Cross-country move... how does it work?
April 15, 2013 1:20 PM   Subscribe

My fiancé and I are planning a cross-country move for the first week in May. We're planning to book a moving company for our stuff, fly ourselves, and ... somehow get our three cats there. The logistics of arranging all these things is just baffling to me. [yes, the required cat pictures have been included]

My current assumptions are that we'll fly out the same day our lease starts and just make sure we have an early enough flight to get there before the office closes. We'll have the movers load all our stuff the day before that, and then we'll presumably be without stuff for the first week we're there. My biggest concern is the logistics of getting the cats there.

I've looked at a few options for transporting the cats. Two are young (3 and 8) and healthy, one is old (17) but healthy for her age. The first option we're looking at is having them flow out as cargo. Some cursory research shows that cargo (vs. checked luggage) is pressurized and temperature controlled, so would probably be less bad than flying them as checked luggage, which I understand is pretty horrible. I'm looking at Delta for this, currently, since we're flying out of a Delta hub. If we went this route, we could also potentially carry the older cat on the plane and just put the younger two in cargo. The other option we're looking at is hiring a pet transport company that would drive them cross-country in cages in a van. I'm not sure how much this would cost, and whether it would be more or less stressful for them, overall. It would certainly be stressful for longer. Before going with any of these transport options, we will of course have our vet check out the cats and make sure it seems Ok. The vet seemed initially encouraging about flying them as cargo, which is why it's on the list as an option.

So, I'm looking for advice specifically about transporting cats cross-country without driving them ourselves. Any suggestions I haven't thought of, or information about the options I'm considering would be welcome.

I'm also looking for any other advice about scheduling a cross-country move like this. I've never done it before, and am quite intimidated. Does the movers/flight schedule sound reasonable? Is there a better way to arrange that? What else am I not thinking of?
posted by duien to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You've probably already looked at the Delta pet information. You might be able to carry all three on the plane, if two of them are small enough to share a kennel.

If not, then putting the younger two in cargo and carrying the older one on with you is probably easiest/least stressful for everyone. This way, they travel with you (more or less) and arrive with you, and would likely be less stressful than having someone drive them.
posted by asnider at 1:32 PM on April 15, 2013

The younger two could share a large kennel, but there's no way they could both go into one that would fit under the seat. I'd be dubious about the larger one fitting under the seat comfortably by himself.
posted by duien at 1:36 PM on April 15, 2013

It makes things take much longer, but my family has done long moves a couple of times, and we always drive our cats ourselves. We don't really trust anyone else with them, and to us it's worth a few extra days and a little bit more money to ensure they're transported as safely and comfortably as possible. I realize that might truly not be an option for you for some reason, but please give it more than a passing thought...

My other piece of advice on long moves is to allow for a pretty wide window for the movers' arrival. We've had movers show up the day they said they would, a day or two *after* they said they would, and most recently, a day BEFORE they said they would. My experience is that you can't rely on movers hitting a very specific schedule, so try to be at the new place before they are supposed to arrive, and be prepared to wait a few extra days (have enough clothes and stuff available) if necessary.
posted by primethyme at 1:38 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

i flew my cats from denver to san francisco in 2007 when i was moving, i think it cost me (at the time) $75 for the one in cargo and $100 for the carryon, but i honestly don't remember. my more "delicate" cat was with me in the cabin, and the other was in cargo. the vet gave me some sedatives for them, but they didn't help too much (or i didn't give them enough - hard to tell). this was back in the day when flights were not oversold, which was good, because the person in the same row as me ended up being highly allergic to cats, but i think he saw that i was not having a good morning, and volunteered to find himself another seat.

my experience went thusly (this was on united, out of DEN, your mileage will probably vary):
when you get to the airport, after you check in at the counter, they will transport you and both (in my case) carriers to a small room. at that point, they will have you take the cats individually out of the carriers. then they will send the carriers through an xray machine separately, and then wand you and whichever cat you are holding. they did this for each cat.

