My nieces have four cats so when I visit, Smoky tries to sit by my head when I’m on the couch while George attempts to get me to pay attention to him by walking over my lap (the other two gave up a long time ago). The cats know I’m a dog person and yet still try to win me over to their side. They seem to enjoy the tag team because we’re all family. I’m still not a cat person and yet, here I was with my assigned cat, Calista, as my carry-on bag waiting to board the flight at Philadelphia International Airport. My friend was moving to San Diego (over Pope weekend) and rather than drive the distance which is more stressful for the cats, she decided to fly the cats which is more stressful, in my opinion, for the owner. It was my first time flying with cats as you need one person for each pet so my friend’s sister and I were in on the “Carry on Cat” mission. I definitely learned a few things about traveling with cats as carry on and the overall experience was better than anticipated.
American Airlines pet policy allows up to seven carry on pets on the flight but it’s first come, first served based on check in time. As we were traveling with three pets, we arrived at the airport three hours before the flight and went to the Customer Service desk. We didn’t think they would hit the pet limit but you don’t know. My friend was charged $125 per cat for the one way trip! You don’t get anything extra for that fee so I wonder why it’s charged at all if the pet bag is replacing my (free) carry-on bag.
It took an hour to check in before we moved to security. My friend was quite concerned about security as her cats had a doctor’s note that they couldn’t be let out of the bag. We were told that the cats don’t get x-rayed (good to know PETA sleeps well now). You would normally take the pet out of the bag so the bag can go through x-ray and you and your pet walk through the metal detector. In our case, we asked for a supervisor and explained the situation. They carried each bag to a private room after we (and our bags) passed security.
My friend, her sister, the three cats and two security staff went into the private room. Another security agent stayed outside the closed door until she was told to go do something. The security person came out with one bag at a time for x-ray while my friend juggled the cat situation. We were worried of a runaway cat (or two). After all bags were cleared, we made our way to the gate.
Boarding was easy as we had the second to last row of the plane. As I walked down the aisle, I held the bag up to ensure I didn’t bump the bag. All of the flight attendants eyes lit up with glee to see cats on the plane. They asked where we were sitting, what the cats names were and offered up advice on flying with the cats on the flight (can provide ice cubes to hydrate them, etc.). At our seats, the cats fit nicely under the seat in front of us (I was a bit surprised they fit) and still gave us a little room for our feet.
The cats were a bit too freaked out with the whole process that they stayed silent in their bags and rarely moved. You’d never know we had animals with us. The flight was uneventful and I lucked out with an empty row behind me so I was able to move and my friend had extra space to care for her cats during the flight. Overall, it was easy to transport the cats to their new home on the West Coast.
10 Tips for Flying with Cats (or Pets):
Before You Fly
- Find the airline pet policy online. You will need to call to book your airline ticket direct to inform them of the animals you are bringing (generally cat or dog). The airline limits the number of pets on the plane and in first class. They also have restrictions on certain equipment types.
- Talk to your vet to get a health certificate for your pet and understand any issues or medications your animal may need.
- You should get your animal comfortable with the duffel bag in advance of the flight (my friend had the bags out two weeks in advance)
- Allow time to get the cat in the bags (I don’t see an issue with dogs). This was a sight to see, my friend had one cat in the sunroom and was chasing her to pick it up. The skittish cat actually climbed the walls to avoid her (it was a screened in porch so she could get traction as she jumped). It took about an hour to get all three in their bags.
- Bring pet food and a water bowl
At the Airport
- Allow ample time for check in. Go to the Customer Service check in desk.
- Let Security know you have a pet, it should be quite easy to take the pet out of the bag but I’ve read precautions to bring a leash, if necessary, to avoid a runaway pet who might be freaked out by the people, noise, etc.
- You know your pet and what’s best so if staying in one spot (i.e. –the gate) is good do that rather than carrying them around everywhere.
On the Plane
- Let the flight attendants know you have a carry on pet (chances are after dealing with people all day this will make their day)
- You can’t remove your pet from the bag but can open the top to feed and water your animal as needed.
Have you flown with your pet? What was your experience like?