Zippered front and top entries
  • Removable and machine-washable faux lambskin liner
  • Best Value
    Second place
    Pet Magasin Soft-Sided Cat Carrier Pet Magasin Soft-Sided Cat Carrier
  • Waterproof on the outside
  • Sturdy but folds flat for storage
  • Padded inside and has mesh windows for circulation
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Sherpa Original Deluxe Lattice Print Cat Carrier Sherpa Original Deluxe Lattice Print Cat Carrier
  • Security strap for your cat
  • Comes in large or medium
  • Stylish black carrier with lattice design
  • Mr. Peanut’s Soft-Sided Cat Carrier Mr. Peanut’s Soft-Sided Cat Carrier
  • Washable fleece liner
  • Contains pockets for storage and an ID tag holder
  • Top of the carrier can be pushed down to fit under seat
  • Petmate Vari Cat Kennel Petmate Vari Cat Kennel
  • Comes in 4 sizes
  • Meets IATA and USDA requirements
  • Features a moat inside to help keep your cat dry
  • The 10 Best Airline-Approved Cat Carriers – Reviews & Top Picks 2021

    1. Sherpa Original Deluxe Cat Carrier – Best Overall

    Sherpa Original Deluxe Cat Carrier

    Size: 17” x 11” x 10.5”
    Weight: 4 pounds
    Material: Polyester, fleece, mesh
    Recommended pet weight: Up to 16 pounds
    Color: Black

    The best overall airline-approved cat carrier is the Sherpa Original Deluxe Cat Carrier. One definite advantage of Sherpa is they offer a Guaranteed On-Board program with their small and medium-sized carriers. This program is designed to meet most of the major airline’s rules and regulations, so your cat carrier won’t be rejected while you are boarding the plane. You just need to print the form from the Sherpa website, and boarding should be much easier.

    This one is medium in size, comes in black, and features a padded shoulder strap as well as zippered front and top entries. The carrier has mesh windows for ventilation, a pocket for storage, and a faux, cozy lambskin liner that is removable and machine washable.

    On the downside, if your cat is particularly eager to get out of the bag, he might manage to break the zipper. We also found that in some carriers, the shoulder strap would sometimes break.

    Pros
    • Guaranteed On-Board means most airlines will accept this bag
    • Padded shoulder strap
    • Zippered front and top entries
    • Extra pocket for storage
    • Removable and machine-washable faux lambskin liner
    Cons
    • Feisty cats might break out
    • Shoulder strap might break on some carriers

    2. Pet Magasin Soft-Sided Cat Carrier – Best Value

    Pet Magasin Soft-Sided Cat Carrier

    Size: 18” x 11” x 10”
    Weight: 2 pounds
    Material: Nylon, mesh
    Recommended pet weight: Up to 15 pounds
    Color: Orange, blue, or pink

    The best airline-approved cat carrier for the money is the Pet Magasin Soft-Sided Cat Carrier. Not only is it a good price, but it’s sturdy yet collapsible for easy storage. It comes in orange, pink, or blue and is padded inside for your cat’s comfort, and features mesh windows for circulation. It has handles and a padded shoulder strap, and the outside is waterproof.

    Unfortunately, this carrier is higher at the top, and it might not fit under the airplane seat. However, it is labeled airline approved, so be sure to check its dimensions with your particular airline. We also found that it had a relatively strong chemical smell after unboxing, so it might need some extra airing out before use.

    Pros
    • Good price
    • Waterproof on the outside
    • Sturdy but folds flat for storage
    • Has handles and padded shoulder strap
    • Padded inside and has mesh windows for circulation
    Cons
    • Might have strong chemical smell so needs airing before use

    3. Sherpa Original Deluxe Lattice Print Cat Carrier – Premium Choice

    Sherpa Original Deluxe Lattice Print Cat Carrier

    Size: 17” x 11” x 10.5”
    Weight: 1 pound
    Material: Polyester, mesh
    Recommended pet weight: Up to 16 pounds
    Color: Black

    Our premium choice for the best airline-approved cat carrier is the Sherpa Original Deluxe Lattice Print Cat Carrier. It comes in large (19” x 11.75” x 11.5”) and medium, which is the one we’re writing about. This Sherpa carrier differs from the one in our number one spot based on its stylish appearance as well as some extra security measures. It’s black with an attractive lattice design and features a machine washable and removable faux lambskin liner. It has a spring-wire frame which helps hold the shape but can also be pushed down so you can make it fit under the airplane seat. It has a security strap for your pet as well as locks on the zippers.