they then took the cat that was going in cargo to another holding area, and i took the other cat with me through security. in the security line, they had me remove her from the carrier and walk through the xray with her. her softsided carrier went through the luggage xray separately. after it was done, i put her back in, gathered the rest of my things, and went to the gate.

after i boarded the plane, they gave me a card that they pulled from my other cat's carrier to prove to me that he was in cargo on my plane.

when we got to SFO, i picked the other cat up in oversized cargo at united.

it wasn't the best experience i've ever had, but it was much, much easier than driving them for 2-3 days. for me, it was that i just could not work out those kind of logistics, and they both righteously hate the car, so i decided to save myself the drama.
posted by koroshiya at 1:39 PM on April 15, 2013

I asked about this last year.
posted by k8t at 1:39 PM on April 15, 2013

Driving them cross-country isn't really an option for us largely because we're planning to sell our cars before moving. Additionally, the older cat has to be kept separated from the other two and I really can't imagine doing that night after night in hotels. I also have a hard time believing that days on end in a car, plus exploring a new hotel room every night would really be less stressful for them than a shorter plane trip (or especially than a pet transport van). We're going from Atlanta to Portland, so we really are going all the way across the country.

primethyme, I assume you mean when the arrive at the destination with our stuff, correct? Or do I need to schedule days on either side of when they'll arrive to put things on the truck?
posted by duien at 1:47 PM on April 15, 2013

oh! i forgot to add. i also had to get them health certificates from the vet, and take them with me to the airport to prove they were okay and had all their shots. keep that in mind, since most airlines require it.

also, i made them new collars with my name, address, phone number, flight number, and boyfriend's name and cell number shrinkwrapped to them. i also had it like, 3 different places on each carrier - taped to the inside bottom, taped to the outside top, and on the door. it was probably paranoid of me, but better safe than lost kitty.
posted by koroshiya at 1:51 PM on April 15, 2013

Yes, sorry, when they arrive at the destination with your stuff. They should definitely be on time for picking your stuff up (if they're not, I'd see that as a bad sign). They also should be in communication with you the whole way about where things stand. In the past we've gotten the driver's cell phone number, and he regularly updated us about when he would be arriving. It's just that they often have to load up and/or unload other peoples' stuff too, and weather can cause problems, so there are a lot of variables involved in when they'll arrive.
posted by primethyme at 1:53 PM on April 15, 2013

Given your parameters and the description on the Delta site, I'd put the two younger cats in cargo and take the senior cat onto the plane with you.

Be sure that everyone has ID, perhaps you can take everyone to the vet to get chips (if you don't have them already.) My indoor cats have both collars and chips. I'm freaked out about losing either one of them!

Talk to the vet about sedation. If you can get both kitties to sleep, or at least chill, that will help them a lot. See if you can get a Valium from your doctor.

Felaway, or some other calming scent will be nice too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:08 PM on April 15, 2013

Now for the move part of our show.

First Packing:

Do this methodically start with things you don't need immediately, and progress to stuff you'll use up to the last day:

If you can afford it, rent crates. You can order them where you are, and they'll come get them where you're going.

This is great because they're sturdy and will hold a lot, you can get away without wrapping a lot of stuff, and they are eco-friendly. Also, you don't have tape them, or build them or anything. They give you wheeled dollies so you can stack them and store until your movers come.

You will save time and angst with Rent-a-crate.

If you're not going to do that, get boxes from the liquor store. Use the bottle separators for your glasses and stemware. You don't have to wrap, just plop them in there.

Label as you go. Use a big black marker. First the room where the box goes, then what's in it. Not a huge long list, but a memory jogger. Example. Living Room. Throw pillows, vases.

This will come in very handy at the distant end, when you're looking for the box with the can opener.

Movers: Fix on a firm pick up date. Insist in the contract that they show up on that date. Have a phone number of someone you can call, program it into your cell, write it on the back of your hand.

You'll have a choice to go with the estimate price or you can pay by the pound. Go by the estimate, your shit weighs more than you think.

Insurance, most moving insurance is crap. They pay .30 per pound. Not too much help if they trash your Lladro. Call your renters insurance to see if they have a special rider you can buy. Don't cheap out on the insurance with the moving company.

