February 5, 2014

Flying with Charlie & Lola

My husband and I are in Waco, TX right now for some consulting working he is doing - so its just the cats and I hanging out all day. I chose to take them with so I would have some company for two weeks, even though it would have been MUCH easier to board them at a cat kennel then flying them from Miami to Texas.

I want to share my cat traveling experiences so if any other cat mom's out there need to fly their little fur babies they can try not to lose as much sleep as I did the weeks prior.

Charlie and Lola's new spot on top of the refrigerator at the hotel

Visit your airline's website

Most importantly, you will need to find out your airline's pet policy (such as price, how many pets, size of carrier and etc). Our airline was Southwest and their policies are lined out very nicely here

Pick out a cat carrier

Eek - a tough choice, for sure! We were flying Southwest so I knew ahead of time the dimensions (and the cost - $95 each way per carrier) - which meant I needed to find a carrier that would fit under a plane seat that would fit both cats so I wouldn't have to fork out $200 each way because that wasn't really going to be an option. 

Southwest says that the carrier should be: 8.5” high x 18.5” long x 13.5” wide - and they actually sell a carrier for $45 that meets these dimensions. I chose to go the risky route and bought a carrier that was larger than the dimensions listed. This choice was based off of reading reviews and experiences of past pet flyers with Southwest. My recommendation to you would be to stay as close to the dimensions the airline recommends, but don't lose sleep over an inch or two as long as your carrier seems somewhat flexible/collapsible.

We found a wheeled carrier at Target that measured 19.5" long x 12" wide and 13" wide. ( I tried to locate it on their website but it isn't shown on it.) It was sturdy, yet soft, so I was pretty sure we would be able to collapse it enough for it to slide under the seat on it's side. (Side note: having wheels and a handle made carting Charlie and Lola through the airport SO much easier then if I would have had to have them over my shoulder.)

As sure as I had been ahead of time that our carrier would fit, the night before I was no longer so sure. I began wondering panicking about if I should have just bought the Southwest carrier so that I would know without a doubt it was going to fit, and not fearing that there wouldn't be enough room.

Lola modeling the carrier post flight in our hotel room (It may have taken a few treats to get her inside)

Once we got to the ticket counter at the airport the man taking our bags (and that gave us our pet carrier ticket) never said anything about the size so I kept my mouth shut and hoped for the best. And guess what? It ended up fitting under the seat! We were questioned by both flight attendants before boarding if we had flown with this carrier before - they seemed very doubtful it would go under the seat.


Ahh - I am pretty sure I was most worried about this part. We would need to take our cats out of their carrier and carry them through the metal detector while their carrier went through the x-ray machine. I pictured it in my head, Charlie would wiggle out of my arms and race through the airport and I would never see him again. I trusted Lola, but Charlie had too much energy and loved to bite when he wanted loose - so even though my husband promised he could keep control of him I knew I had to go with a second option - request a private screening. I read online this was an option many had done, and I knew this would be the best route. And it turned out I was right.

Truth - it was a little awkward figuring out HOW to request the screening. Whenever I would ask someone who I thought was the person I was supposed to ask they would keep telling me to tell the next person. So basically here I was standing barefoot (my shoes and purse were already going through the x-ray machine) holding onto the cat carrier trying to get attention of the TSA officer on the other side of the metal detector screener that I needed a private screening for my cats. Luckily, he seemed fine with this, but had to step aside while he was able to get someone to come and escort me and my cats into a separate room. They had to apparently find a female officer to do the screening so I did have to wait maybe 5 or 10 minutes. We had plenty of time so I didn't care - it was a much better option then my terrible fear of Charlie darting out of my arms.

My husband was waiting on the other side with my purse and shoes and at first they were not going to let him come back into the room with me - once I explained there were TWO cats inside they were fine with it. We went into the small rooms, both held a cat, they took the carrier, x-rayed it, and it was complete. I would HIGHLY recommend this route to cat mom's who don't trust that their cat will remain calm in their arms. 

UPDATE: I posted this before we flew home from Austin back to Ft. Lauderdale. While security flying to Austin had been smooth, it was unfortunately not the same going home. We were denied a private screening at the Austin airport, regardless how much I explained that there was a chance our cats could always get scared and jump out of our arms. In fact, my husband had already went through security and they expected me to hold BOTH cats at the same time through the medal detectors. Luckily, after much time wasted speaking to supervisors, waiting for my husband to come back through security to meet me, we made it through without losing our cats. They didn't struggle too bad, but I was still very nervous, and quite angry at the Austin security.

Boarding the plane and the flight

As I said previously we were questioned while getting on the plane about the size of the carrier, but my husband managed to shove it (on it's side) under the isle seat on our first flight and middle seat on the way back. I would occasionally, at the airport and on the plane, un-zip the side and stick my hand inside to pet the two and to make sure they were okay. Just remember you are not allowed to take your pet out of the carrier!

In case you are wondering - neither cat made a peep the entire flight. I had numerous people comment they were surprise how well behaved they were. It made me feel like a proud cat mom!

Their second favorite spot in the hotel room - on the chair tucked under the desk

Bathrooms, food and water 

To help minimize any potty accidents I took away Charlie and Lola's food and water after midnight. I put out some dry food and water in the morning for a few minutes so they could get a little in their stomaches. Honestly, I don't know if it was necessary to restrict this at all, but I felt better knowing that I did something to ease any uncomfortable bladders and such. I did give them a few treats and a little water at the airport during our layover.

To give you an overall idea of our time line - we left our apartment at 6 am Eastern time and arrived in Texas at about 1:30 pm Central time. I had bought one of these disposable liter trays so I could get it out at the hotel as soon as we arrived, which was around 3 pm.

Some might say this all seems like way too much work - and if it were for a week or less I would agree - but at the moment these two are my babies, so I'm glad I have them with me.