Traveling By Air With Your Cat

BY JODELL A. RAYMOND

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You are all excited because you have made the decision to go to your first CFA International Cat Show - one of the largest cat shows in the world. Within the next few days a lot of exhibitors will be headed to San Mateo, CA for the International and now you are one of them! Oh happy day!

You have heard the stories and how much fun everyone has at the International and now you and your cat are going to be part of all of the fun and excitement and be able to share tales (no pun intended) of your own.

But, wait! It is your first time traveling by plane with your cat. Have you bought a ticket for your cat? Do you have a carrier that fits under the seat in the plane? How about a health certificate from your vet—do you have one of those? What else should you take? How will your cat react on an airplane? There are so many new things to consider.

I was faced with this same dilemma last year while I was running my first cat for a regional win, a Himalayan named Bear.

I must admit the first time we flew I was very nervous. How would Bear react? For that matter, How would I react? Would he meow? What if he had to go to the bathroom?

We traveled by air, seven times in all seven regions over the course of the season and lo and behold, we became pros with flying, Bear and I. So to help prepare you, Bear and I are going to go over some tips we learned which may help make flying a pleasant and enjoyable experience for both of you. Bear is chiming in and telling me not to forget things as I type.

Gotta Have A Ticket

The first thing is to make sure that you have purchased an air ticket for your cat. Some airlines require that you call ahead to make sure that there is room for your cat on the plane and to purchase your cat’s “seat.” The “seat” is actually the leg room space under the seat in front of you. Your cat will not officially have a seat of its own. Whether this seems "fair" to you or not is a debate for another day!

Other airlines allow you to book your cat on-line. Different airlines have different requirements for having cats in the cabin with their owners so be sure to check with each airline as to their specific requirements before you book. The costs for a pet in cabin range from $50 to $100 each way.

Sneaking

Remember, if you choose to sneak your cat onto the plane, you must be willing to face the consequences if you get caught. I have heard of everything from being asked to deplane and taking another flight while paying for the cat - to being asked to leave the plane and being banned permanently from ever flying on that airline again.

Also, note that I was asked for Bear’s ticket six out of the seven times: either coming home or going to the show. One airline has under the “Request” line on their passenger ticket “PETC” for “pet in cabin.” In addition, some airlines require a health certificate for your cat. A health certificate is different from the vaccination record and each state’s health certificate varies so be sure to ask your vet for one. The certificates I had were only good for thirty days so we had to keep getting updated health certificates. If your vet has seen the cat recently, s/he may be able to simply fax them over to you.

The Carrier Must be Airline Approved

If you do not have an airline approved carrier this is the time to get a good one. I used one of the Sturdi Products SturdiBag airline approved pet carriers. The carrier molds and conforms very well to the under-the-seat space. There are many pet carriers on the market. Whichever carrier you choose, make sure that your carrier can fit under the seat especially on the smaller airplanes. I lined the bottom of the carrier with a disposable pad just in case of an accident. (From Bear:Which we NEVER had, thank you very much!) One of our local vendors carried the disposable pads or you can use a baby diaper or even an incontinence pad.

Making Your And Your Cat Welcome Passengers

Being kind and polite to fellow passengers and ticket and gate agents ALWAYS helps. Be very aware of the public perceptions while traveling with your cat and be sensitive to the concerns of your fellow travelers. The most common complaint on a flight with a cat will be by a passenger who may be allergic to felines. On one flight, I volunteered to move because I did not want my seat mate to be uncomfortable for the four hour flight. It was a small gesture on my part and she really appreciated it.

Packing For The Cat

Packing was never one of my strong suits. I actually had friends and family come over to the house to see how I had packed because they did not believe I had my things and a Metro Dryer in one suitcase and Bear’s things in a tote bag. We became very efficient at packing.