While the guys are in your house, it's not too paranoid to put your jewelry in your purse and th schlep it around all day with you. (get a nice fabric rolling bag for this.) You'll also bring it on the plane with you. I've done with with my mother's sterling silver, service for 8 with serving pieces. So they think you're a freak. Who cares?

Get rid of anything cheap, heavy, fragile or ugly. Just buy new. It costs more to ship your dishes than it will cost to get a new set at Target. Besides, you want some nice stuff for your new digs.

Moving mattresses. Moving trucks move different loads. You've heard about the bed-bug thing? I'd get rid of any mattresses and/or any soft furniture. Get new.

Before stuff goes in the house, inspect for bugs. Cardboard is more bug friendly than plastic (another boost for Rentacrate.)

The driver will be a great guy. Those other guys he brought with him to load and pack? Yeah, day laborers. Buy the crew lunch (McDonalds is fine) and tip everyone a $20 (Unless they're real slack jaws).

When you get to the distant end, you'll be asked to sign off that you received your stuff without breakage. Don't rush to sign it. Go into the boxes with your most fragile stuff, check your furniture and mirrors, check your TVs. Only after you're assured yourself that the stuff appears to be in good condition, do you sign it.

Report anything that's amiss as soon as you can. Send a follow up email.

Be prepared to lose something and to break something. It happens.

Again, sell as much of your stuff as you can. You can buy new stuff cheaper than moving it.

Disregard if someone is paying for your move.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:33 PM on April 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

The best way I have seen this handled was to buy a friend a plane ticket to bring the third cat.

I have heard enough Very Bad Things about flying pets as cargo - by every airline that does it - that I'd seriously consider rehoming my pets before I would do that to them.

PODS. PODS PODS PODS. You think it costs more, until the moving truck stops at the Arizona border and claims they need another $1500 to finish the drive. Or they park in front of your house with a lock on the back of the truck, telling you it'll take another $900 (cash only, $1500 credit card because then they have to give the office manager a cut (true story from an employee of mine)) to unlock it. It will take longer for your things to arrive, so you can either ship them a week or two before you leave (borrow an air mattress, folding chairs, and a couple pots and pans) or live on the floor for a week or two after you arrive.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:39 PM on April 15, 2013

I would consider flying in early and staying in a cat-friendly hotel or other short-term rental for at least one night. There is so much that can go wrong - what if the apartment isn't ready for you? What if your flight is cancelled? What if the office closed early for no reason and you're standing outside a locked door in the rain with nowhere to stay? etc.

When I hired a moving company for a half-cross-country move, we scheduled a day for them to get my stuff. They packed it all up themselves for insurance purposes (I wasn't paying). Then, we scheduled a day for them to drop it off. They made the trip in about two days while I took a week by car. The other days it was in temporary storage (probably just staying in the truck). There was an option for even longer-term storage at a higher rate.
posted by muddgirl at 2:45 PM on April 15, 2013

There are pet moving companies out there. I cannot speak to their professionalism/animal care/etc., but that is another option that might be worth investigating. I looked into them and decided they were too expensive and drove my cat instead.
posted by Hactar at 2:49 PM on April 15, 2013

Another thing: I recommend getting a quote on having the movers pack and unpack for you. We've found it to be surprisingly inexpensive (at least in the big picture with relation to the overall cost of the movers), and it's SO MUCH EASIER. They generally pack all our stuff in a single day, and deliver and unpack also in a single day. It really minimizes the disruption. And the best thing about having them unpack for you is that they take away all the boxes and packing materials, so you don't have to deal with that either.

We've found it to really take a lot of the stress out of moving. It doesn't hurt to at least ask what they'd charge.
posted by primethyme at 2:59 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding the thought about getting a quote from movers for packing and unpacking, at least. If you're already paying for movers, it won't be that much extra.

