The Secret to Flying with Cats

Cat in a cat carrier in the airport just having cats! People will treat you kindly because cats are great.

In my near-decade of cat ownership, I've moved around a lot. I like to joke that my cats have lived in more states than most of my friends, and it's the kind of joke that's funny mostly because it's true. Together, we've traveled in moving vans, in cars and on planes, and each time was its own hectic and (eventually) funny adventure. But none were as instructive about the nature of humanity -- and about our shared love of pets -- as the time I flew direct from Boston to Las Vegas with my wife and our two cats, Turkey Pan and Etta.

My wife was offered an amazing job opportunity. The catch was that we'd need to immediately pick up our lives and move to Las Vegas, Nevada. We've always liked adventures and we figured the chance to move to Las Vegas for free was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In no time we were making plans to resettle two thousand miles away. Because the company was paying for the move, a lot of the logistics were fairly simple.

The only trick was getting our two cats out there.

Almost ten years old, Turkey Pan and Etta are about as similar as Abbot and Costello. (And they like each other a lot less.) Turkey Pan, a massive orange and white tabby, is at times adorably friendly, but he's also extremely finicky and can turn aggressive without a moment's notice. Etta is a small calico who loves nothing as much as sitting on people's laps or sleeping on their chests. She's almost too timid and sweet. (She also loves to sit on my laptop's keyboard when I'm trying to write an article on deadline.)

How to get them there?
Getting both cats across the country, then, was a challenge not unlike the old puzzle about the fox, the hen and the bag of beans. We decided that my wife would deal exclusively with Etta, the small one, while I would deal with Turkey Pan, my crazy best friend.

If our only priority were simplicity and relaxation, we could have put the cats in the pressurized cargo section of the plane, but my wife had done research and read horror stories about the dangers of that option. [Editor’s note: It’s always best to avoid shipping pets via cargo and many airlines will refuse pets in cargo during certain times of the year.] So we decided to find an airline that would allow us to carry them on board instead.

Getting into the airport was awkward, and carrying two cats brought a lot of strange looks. But invariably, once people figured out what was inside these soft-sided pet crates we were carrying, they wanted to meet our furry friends. Random strangers, airline employees, even otherwise-dour security guards seemed genuinely excited about our cats -- all while we faked our shared enthusiasm and struggled with our luggage and carry-ons. By the time we got to the long, snaking security line, it seemed like we were near victory, and I started to get more optimistic about the whole excursion -- then I had to take my crazy little monster out of his carrier.

Getting through security
The TSA requires that you remove your pets and carry them through security. For people blessed with obedient dogs or loving cats, this will never be a problem, but my twenty pound orange and white monster Turkey Pan is neither obedient nor particularly loving. And he really, really hates to be held.

As I stood there, waiting in line, fat cat held firmly at my chest, I looked across the seemingly-endless rows of passengers waiting to get through security: The massive staging ground at Logan International Airport was overflowing with travelers and TSA agents. I couldn't help but idly wonder what might happen if this ferocious monster escaped my grip, what kind of awful and hilarious scene would develop as I chased him desperately around one of the most secure areas in the city. [Editor’s note: It’s a good idea to put your cat on a harness with a leash when traveling.]

I held on a little tighter as the line crept slowly forward.

My wife, of course, only had to worry about our smaller, nicer, mostly-harmless cat Etta, who was more than happy to stay put in her arms as they waited to pass through the metal detector together.

When we finally got through the line (and, miraculously, got the cats back into their boxes), I was ready to declare victory, only to realize that we hadn't even gotten on board the plane. How would they behave during the six hour flight?

I've suffered through enough flights with crying babies to thoroughly appreciate the value of silence at 36,000 feet, and I really didn't want to make the rest of the passengers hate my guts. And if the cats did start crying, what could I really do? How do you appease a miserable kitty stuck in a small carrier under your feet for six hours?

The flight
The flight was packed to the gills, and poor Turkey Pan started mewing before we'd even taken off. (He never really stopped, either.) And yet, strangely, no one seemed to care. The only reactions I got from the people around me were overwhelmingly positive: Everyone thought his whining was absolutely adorable. Why is a crying cat cute, while a crying baby is obnoxious? What does that say about us?

Anyway, I was mortified, and I still suspect that some silent passengers were seething the whole flight. But as Turkey Pan mewed and whined, most of my fellow passengers just expressed ever-increasing sympathy for the poor guy. The flight's passengers found his protestations endearing, while I attempted to squeeze myself further and further into my seat, beyond embarrassed and attempting -- futilely -- to make myself disappear completely into the seat.

Meanwhile, my wife, sitting three rows ahead of me, lucky once again, had a quiet, pleasant flight with silent and well-behaved Etta.

I'm pretty sure they just slept the whole time.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.

Reviewed on: 
Wednesday, June 4, 2014