How to Survive a Flight with Your Cat

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I have been a cat owner for going on 11 years. My husband and I got our cat when I was in my first year of graduate school. He had cats his whole life, but owning a cat was a new experience for me. Our cat lived with me and would spend every other weekend on the road with me to visit my husband (then boyfriend). Flynn (our cat) was a seasoned traveler by the time we got married and his trips in the car quickly dwindled to near nothing. By the time we settled in Michigan, our cat went on no car rides for close to six years.

We started planning our move to Central Florida in January of 2022 and can you guess the one factor that made me the most anxious?

Packing all our stuff?

No.

Selling our first home?

No.

Telling our daughters and moving them away from the only friends they knew?

No.

Finding a place in Florida to live?

No.

Moving the cat?

YUP.

To say that I would lay in bed worried about how to move our cat is not an exaggeration. I spent hours worrying about how the move could possibly go wrong, weighing all options of how to move him (flying or driving) and reading horror stories online about other people flying with cats.

My husband agreed to drive our car to Florida in exchange for my flying with the cat – and truly that felt like a win for me because being in a car for 2 days sounded dreadful. We are forever thankful to my brother in law, Uncle Tim, who agreed to keep my husband company on the car trip.

I decided to quit worrying and start some realistic planning. We decided that even though a flight was a new experience for him, the speed at which it would be over (about 4 hours for a flight vs 18 hours of driving over 2 days) was going to be the best option. I spoke with our vet about how to best dose his medication for pre-existing anxiety and our plan made me more comfortable. *Please do not medicate your pet in a way that is not approved by your animal’s veterinarian!*

Next, I had to tackle the choice of which airline would best fit my needs in transporting him.

Delta Airline’s pet policy can be found here.

Southwest Airline’s pet policy can be found here.

American Airline’s pet policy can be found here.

United Airline’s pet policy can be found here.

I also found this article very helpful in deciding which airline to use when flying with our cat.

In the end, I chose to fly Southwest with our cat because of the direct flight offered out of Indianapolis, the fee to bring the cat with me and the flexibility of cancelling/changing our flight if any issues should arise on the day of travel.

Next, I had to find a pet carrier that fit Southwest’s requirements for air travel. Southwest does have one of the smallest carrier dimensions so finding a carrier that worked was difficult. I found this one on Amazon and despite it’s small dimensions, it fit under the seat without difficulty and had plenty of room for our cat to move.

I also brought along some pee pads in case our cat had an accident in transit (a huge fear of mine) as well as some favorite treats and toys. Our vet also recommended we use his Thundershirt for some additional calming effect while we were in the air. She also recommended timing for giving our cat his meds, water and food prior to the flight to reduce the risk of an accident. Along with the pee pads, I also brought an old bath towel with me to set on the floor of the plane and to use when I got him out of the carrier at security.

The logistics of being in the airport with the cat felt no different than being there by myself or with my family. The biggest difference was security. The cat (or dog) must get out of the carrier so that the carrier can be properly screened at security. And I totally understand why, but this single piece was the biggest source of worry for me. Was the cat going to bolt? Would I have to chase down a hissing cat through the airport? The limits of the crazy scenarios my brain dreamt up were endless. Here is how I survived:

  1. I got TSA pre-check so that my time in line was limited. The process to get approved for TSA pre-check is rather simple and inexpensive considering it lasts for 5 years and also allows you to bring one minor child through the pre-check line with you.
  2. I asked for a private screening at security for both myself and the cat. This is something you can do even if you do not have a pet with you, but it gave me much better control of the actual event of taking him out of the cat carrier. I was with two TSA agents in a private room before they asked me to take him out. It was much quieter than the big, open space of regular security and I was able to take my time getting him out. I wrapped him in the towel to keep him with me and to protect myself from any potential accidents. The agents screened his bag quickly and after I had him settled back in, they screened me. The whole process took less than 5 minutes and I am so thankful to the 2 agents at the Indianapolis Airport who were so patient with me (my nerves were at an all time high at this point of the day and they both were cat owners and understood my worry).
  3. I walked around the airport until the last moment. I know that our cat does best in the carrier in motion, so I got my steps in exploring the airport a bit before I boarded the plane.
  4. I asked the people in my row if they were okay sitting with the cat. Both passengers in the row I picked were cat owners and they were both okay with me sitting with them. You don’t want to worry about the other passengers comfort with a cat.
  5. I sat near the front of the plane in an aisle seat so I could get off the plane quickly.
We made it!
We made it!

After we landed, I was able to get out of the plane quickly and outside to the pick-up line where my husband was waiting in the car for us. Thankfully, all of my planning worked and the cat was only briefly upset when we landed in Orlando – he was like a baby, instantly mad when the movement stopped.

On the train to the Main Terminal at MCO!
On the train to the Main Terminal at MCO!

It was a stressful day of travel, but I did it! We made it! The cat did not escape his carrier in security, I didn’t have to go chasing after him in the airport and he didn’t meow the entire flight. It was a successful day.

Do I want to do it again?

No.

But we both made it without drama!

I hope this is a helpful, positive account of how I made a flight with our cat possible for anyone who is worried about traveling with their cat. With a little bit of planning, you too can do it!

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