    Beyond being expensive, we also found that even the large carrier is on the small side, so if you have a large cat, do keep this in mind and measure well.

    Pros
    • Comes in large or medium
    • Stylish black carrier with lattice design
    • Spring-wire frame adds stability but can be compressed to fit under airplane seat
    • Security strap for your cat
    • Locks for the zippers
    Cons
    • Expensive
    • Small for big cats

    4. Mr. Peanut’s Soft-Sided Cat Carrier

    Mr. Peanut’s Soft-Sided Cat Carrier

    Size: 18” x 10.5” x 11”
    Weight: 1 pound
    Material: Nylon, mesh
    Recommended pet weight: Up to 15 pounds
    Color: Blue

    The Mr. Peanut’s Soft-Sided Cat Carrier is lightweight, has lots of ventilation, and comes in blue. The top of the carrier can be compressed down to fit under the airplane seat and features pockets for storage and an ID tag holder. It has handles as well as a padded shoulder strap and a lockable zipper, as well as a washable soft fleece liner.

    One of the complaints with this carrier is that we found it had a strong smell after unpacking, which means, like some of the others on this list, it needs time to air out. We also found that the way the handles were positioned made it a little awkward to carry at times.

    Pros
    • Top of the carrier can be pushed down to fit under seat
    • Contains pockets for storage and an ID tag holder
    • Has handles and padded shoulder strap
    • Lockable zipper
    • Washable fleece liner
    Cons
    • Strong chemical smell
    • Handles felt awkward while carrying at times

    5. Petmate Vari Cat Kennel

    Petmate Vari Cat Kennel

    Size: 1” x 16.7” x 14.5”
    Weight: 5 pounds
    Material: Plastic, steel
    Recommended pet weight: Up to 20 pounds
    Color: Black & beige

    The Petmate Vari Cat Kennel is a reasonable price and comes in 4 sizes (we’re reviewing the small, measurements can be found above) – small, medium (28” x 20.5” x 21.5”), intermediate (32” x 22.5” x 24”), and large (36” x 25” x 27”). These kennels tend to be much roomier than the soft-sided carriers, but this also means your cat will not come into the cabin with you but will be placed in the cargo. The Petmate Vari kennel fits the IATA and USDA requirements for air travel and features a moat inside, which helps keep your cat dry.

    However, we found the crate to be not quite as sturdy as we had hoped. We also found that the measurements for each size are for the outside, so you really need to check the size of your cat and round down the measurements given for the product.

    Pros
    • Good price (depending on size)
    • Meets IATA and USDA requirements
    • Features a moat inside to help keep your cat dry
    • Comes in 4 sizes
    Cons
    • Not as sturdy as we would prefer
    • Measurements weren’t accurate

    6. Petsfit Double Sided Expandable Cat Carrier

    Petsfit Double Sided Expandable Cat Carrier

    Size: 18” x 11” x 11”
    Weight: 6 pounds
    Material: Polyester, mesh
    Recommended pet weight: Up to 15 pounds
    Color: Gray, black

    The Petsfit Double Sided Cat Carrier comes in gray or black as well as in medium (which is the one we’re reviewing) and large (19” x 12” x 12”). This is a unique carrier as it looks like your typical soft-sided carrier but has the ability to expand—kinda like when you expand your dining table with leaf extensions! This gives your cat extra space when needed (but not while in the airplane, of course), and it easily folds down for easy storage. It includes a side strap so you can secure it and a padded shoulder strap, as well as self-locking zippers and a side pocket. It also contains a machine-washable fleecy, soft liner.