Also, based on far too much experience, it's a gigantic hassle coordinating leases, key returns, security deposits, key pick ups, service turn-offs at the old place, service turn-ons at the new place, etc. etc. At least one of the various items will go wrong or won't happen on time. If your budget will stretch to cover it, consider a short term hotel stay at the destination city while you set up your new place. Or stay a couple of nights with friends if possible. (Although I don't know how that works with cats...)
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:56 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a backup location to stay on arrival if anything goes wrong, so we've got that covered.

Thanks for all the input so far.
posted by duien at 4:26 PM on April 15, 2013

Glad to hear you have a backup location for your first night. I did a similar move a few years ago and got stuck outside my new apartment for a couple of hours (with luggage and cat carrier, NOT FUN), so a backup plan is highly recommended.

Make sure to think about food, water, and litter for your kitties when you arrive. Depending on the length of your flight, they may have been in their carriers for quite awhile at that point.
posted by Carmelita Spats at 4:32 PM on April 15, 2013

I have moved across country and across half the country several times. The one thing I learned that I would do differently now than I did then is moving furniture. If you are paying for the move yourself and it is based on weight, if your furniture is old or not in great condition or not that expensive, consider not moving the old couch, the old bed, etc. Sell or donate them and buy new at your new location.

If you are moving a lot of books, it would probably be cheapest to box them up and ship them to yourself at book rate. It may take a few weeks or even a month to get it, but it is less expensive by a lot than to pay to move them with a moving company.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:50 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

We moved from Sydney to California and back with out cats (yeah, we're crazy). Seriously, seriously consider finding a cat sitter, cat "hotel", or something for the first week or two (or have a family member cat-sit, and send them on a couple of weeks later). Having a week or two to settle in and unpack (stressful for the cats anyway) - without worrying about them accidentally getting outside* - was a HUGE help. If you can't manage this, keep them in their crates and get ONE room set up, and set up their food dishes, beds/blankies, etc so they can be happy in there while you unpack the rest of the house. (*Even indoor cats get lost during moves... they get all nervous and dart out while you're bringing things in and out of the house. Besides that, our cats just have a knack for getting underfoot and in the way!)

They flew cargo, shared a small dog crate, and were just fine. When my mom picked them up at LAX she let them out in her car to stretch their legs, use the litter box, eat etc. I'm pretty sure our male cat had "held it" the entire 13 hr flight! We used Aeropets and they were great... I'd do that with the younger two, and take the third in the cabin with you. Do not give them sedatives. Do get some Feliway and plug it in at your new place - it emits "cat smell" (pheromones) which helps make them calm and confident in a new space.

The first week without your stuff will kinda suck... bring a pillow, some basic cookware, if you can. It'll be over soon. There's no way to make this super graceful... your move is already going to be waaaay easier than moving across the Pacific! If you can afford it, a hotel room would be pretty sweet.

We used Rainier overseas movers... about $2700 to pack us up and ship us over. completely worth it. If you're paying to ship, definitely get them to pack it too. (In our case, they insisted on packing as part of insuring the stuff.)
posted by jrobin276 at 2:45 AM on April 16, 2013

Thanks so much for all your help, everybody! We and the cats have made it to Portland, and are settling in well. We don't actually have any stuff yet, but one day!

One recommendation for anyone checking this thread out later:

Do not trust the generic phone reps at Delta to correctly set up your pet transport!

We discovered when we arrived at the cargo center that our reservation was completely messed up in many ways. I'd recommend calling and talking to someone at the actual cargo office once you've got the reservation, to find out exactly what health forms you need, get a clearer idea of policies, and find out where the cargo office is located.

The phone rep booked our cats on a plane that can't accept live cargo, told us the cats could share a kennel (which the Delta website seemed to confirm) and just said we needed a "health certification".

We then had to re-schedule the cats onto a different flight (one that got in almost 7 hours later than our original arrival schedule), meaning a trip back to the airport on arrival. We had to buy a second kennel from the cargo office (thankfully they had one!) since only cats under six months old and from and same litter can share a kennel. We also had to have the vet fax over the specific USDA-stamped interstate travel forms. Oh, and the cargo office was miles away from the main terminal, and completely unmarked.
posted by duien at 11:36 AM on May 13, 2013

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