Any advice for moving a cat via air transport?
June 24, 2004 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Any experience or advice on relocating a cat interstate via air transport?

I'm in Phoenix and the cat is in Seattle. Driving there to pick her up is impossible, so I will need to use air transportation to move her. Anyone have tips, tricks, preferred airlines and/or services they can provide? If need be, I can fly there and fly back to "escort" her, but I'm not sure if that type of thing is even necessary or useful. While I don't really want "horror stories" of lost pets at airports, any comments that might help avoid that would be appreciated as well! Thanks.
posted by cyniczny to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I travelled by air with my cat from LA to Dallas to Kansas City in 1999. I had called around before-hand to make absolutely sure that I could have him in the cabin with me.

Well, when I got there, they insisted his carrier was too large and put him in cargo. Then I missed my connecting flight in Dallas and had to stay overnight. That's fine, just give me my cat and I'll be on my way. Well, they weren't sure exactly where he was but they could have him to me by morning.

I threw a temper tantrum and enlisted the aid of two pilots standing near me. They brought me my cat in ten minutes.

Then I had to get him to the hotel. Then back to the airport. This time, they let him stay with me in the cabin on the flight to KC.

By the time we got home, his personality was forever altered. He picked up an insecure little habit of insisting on having someone pet him while he eats. I haven't been able to break him of it in five years, and it started the second we got off the plane.

Conversely, in 2001 we drove from LA to KC with the cat on my lap. He was fine. No ill effects. Thirty hours in a small truck, no bathroom breaks or food (I tried, but he refused).
He arrived in one piece and settled in happily after we got there, no problems or noticeable after effects.

My advice for air travel is to get a soft-sided carrier, a sedative (for the cat, though you may want one as well) and an escort that is willing to fight to have kitty in the cabin, though I'm not sure they allow that nowadays. Get a direct flight. And that is about all you can do.
posted by annathea at 7:32 AM on June 24, 2004

We just shipped out cat from DC to Albuquerque via United Cargo. Most airlines have this service, but some have date restrictions due to weather (i.e. too hot in the Southwest in summer).

Read the fine print on the websites carefully as to what the rules are and what you need. You usually need a vet checkup report within two weeks saying kitty is healty enough to ship. You have to supply food, water (get kitty used to drinking from a sponge beforehand, it helps, then include a damp one in a tin can).

It cost about $175, and we had to make reservations ahead of time. It was that or a 10-day road trip.

It was somewhat traumatc, but she adjusted back to normal (early-a.m. face-whacking, etc) within a few weeks.

Of course like annathea said you can take the cat with you on board, although this costs something too ($75?). And you have to fly too.

Most people we talked to, including vets, said don't bother with tranquilizers. I've seen cats totally freak out on those.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:00 AM on June 24, 2004

I flew with my cat from Seattle to Boston a few years ago [pre-9/11]. When I bought my ticket, I told the airline I'd be bringing my cat and they charged me an extra $75, which may have gone up since then. I also asked them what size cat carrier I needed to bring with me, and what the regulations were, etc. I had to have a clean and recent bill of health from the vet, which wasn't tough. The vet also gave me kittie sedatives which I didn't want to use, but she said "just in case". Once we were at the airport, the cat was yowling, so I gave her 1/2 a sedative pill [the dosage was 1 pill according to the vet]. She kept it up, so I gave her the other half. She got groggy and then just sort of curled up and slept the whole way. I tucked a familiar towel in the soft-sided cat carrier and brought the cat in the cabin with me. I was, of course, afraid I had killed her with some kittie-sedative overdose, so I kept poking her to make sure she was okay which, of course, she was.

I also had a direct flight which got changed to a connecting flight at some point. I got off the plane at the layover stop and poured some water and food into some little bowls in the carrier. The cat drank some water and ignored the food completely, then went back to sleep. My Mom picked me up from the airport with a little litter box for the car in case the cat needed it [she didn't eat or pee the whole trip which was like 10 hours door to door] and the cat slept or hid most of the next day and seemed to suffer no ill effects. I found it a pretty massive hassle however, and felt bad about it [because I'm a dorky guilt-ridden cat owner like that] so I'd probably never do it again if I could avoid it but it was all totally manageable. I've since driven across country with two cats and found it to be much easier and lower stress for me and the cats.