    On the downside, we found that when it’s fully expanded, and you leave the door open, it tends to collapse. If you have a cat that will claw and bite his way out of an enclosure, the material wasn’t as durable as we would have liked, and there’s a good chance your cat might escape.

    Pros
    • Expandible and folds up for easy storage
    • Comes in 2 colors and 2 sizes
    • Includes side strap, inner strap, and self-locking zippers
    • Machine-washable fleece liner
    Cons
    • Tends to collapse when fully expanded
    • Material not very durable and cat might claw his way out

    7. Jespet Cat Carrier Backpack

    Jespet Cat Carrier Backpack

    Size: 17” x 12” x 12”
    Weight: 4 pounds
    Material: Polyester, mesh
    Recommended pet weight: Up to 16 pounds
    Color: Blue, gray

    The Jespet Cat Carrier is the first (and only) backpack on our list. It comes in blue or grey and is made of durable polyester with a mesh door for ventilation (and a view). It features a padded handle and padded shoulder straps so you can carry your feline friend comfortably on your back. This carrier also has side pockets for extra storage and has a top and front entry.

    The problems we found with this carrier were that while the shoulder straps are padded, they could use some extra cushioning as they weren’t as comfortable as they should be. We also discovered that this backpack might be more comfortable for tall people as it’s quite long.

    Pros
    • Backpack offers comfortable way to carry your cat
    • Mesh front entry and top entry for easy access
    • Side pockets for extra storage
    Cons
    • Shoulder straps need more padding
    • Might not be as comfortable to wear for shorter people

    8. Petmate Sky Cat Kennel

    Petmate Sky Cat Kennel

    Size: 21” x 16” x 15”
    Weight: 6.02 pounds
    Material: Plastic, steel
    Recommended pet weight: Up to 20 pounds
    Color: Gray

    The Petmate Sky Cat Kennel is the only other kennel on our list for the cargo part of an airplane. It comes in small (which is the size we are reviewing) and medium (28” x 20.5” x 21.”5 inches) and features sturdy wire-steel doors and wire ventilation along the sides. A “Live Animals” sticker has been placed on the outside for added awareness, and it’s made with a durable, strong plastic that is made from recycled materials, and it comes with a clip-on food and water dish.

    On the downside, we found that the kennel itself wasn’t as durable as what the company claims. Because it was made from recycled material (which we do applaud), it seems to be flimsy and breaks easily. We actually received a kennel that arrived damaged. We also found that some of these kennels had weak handles that were prone to breaking.

    Pros
    • Steel door and ventilation along sides
    • Includes “Live Animals” sticker for added awareness
    • Also includes clip-on water and food bowls
    • Made from recycled material
    Cons
    • The plastic not as durable as we would like—cracks easily
    • Kennel arrived cracked and broken
    • Handle might break

    9. EliteField Soft-Sided Cat Carrier

    EliteField Soft-Sided Cat Carrier

    Size: 17” x 9” x 12”
    Weight: 9 pounds
    Material: Polyester, mesh
    Recommended pet weight: Up to 12 pounds
    Color: Black, dark gray, pink, purple, light blue, medium blue

    The EliteField Soft-Sided Cat Carrier is a good price and comes in the sizes of 17 inches (this is the one we’re reviewing) and 19 inches (19” x 10” x 13” inches). It comes in multiple colors—black, charcoal gray, pink, purple, sky blue, and sapphire blue. It comes with removable plush bedding and mesh on the front and sides for ventilation and features a loop for a seatbelt. It is waterproof and easy to spot clean and has handles and a padded shoulder strap.

    The disadvantages include that it only has a front entrance and not a top one that is usually easier to use for a feisty cat. It’s also quite flimsy and seems to collapse in on itself. You also might be better off with the 19-inch as the 17-inch was quite small.

