Taking your cat on an airplane – preparations

Pistol the cat in her bag.I’m glad I called the airline the day before I brought my cat on Delta Airlines to visit my family in Minneapolis with me.


When I originally called and asked to add a cat to my discounted online fare, they said “No problem.” The cat would cost $100 each way, and though there’s a limit to how many animals they can have onboard, I was the first request, and my reservation was made. I could still carry on my luggage (which I thought might be better than waiting for a checked bag). I assured them I had bought the airline-approved Sherpa bag in the size advised by my pet store. They also told me: “No, you don’t need any paperwork, just visit the check-in desk to pay for the animal.”

I was searching online for any last minute advice, trying to ensure Pistol (my kitty) would have as smooth a flight as possible, and everyone seemed to be talking about vaccination records. I called the airline and inquired. “Oh, well, you just need to see if the state you’re flying into requires them,” said the woman who helped me. “So, it’s not the airline, it’s the state?” I asked, clarifying. “That’s right,” she said.Thanks a lot, Delta. I almost showed up for my flight with a cat and no paperwork. Ugh. Crisis averted. I dug out my Humane Society folder which, thankfully, had the certificate of vaccination and a number of other records. I stuffed them all in my laptop bag, along with cat treats and a couple of the furry little mice with the leather tails she loves so much.


While I originally thought a sedative might be the “humane” thing to do, my online research showed me that many people advise against sedating pets for flights and that some airlines won’t even allow sedated animals to board (if they know about it). Also, there are no safe over-the-counters; you shouldn’t try sedating your pet without visiting and getting a prescription from your vet … so, you know, there’s another reason not to sedate your pet. Mulling this over, I called to Pistol, accidentally waking her from a nap. She trotted over to me dutifully, her eyes groggy, her fur still wet from playing in the shower (weirdo). Cats sleep 13-16 hours per day anyway. I resolved to just try and keep her up and active the morning of the flight so she’d be tired. I considered lining the bag with a pair of black pants; her favorite surface on which to sleep. I decided against it.

Other preparations.

Over the preceding weeks, I took Pistol to friends’ apartments via cab and subway, in the carrier, to get her used to the idea. She didn’t seem to like being in the bag much (who would?) but she was always okay afterward. On the day of the flight, my fiance cut up one of his t-shirts, making it into a blanket so she’d have something familiar to smell inside. In fear that she’d have to “go,” I hid her water dish (and closed the toilet) at 4:00 AM for a 6:00 AM into-the-bagging. I felt bad about that, but figured she would certainly survive it.

Getting the cat in the bag.

The next morning, it was time to get Pistol into the bag, into the cab, onto the plane, into a car, and into a whole new house. I’d love to say we eventually coaxed her into the bag, but no, we had to hold her down and zip as fast as we could. Once she was in there, she immediately starting doing her “settling circles,” as I like to call them. There was no crying, but there was definitely a little glaring (see above).

On Monday, I’ll post the conclusion to this article — the experience of bringing the cat through security and onto the flight.
***UPDATE*** Taking your cat on an airplane – a first-hand account is here.

Photo by Annie Scott.