I found that the bring-a-cat-on-the-plane thing at the time was a little loose [I had to "buy a ticket" for the cat but they never checked to see that I had the ticket, or gave me any attitude about bringing a cat with me] and so I just made sure I documented every step of the conversations I had with the airline about carrier size, regulations, etc. There was some little loophole where if the flight was more than some percentage full, they could make you and your animal not take the flight, for example.... It didn't come up for me.
posted by jessamyn at 8:09 AM on June 24, 2004

We shipped our cat from Seattle to Boston recently too. Got her some kitty-tranquilizers, a small hard-sided carry-on cage (which hardly looks big enough to hold her, but it is). Thankfully, the flights (two) went just fine, and the cat was quiet (tranquilized/in shock/petrified/who knows) the entire trip. On arriving in our new apartment, she got out, promptly found a nook behind the dryer and stayed there for three days. Within a week she was venturing into the rest of the apartment to explore, within three weeks, she was her old self.

Get together with your vet. If you try tranquilizers, consider a trial drugging - at home, before the flight. If the cat freaks out completely, probably better not to use them on the flight. To minimize the risk of layovers/lost bags/major screwups, I recommend a carry-on, and hope your cat likes the drugs.
posted by kokogiak at 8:11 AM on June 24, 2004

I flew with my cat from Charlotte, North Carolina to Seattle on US Air. She ended up in cargo since the flight was packed (it was Thanksgiving). The trip seemed pretty traumatic for the cat, not least because the flight was two hours late taking off. When I finally picked her up in Seattle, she was complaining and accusing loudly anyone who passed by. She badly wanted out of the carrier on the way home, but she had soiled the carrier and needed to be cleaned, so it was another hour before I could finally let her out, and then only to douse her, which she didn't like much either. And then it was on to the shock of a new place. She is since back to her sweet self, but I'm glad I won't have to do that to her again. In retrospect, had I known what it was going to be like, I might have left her with my parents permanently, or brought her in the car on the initial move out.

That said, PHX to SEA is a much shorter flight, and if you don't fly at a peak time it'll be more likely that you can take the cat into the cabin with you, or at least that your flight won't be delayed two hours.
posted by kindall at 8:12 AM on June 24, 2004

I've flown and driven (with Toots, of course). Flying was better with her. The trips were too long to drive with a cat. In fact, oddly, this cat never was so interested in attention, nor behaved so agreeable. Most of the flight she sat in her open carrier on the seat beside me, my hand stroking her. The flight crew paid her court (she was very beautiful silver-gray), and she accepted it gracefully (very weird).

In the car the main problem was my nerves. Didn't help driving across the desert in summer, then having to sit for waiting for roadwork (no AC when not moving, too hot to stay inside). Used tranquilizers on her for that, the first day. She was FUNNY! But she behaved well enough.
posted by Goofyy at 9:10 AM on June 24, 2004

Kindall's story reminded me that they're pretty strict about what can and can't be used as "bedding" in a pet carrier, so make sure you ask. Pet websites I looked at suggested bringing two light blankets that basically fit in the carrier without having to be folded. That way if the cat pees on one of them, you can replace it with another.
posted by jessamyn at 10:08 AM on June 24, 2004

Also, you may be asked to take the cat out of the carrier so they can search the carrier. The alternative is putting the carrier + cat through the x-ray machine. You may want to get a small travel leash for your cat so if you have to take them out of the carrier, you can make sure you can hang on them and not risk losing them in an airport.
posted by jessamyn at 10:10 AM on June 24, 2004

I would avoid at all costs putting an animal in the cargo hold of an airplane. We've just had a news story about a guy whose cat was lost at Seatac.

I transported (as carry-on) two cats in one carrier(I was only allowed to have one) from TX to WA. It was a nightmare--repeated poking of them as jessamyn did to make sure they weren't dead from the tranquilizer(which I had tested the dosage of days earlier), actual pinching of one to get a reaction, I had to go through 2 security checkpoints, argued with the security lady who wanted to take them out of the carrier, and on and on. And still, I would never try to avoid this nightmare by putting them in the cargo hold. I feel so strongly about this that when we decided to get a dog, part of the consideration was that whenever we move, the dog will have to be driven to the new city by one of us and if we travel with the dog, it will be by car.

In the past airlines have not kept records of problems shipping animals or have refused to supply the records. Regulations on transport of companion animals haven't been good, but may have changed recently. I know there was legislation trying to deal with this. A side note, the inclusion of live chicks, ducklings, etc. was removed from the bill, so if the bill passed they won't even be covered.

On preview--jessamyn makes a good suggestion about the leash. I finally got the harpy of a security lady to put them through the x-ray despite her bellowing that I'd give them cancer. I figured the machines had to be safe enough that a quick run through should be okay, otherwise the harpy would be riddled with cancer from standing there day after day.
posted by lobakgo at 10:23 AM on June 24, 2004

I moved from NYC to LA last November, and brought my *two* cats with me by plane. Which meant that my husband took charge of one, I took charge of the other, and they were each in separate carriers (one hard-sided, one soft-sided). It cost a little extra ($80, I think) to bring them on the plane in the cabin with us, and there's a limit to how many pets are allowed in the cabin (six, I think) on any one flight, so definitely call ahead. The carriers have to be able to fit under the seat in front of you, like carry-on luggage.

