Cats are the best, and I can’t seem to settle down in any one place for too long, so my cats (possibly to their dismay) have had to move around with my silly butt. I don’t own a boat that can cross the Pacific Ocean, so that means taking them on a plane. BUT! While it’s no fun for anyone, it’s not really as hard as you think! Really really!
My cats are my family, and if you’re here then you probably also have furry family members, and you are worried about flying with them. I’ve both taken my cats in the cabin and had to check them into the pet cargo hold (to my terror), but they not only survived, they are all flourishing wonderfully. While things do happen (and if something happens, raise a ruckus and make sure that whomever hurt your baby knows it), for the most part, flying is actually pretty safe for cats.
Not that you want to take them. It’s just that sometimes you have to. So read on for my personal tips on how to make the flight go as smoothly as possible for all of you! Trust me, you’ll want it to be this way.
My cats at the vet for their checkups and vaccinations.
1. Do Your Homework.
This might seem obvious, but that being said, let’s put it out there anyway. Know your stuff! There are two things that you’re going to need to find out as soon as you decide to fly with your pets:
a) What paperwork does the airline require for me to bring my cat on the plane?
b) What does my arrival location require for me to bring my cat into the country/state?
Usually, a) is the easiest part. It’s usually just a health certificate from your vet, issued less than a week before travel. Just book an appointment at your vet for less than a week before departure, and tell them that you’re flying to (wherever). All of my vets, even my one in Japan, either knew what they needed, or looked it up beforehand. Check your airline’s webpage (my absolute favorite for flying with pets is Alaska Air, btw. You can take two in the cabin by yourself, and it’s the only airline I know of that allows this!), and follow the instructions. I keep all of my paperwork with my passport while flying, so that I can show it to the ticketing agent or anyone else that asks (sometimes, nobody has, but at least I had it). In all of the cases where I’ve flown, my plane required a current health certificate to board, and when I left Japan, they required an inspection from the on-site team, which I just asked for when I arrived in Narita.
b) can be easy, or it can be hard. In order to enter the US from Japan, I had to check the US Customs website for the country’s official regulations, and Washington State for its regulations. The US didn’t have any regulations at the time, but Washington state required a health certificate (same as the plane), and current rabies vaccination, both of which I had done within the week before I left. Funny enough, nobody checked my paperwork after I landed, since it was the 4th of July and the Agricultural Inspections office was closed.
When I went to Hawaii, it was another story. It was a long, long, long process (more than 6 months) to get all of my testing and paperwork done for Sansa to enter the state, but I did it, kept all of my paperwork in order, and was able to leave the airport in Hawaii with her in my arms without any fuss! There was a lot to do, but I just made sure that I knew what I needed, did it, and had the documentation, and things were pretty smooth sailing afterward! You should always check the official government pages to make sure that you have the correct information. In Hawaii’s case, it can be found here.
All of my cats reacted differently to being examined.
2. Get your stuff in order!
Once you have your list of things that you need (vaccinations, health checks, etc), then CALL the airline to make your reservations (you always need to call them in order to add pets to your tickets. They usually cost a little bit extra, and try to get them in the cabin if you can). Then, check your airline’s website to find out what kind of carrier you will need, and whether you will need anything else.
When I flew to Washington the first time, and to Hawaii, I only had one cat, so I didn’t need any food (I brought some anyway, and a little bowl in my carryon just in case), and a soft-sided carrier that would fit in the dimensions they specified on their websites (it’s usually in the pet section or the carry-on section, and every airline is different). When I flew to Washington again, it was with three cats, so I needed two large hard carriers that met certain criteria for my babies flying underneath, and one soft-sided one for the baby going in the cabin. The website for the airline was very specific, but it was easy to find what I needed at Petco. Check, check, and check.
I had my carriers, my paperwork, and I was ready!
When your cat isn’t too happy about getting her shots.
3. Getting ready for the flight.
A week or so before my flight (or days in my last case), I set all of my pet carriers out in the living room and set them up how I was going to have them for the flight — I lined the bottoms with puppy training pads (in case there was an accident in-flight), then a towel for absorbency (in the large hard carriers only), and finally, on top of that, a blanket that I had been using a lot (so that it had our scents on it, and would comfort the cats). I sprayed the interior of all of the carriers with Feliway, and left them out for the cats to get used to them.
The carriers sitting out for the curious kitties to explore.
They all took turns exploring the carriers, and after a few days, got comfortable with them and would lounge around inside, play with them, and rub up against the sides. This was all in order to reduce the stress of travel on them as much as possible. I continued to spray them with Feliway at least once a day until we left.
There is no hard and fast rule on this, but I took away my cats’ food and water the morning of the trip, and waited until just before we left to toss out the litter boxes. There was some satisfaction in being able to stuff those nasty things in a giant garbage bag and haul them to the trash without scooping! Hey, take pleasure while you can– you’re about to undertake something pretty stressful!
After I called my Uber, I rounded up the cats one by one and deposited them in their carriers. Nobody was particularly happy about this, but just be patient.
Two of my babies at the airport waiting for inspection. All of them were champs!
4. The Flight
Be calm, patient, and as rational as possible. I know that it’s pretty scary (terrifying, to me) to let your precious babies our of your sight, but once the porter had helped me to the ticket counters (I actually needed two the last time, and I tipped them very well), I just reminded myself that it would all be over soon, and that the calmer I was, the better the kitties would feel. In order to pass through security, you will need to remove the cats one-by-one from their carriers and hold them while the crew puts your carrier through the scanner, or manually scans by hand (two of mine were too large to fit). Sometimes, they will let you do all of this in a separate room so that the cats are calmer, but there isn’t always one available (it will say that you can do this on most websites, but I wasn’t allowed a separate room the last time and had to hold three wiggly cats in the middle of the airport). BRING A HARNESS FOR THIS. I can’t stress this enough. My cats don’t like harnesses, but I fastened one to them before I brought them out of the carrier, and removed it right after, and it brought me a lot of peace of mind. None of my cats tried to run, but I have heard that some cats do, and you don’t want to take that chance.
Look for a harness like this one— thick and really hard to pull out of. Better safe than sorry. I only brought one harness for three cats, since I would only need to take out one cat at a time.
By the next morning, everyone was already claiming “our” new bed as their own.
And that’s it!
Once you’re on the flight, it’s mostly a waiting game. I honestly am not sure whether the cats or I were more stressed about the trip, and they were certainly shaken and scared when they arrived at our new home. However, within a few days, my cats were all behaving as if they’d never lived anywhere else. They rebound quickly as long as you shower them with love and affection. 🙂
Well, those are my tips for making the smoothest ride possible! It helps to have litter and litter pans, food, etc, sent to your new place before you arrive, as well, so that everything will be easy to set up for you. Make sure that your kitties are confined to one room for at least a few hours, and let them hide for as long as they need to. They’ll get curious and hungry and come out on their own.
I hope this helps someone! If I did it, anyone can! Remember, I took three cats on a flight overseas BY MYSELF! Nobody to even drop my off at the airport but an UberXL driver! =^-^=