In a tote bag we had:

  • Litter in a Ziploc bag just in case we needed it when we were traveling. (From Bear:We NEVER needed this either, thank you very much!) The Ziploc litter was also the same litter I used at the hotel. I also brought one disposable litter box and the SturdiProducts fold-up litter pan. The fold-up litter box would go in the tote bag and for the show hall; the disposable would go in the Sturdi Shelter carrier which I will get to in a minute.
  • Litter scoop and two small paper lunch bags. Just in case. Do not ask me about the time I dumped the tote bag in the middle of the busiest aisle at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The first thing that came tumbling out of the bag was the litter scoop and the bag of litter. Very cute.
  • One bottle of water for Bear. If you have read previous articles on Bear and I, he does not drink any “foreign” water. “Foreign” water to refresh your memory is any water outside the county.
  • Two china dishes, packed in paper bags. Again, if you have read about Bear. He does not under any circumstances eat off of paper or plastic. Traveling and especially, flying out of region was not the time to argue with him or change his routine.
  • Two teaser toys. I do not recommend dragging these around. I was stopped in Knoxville, TN for 15 minutes while the security people tried to figure out what it was. We had to take eeeeeevverything out of the bag. The security people are busy and do not help you put everything back. Not a good idea. That was the last flight we took, but I would not do that again. From now on, teaser toys would go in checked luggage.
  • Bear’s dry food. He only ate dry food when he was on the road.
  • Two jars of baby food for Bear. One for each day because I could not take his refrigerator with us. Yes, he has his own refrigerator. J
  • My “little black book” where I kept track of all of Bear’s show finals and points as well as all of the travel arrangements and contact information including airline reservations, hotel info, car rental info, and show hall info.
  • Food for me just in case I did not either like the food at the airport or the hotel or could not get to a restaurant for whatever reason.
  • Chocolate. Need I say more?
  • For some, this tote bag may be too heavy. I thought of this time as my exercise time. I probably would not do it again, though. I would recommend reserving an agent with a cart to greet you at the gate. In Minneapolis, I had to change planes to go to Albuquerque and had to walk from one end of the airport to the other. It took me 45 minutes. I was determined to get my exercise in. Not again with a heavy Persian and I would hate to think of it with a Maine Coon. Call ahead and reserve a cart.

And A Suitcase For Me

This suitcase was small enough to go in cabin, but I checked it each time.

  • Since Bear is a Himalayan we had to have the Metro dryer in the suitcase. I would fit the clothes around the Metro. So, I made sure I took clothes I could easily fold. The Metro worked on my hair in a pinch. Ok, so I had the windblown look that day. But, it worked.
  • The pants I wore down on Friday were the pants I wore on Sunday. Doing this was a fashion horror and a first for me. But, it was necessary.
  • Same with shoes….Two pairs. One I wore and one to change. I have friends who are not speaking to me today because of this tidbit of information.
  • We also took a wrench and hose hook-up for hotel bathing.
  • Bear’s degreaser, shampoos, conditioner and “Fluff Out.”
  • His one grooming comb.
  • One Ziploc bag for my make-up. My family actually took a picture of this one. This is also when I learned that “Fluff Out” works very well on my own hair. My hair stylist was not amused.

Cage Curtains and/or Sturdi-Shelter Pop-up

If you use cage curtains, they can go in your luggage. I, having failed cage curtain hanging 101, gave up this endeavor six months into Bear’s show career and have used the pop up tent ever since. Toward the end of the season, I bought the single shelter and used the other half of the space for grooming. It worked great when flying. (It is also serves as Bear’s retirement cage and I bought it in royal purple for the regional winner he is.) In with the Sturdi Shelter, I had the show shelter skirt which had pockets for his grooming supplies as well a few of his favorite toys.

Preparing Kitty For The Flight

The night before would be Bear’s last official meal. I made sure he ate lightly the day before flying and ate nothing the morning of flying. I would only give him water. By restricting food just before flight time, we could minimize the needs for a litter box during the flight. (From Bear: I am not so sure why mom did this because I never had a problem. I liked the attention when we flew.)

At The Airport: Going Through Security

You will be asked to take the cat out of the carrier at the airport and walk through the metal detectors with your cat in your arms. Very brave airport security people! Again, a discussion for another day as to why we cannot take the cat in the carrier with us as we walk through the metal detectors or why the security people cannot pass the “wand” over the carrier.