We took them to the vet a few days before to get their health certificates--which must be within two weeks of the flight--and a prescription for kitty sedatives. I don't know if we even would have needed the sedatives; while the cats were typically indignant and yowly on the taxi ride to the airport, they went silent and crouching and petrified when we got to the big scary noisy airport. Going through security with the cats was fun--we had to take them out of the carriers and hand them around the metal detector. They were so scared, they didn't want to come out of the carriers and were gripping the sides so that we initially couldn't even "pour" them out when we turned the carrier upside down.

The two of us ended up sitting next to someone allergic to cats, so he had to swap seats with somebody else. The cats were silent and scared, but we gave them the sedatives just before liftoff anyway (they last about six hours). Usually, giving a pill to a cat is hard work, but with two people, two scared-and-thus-semi-compliant kitties, and the advantage that they're already trapped in the carriers and can't run away, it went okay. Our vet had told us that after you give them the pill, tap them on the nose a few times until they lick their nose, which will force them to swallow. He also gave us "wee-wee pads" to line the carriers with (we also brought a towel), but they didn't use them. They also didn't eat or drink for about eight hours, no harm done. It took them a while to get used to the new apartment when we got to LA. To help them deal with the stress of such a big new place, we locked them in the bathroom with their litterbox for a few nights so they felt more secure, and let them walk around the apartment during the day. Worked out fine.

Good luck to you and your kittie.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:28 AM on June 24, 2004

Note about the eating and drinking: we did bring dry cat food and water on the flight, and put them in little Tupperware containers which we periodically presented to them in their carriers, but they simply weren't interested. Also, the sedatives actually made the kitties glassy-eyed--it was cute.

And the floor of the airplane (we put the carriers by our feet) is cold, but you also have to make sure that air is circulating down there, so put the carrier on your lap or on the tray table with you for some of the flight.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:32 AM on June 24, 2004

Additional notes about when we flew our cat a few months ago (inspired by above commentary). At Sea-Tac, going through the security brigade, we (I) had to remove the sedated kitty from the carrier at the same time they asked us to take our shoes off. The TSA agent did not examine the cat, just the carrier. The cat growled (you know the growl - like they might explode into claws of fury any second) the entire time, clutching my arm like she was dangling over Hell. I gripped her extra hard - petrified that she might break loose, imagining a freaked-out stoned kitty running through the masses. Luckily we stuffed her back in, no problem. Also, as far as food and water, she shut down completely and didn't eat or drink for a couple days there, including the flight.

Cat;s just don't do moving.
posted by kokogiak at 10:57 AM on June 24, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone for sharing your experiences and advice - lots of good information here!
posted by cyniczny at 5:20 PM on June 24, 2004

chiming in a bit late:

i've moved several cats varying distances (virginia to california being the longest) over the years. i far prefer to do it by car, in part because i, myself, hate flying.

when i took bou from philadelphia to chicago, he went in a carrier under the seat (under no circumstances would i ship a pet cargo--i simply don't trust the airlines enough. i have no hard evidence that they lose, kill or maim pets, but i'm not personally willing to take that risk. i don't put my expensive jewelry or favorite shirt in my checked luggage, why would i put my cat there?). we changed planes once in detroit. no other passenger noticed he was there (the person seated next to me on both flights was quite startled when we landed and i pulled the bag out and he yowled).

what i learned (it also cost me $75 + the agricultural health certificate):

on some planes, the window seat has too narrow a space under the seat in front of you for some cat carriers (mine is a soft-sided duffel). same is true of some aisle seats. you may have to switch to the middle seat.

screeners will permit you to carry the cat through the metal detector, but you have to take off his collar, and need to allot extra time to get him back into the carrier (the airport would not allow me to put him through the x-ray, which hadn't occurred to me to do, which i wouldn't have done anyway).

the water bottle/food was irrelevant. he took neither until several hours after we got home.

stewardesses will not allow you to take the carrier out from under the seat, even if there is no-one seated next to you. i don't know if it's because carry-on pets freak out other passengers and they want to avoid that. or because they don't trust you not to let the pet out. or if it's some other random airline rule, but i was told not to do it several times.

the rule on most airlines is two carry-on pets per flight, whether they're both yours or not.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:06 AM on June 26, 2004

« Older Why is my monitor shifting colors?   |   Urinal Aiming Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.