Taking your cat on an airplane – a first-hand account

There’s Pistol, my cat, turning around and around in her bag in the Delta Sky Club at LaGuardia Airport. If you’d like to know how we got to this point and how I prepared her for the trip, read my article from Friday, Taking your cat on the airplane – preparations. Once you’re all caught up, read on to see how we fared at the airport and on the plane.

Getting there.

I decided to call a Dial 7 sedan, as their drivers seem to be a lot more chilled out (and with a coupon, less expensive) than NYC taxi drivers. I didn’t want to risk a cheaper group ride or the subway, because that would add more time onto the trip — and one of my biggest concerns was that Pistol would have to go to the bathroom over the many hours ahead. While this isn’t really the point of the article, add that ride to the $100 pet fee and you have a significant difference in the cost of your trip — just something to consider.

I also chose an early morning flight so that we wouldn’t have to gamble against traffic. You may think I’m being overly cautious about the urination situation, but imagining the smell of cat pee on a three hour flight, and everyone looking at me like I was the devil, was enough to put fear into my heart. As I mentioned in the previous article, I also hid her water dish in the early AM.

Checking in.

Originally, I had thought it would be best to not check a bag, thus freeing us from waiting at the luggage carousel. Then, I attempted to carry the cat bag and my laptop bag and roll the suitcase … yeah, not the best situation. I entered the Special Services queue to pay for the cat ($100) and check my bag ($25). They required no paperwork for the animal. They informed me that I would not be allowed to remove the cat from the bag on the plane (obviously), and that the bag had to be stowed under the seat in front of me for takeoff and landing. That seemed reasonable. I hoped poor Pistol could take it. She’s only about 10 months old, so I figured she’d be adaptable — that’s another thing; if you think you might want to have a mobile animal, start them traveling early. Older cats and dogs can find this kind of experience pretty jarring.

Security, the most traumatic part.

Here’s something I didn’t expect: I had to take the cat out of the bag and walk her through the metal detector as they scanned the Sherpa bag.I held Pistol tightly as her eyes darted all over the place. There were so many people and so much to see, she might have been struggling to get away or she might have been intimidated and happy to stay with me — but I was holding her too tightly to tell. Chasing my cat through the airport was just … not an option.

Two lines were converging at the metal detector and the security guard let me jump the gun: “Let the woman with the cat through. Woman with the cat!”

In the confusion of taking my cat out of the bag, I had forgotten to remove my shoes. Oops. There was no metal in the shoes and they were thin little Haviana flip flops, but security wasn’t taking any chances on me. As I held the cat, they had me kick off my shoes so they could send them through the scanner, and Pistol and I walked through the metal detector once more. Satisfied, they released us. I forced poor Pistol back into the bag. That was probably the most traumatic part of the trip for both of us.

The Delta Sky Club.

As I entered the doors of my usual Sky Club, I had a sudden flash of concern that pets might not be allowed. Or, maybe they’d have pet treats or something. As it turned out, no one batted an eye, save for the enthralled children who sat near us and came to say hello.


At the allocated time, we headed to the gate to board. I sat down and put the carrier in my lap and unzipped it just enough to stick my hand inside the case. Pistol curled her whole little body around my hand and started to purr. I knew we were going to be all right. Pre-boarding began and I approached the agent with my ticket. She took one look at it and said “We’re not boarding your row yet.”

“I have a cat,” I said, naively assuming that was call for pre-boarding. “We don’t pre-board pets, only children,” she said curtly, and I slunk sheepishly back to my seat.

The flight.

Boarding (once I was allowed) and getting situated were a cinch, and when it was time to depart, I placed Pistol under the seat in front of me. I tried to keep my feet in her line of vision so she’d know I was there. She didn’t cry or anything. I was afraid all the bumpiness of sitting on the floor would freak her out, but strangely enough, I think she liked it. She looked at me during the start of the flight, and then I’m pretty certain she fell asleep for much of takeoff.

Once I was permitted, and I saw her eyes had opened back up, I took the case out and put it in my lap and stuck my hand in again. I patted her and, after some time, she slept. I put her back underneath for landing, and then I left her there as long as I could, not wanting to jostle her too much.

Final details.

As it turned out, no one ever asked to see Pistol’s paperwork. It was a domestic flight, so there was no customs ordeal or anything. This may differ from state to state, and if we’d been detained for any reason or randomly searched, they may have asked to see vaccination records. Still, Pistol and I deplaned and headed to the baggage check like everyone else.

Pistol looked around excitedly at all the activity of the claim area. My mom and dad had come to pick us up, and they all had a little chat. She was patient, but by the time we got her to the car, Pistol was noticeably antsy. She even cried, just once. I gave her a treat but she didn’t want it. I couldn’t wait to get her to the house.

We got her home about 20 minutes later and set her right next to the litterbox (so she’d know where it is), and opened the case. She hopped out and started sniffing around, purring and happy as could be to be free again. I write you just a week later now, and she’s happily settled into the house. I’m sitting at the kitchen table and she’s under my chair, sniffing at my feet.

Little does she know that three days from now, we’re going back to New York. At least this time, we both know we can handle it.

Photos by Annie Scott.