So Cole (one of our cats) had an eye infection just before we were going down to visit my parents for the holidays. Since it would have cost us over $300 to board the cats together and have him be able to get the treatments he needed, we decided to take them with us on a plane. While it wasn’t exactly cheap (Southwest charges $75 per carrier per direction), it was actually far less painful than we expected. Neither cat has ever been particular fond of their carriers. When taking them to the vet, we have a chorus of dissonant meows the entire way there and back. Following the recommendations of a number of online sites, we got two new soft carriers for traveling with so that they wouldn’t associate the vet and other unpleasant experiences with them.
While the trip started out a little worrisome with non-stop meows on the way to the airport, as soon as we got there and got out and started to walk around with them at our side, the meowing stopped almost completely. We had put their harnesses on before putting them in the carrier so we could leash them up for going through security (they have to x-ray the carriers and you carry the cat through) it turned out to be completely unnecessary as neither cat even tried to get out of our arms, even when one of the carriers got stuck on the other side of the x-ray machine for a few minutes. After we were through security and the cats were back in the carriers, we had a pleasant time talking with other travelers about Cole and Shadow and being able to pet them while waiting for the plane. (While they were not allowed out of the carriers, the carriers we got have a little slot specifically designed so you can reach in and pet them.) The only unfortunate event on the trip down was that we hit a delay on our second flight and it made it so Cole didn’t quite make it to the final airport before he had to go to the bathroom. In retrospect, I wish I had thought to take a photo because I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look so ashamed and timid in my life. While I feel bad for the little guy, it was incredibly cute in its own way.
After getting the cats to my parents house, the fun really began. They spent about 45 minutes to an hour just exploring all the nooks and crannies of the garage before we finally decided to pick them up and bring them inside. I’ve got a few great photos of Shadow covered in dirt and dust and cobwebs from exploring that I’ll be posting after getting them transferred off the laptop. After that, they actually both surprised us by being very shy. We brought them to our bedroom and they both promptly hid under the bed for a few hours unless we came in, closed the doors and coaxed them out. By later that night however, they were starting to get braver. They were roaming the bedroom itself pretty freely unless someone else came in and Cole was starting to venture out a little to see if people were safe to meet. Shadow started creeping to the edge of the room a little bit later and I was able to take her around the house by petting her and moving a few feet at a time, though as soon as she saw anyone else, she ran back towards the bedroom.
Their hesitation went on for about two days, but by the end of the third day, they were both moving around the house and interacting with people pretty freely. Cole really enjoyed being around so many people like we expected, and while Shadow did come around people some for attention, she really enjoyed having a big house to run around and play in. We did keep them locked in the bedroom when we were out of the house just to make sure that there wasn’t any trouble and keeping them locked in the bedroom with us at night lead to a little stress since Shadow loves to misbehave to get a reaction and then run away which made it hard for Danielle to sleep for the first few nights. But then between some inventive use of a spray bottle and realizing that Shadow wasn’t doing any damage, Danielle was able to sleep well. It was really nice to be able to sleep with the cats since we normally can’t allow them in our room at night since they like to jump from the window sill above our bed down on to us, which is rather unpleasant when you are in a dead sleep when they do it.
When it came time to leave, the cats didn’t want to go and it was just as hard to get them in there carriers as it had been coming down, and once we did, the meowing began again, but it stopped about half way to the airport (it was an hour drive from my parents’ house). And again, they mostly just slept and/or checked out people walking by from the safety of their carriers on the way back home. The trip back was entirely uneventful as far as the cats were concerned and they flew amazingly well. I guess the advice we read that if your cat can sleep, your cat can fly really is accurate.
Oh, one last important note if you are considering traveling with your cat. One thing we found pretty clearly when we were researching is to not use any sedatives. Apparently they interact weirdly with cat physiology and altitude and it can be a very bad combination for the cat. I’d definitely recommend a soft carrier that you can sling over your shoulder so that your cat knows you are there and has the comfort of being up against you. Having a slot to be able to reach in and check on them is also a huge plus for both the cat and your comfort. While it wasn’t a problem going through security either time, I’d still recommend harnesses and leashes as a precaution. It’s better safe than sorry and you never know what might startle them in to a panic. Also, as a nice little side perk, when traveling with a cat, since you have to carry them through security, you seem to always get the metal detector line instead of going through the worthless and invasive body scanners. They actually opened up the metal detector specifically for us in Raleigh and then closed it after we went through. I’d be willing to travel with our cats in the future (including the $75 fee) just for that.