Do NOT let your cat go through the X-ray machine because it is a very bad idea. This was not Bear’s favorite part. He would hear the commotion associated with the security checkpoint and he would shrink in his carrier. However, this was also a wonderful opportunity for fellow passengers and security people to admire him and he soon forgot about the discomfort of being taken out of the security of his carrier. We also learned to do this very maneuver very quickly. Shoes and coat in one bin. Purse in one bin. Tote bag in one bin. Carrier last. Many of the security people knew Bear by name. Not me. Him. (From Bear: I got a lot of attention from everyone who told me I was pretty. That I liked!)

At The Airport: The Boarding Gate

Once through security, we would then sit at the gate and wait for our flight. I, reading a magazine and him in his carrier, paws stretched out and both of us would watch the world go by. We went everywhere in the airport without any trouble including restaurants, bathrooms, and snack shops. He would drink water out of my hand. He would not eat anything, and I wanted to make sure he was at least keeping himself hydrated. A few times I would go into the bathrooms reserved for families and we would wait there for our flight. We ARE a family, so I figured that would count! Once, after a red eye (From Bear: I was not fond of red eyes,) he was meowing more than usual because we had an hour layover and it was early, I unzipped the top part of the carrier and he jumped out and onto the rug. He was just as startled as I was. I was not amused in Detroit at 5AM. We got on another plane, came home, where I promptly handed him to my husband Ed, and kept on walking. (From Bear: We had been in Seattle, hello? That was far.)

On The Plane

Once on the plane I would get settled in the seat and tuck Bear in his carrier under the seat in front. Generally he would just go to sleep. I must admit I was very fortunate that I had a cat that did not mind flying and learned to actually like it. He only meowed the first time we flew for a few minutes. The noise of the engines was so loud on the plane that I do not think anyone else heard him. He also meowed when we landed to make sure I would remember him under the seat. On that first flight, I did take a peek at him when we were lifting off. Ears back, paws stretched out in front, and nose up in the air. Each time we lifted off, he did that. I called it, “Bear in the air.”

If you cat is being too vocal, a little tap on the outside of the carrier with your foot is sometimes helpful. If your cat is normally quiet and starts to meow and fuss, it may mean he needs a litter box. So do try to anticipate his needs.

Security

Most carriers that fit under airplane seats have soft sides and zipper closings. Be sure to close the zipper all the way - and if your cat is a bit of an escape-artist, thread a safety pin through the zipper and attach it to the carrier so the zipper cannot be worked open by a determined cat. While Bear never went for a walk down the airplane aisle, I do know of friends whose cat opened its carrier and sauntered around the cabin unbeknownst to the owner. Only when someone said, "Look, there's a cat", did my friend notice her kitty was missing from its carrier!

Bathroom On Board

In case of a bathroom emergency, I had a foldable cardboard litter box that fit in the bottom of the carrier and a zip-lock bag of litter in my purse. If Bear needed a bathroom break, I could take him to the lavatory and set up the litter box for him. This was handy both on the plane and in the airport terminal.

Cloud Kitty

Once on a flight back home, there were only five of us on the plane. It was late in the evening and the flight attendant let me put Bear on the seat and unzip the carrier so he could look out the window. He was fascinated by looking out the window. I am not sure what he saw because it was so dark, but that kept him occupied for the whole hour’s flight home. (From Bear: I could see everything even some fluffy things Mom called, “clouds” and the lights below. I got water from the flight attendant as well and I did not want to get into trouble so I just sat there with mom and looked out the window.)

Being A Jet-Setting Kitty

That was our flying experience. I learned a lot about Bear and learned a lot about myself in those seven flights. I now know the meaning of packing light. I can actually find hotels and show halls in a strange city. I ALWAYS get lost when traveling yet with Bear I never did. (From Bear: If any cat needs a pep talk, have their owners call me! I will tell them what to do!)

I hope you have as good an experience flying with your cat as I did with Bear.

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