    Pros
    • Good price
    • Comes in 2 sizes and 6 colors
    • Has removable plush bedding
    • Features a loop for a seatbelt
    Cons
    • Does not have a top entrance
    • Flimsy and collapses easily
    • 17-inch too small

    10. Paws & Pals Cat Carrier

    Paws & Pals Cat Carrier

    Size: 17” x 8” x 11.5”
    Weight: Less than 1 pound
    Material: Polyester, mesh
    Recommended pet weight: Up to 10 pounds
    Color: Purple, green

    The Paws & Pals Cat Carrier comes in small/medium and medium/large (19” x 10” x 13”) and is purple or apple green. Like most of the carriers on our list, it comes with a fleecy bed that is removable and machine-washable and has a padded shoulder strap and a number of pockets for storage. It also comes with an ID tag holder and has loops for a seatbelt.

    This one also only has a front entrance and no access through the top, which will prove troublesome for many cat owners. We also found that the zipper was a problem as it tends to get stuck a lot or just broke. We also found it to be quite small, and like the previous carrier, it wasn’t very sturdy and tends to collapse.

    Pros
    • Comes in 2 sizes and 2 colors
    • Has machine-washable and removable fleece bed
    • Pockets for storage and ID tag
    • Has loops for seatbelt
    Cons
    • No top entry
    • Zipper gets stuck or breaks easily
    • Very small
    • Not sturdy and collapses easily

    Buyer’s Guide

    Now that we’ve provided you with a list of cat carriers to look at, there’s a few other things you will need to consider before you actually purchase one. And after you’ve purchased one.

    Size

    Remember that the sizes posted with these carriers are for the outside of the actual bag or kennel. If you’re unsure of what size you should get, you can ask the company for the internal dimensions. Keep in mind that if you have a particularly large cat, he might not be able to fit in a carrier that will be allowed into the cabin.

    Related Read: Soft vs Hard Cat Carrier: Which One is Better for Your Needs?

    Stocking the Carrier

    You should consider lining your cat’s carrier with puppy pads. These act as diapers as they are able to absorb a lot of liquid in case your cat needs to urinate. Bring some extra pads with you as well as some Ziplock bags and paper towels.

    Sedation

    While flying is very stressful for your cat, it’s highly recommended that you don’t sedate her—this can cause more harm than good. Don’t feed your cat before the flight and consider a number of strategies that will help calm your cat. For example, try pheromones such as a collar for your cat to wear and use wipes on the carrier itself.

    Limitations

    As previously mentioned, you need to be sure your cat is old enough to travel since some airlines will prevent you from flying with a cat below a certain age. Even the breed might not be allowed, such as Persians or Himalayans, because of their flat faces, which can also mean they might have trouble breathing. Double-check with the airline before booking your ticket.

    Measuring Your Cat

    To measure the length of your cat, go from the chest and to his rear, and for the height, measure from the floor to the top of his shoulders. Your cat should be able to stand up and turn around inside the carrier.

    Before you actually buy the carrier, check with the airlines on their regulations. The last thing you want to do is put a lot of money down only to discover the airline will not actually approve of your carrier. While a company can claim their carrier is airline-approved, it doesn’t actually mean it will be. Always check with your airline beforehand.

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    Conclusion

    The best overall is the Sherpa Original Deluxe Cat Carrier, thanks to its reliability and peace of mind, and best value goes to the Pet Magasin Soft-Sided Cat Carrier for its price (obviously) and convenience. Lastly, our premium choice is the Sherpa Original Deluxe Lattice Print Cat Carrier for its extra security features.

    We hope our reviews will help you to find the right cat carrier for your cat. While you want to find one that is comfortable for you to carry, your cat’s safety and comfort should always come first.

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    Kathryn Copeland

    Kathryn was a librarian in a previous lifetime and is currently a writer about all things pets. When she was a child, she hoped to work in zoos or with wildlife in some way, thanks to her all-consuming love for animals. Unfortunately, she's not strong in the sciences, so she fills her days with researching and writing about all kinds of animals and spends time playing with her adorable but terribly naughty tabby cat, Bella. Kathryn is hoping to add to her family in the near future – maybe another cat and a dog.