Flying High Across the Borders
One of RC's preferred modes of travel is by plane. He usually dozes off as soon as he's tucked safely under the seat ahead of me. He travels in a soft-sided case which we've modified. We never use tranquilizers; I guess the hum of the engine lulls him to sleep. During take offs and landings, the engine noise masks RC's meow when he pops his ears to accommodate the change in cabin pressure.
Withholding Food and Water
We generally adjust RC's feeding schedule so he eats an hour or 2 before we head for the airport. There's usually 1 or 2 more hours before the plane departs, depending if its a domestic or international flight, so I figure that gives his system time to settle things down. We feed RC in-flight if the flight is long and we offer him water whenever he wakes up. We've been lucky and never been on a really bumpy plane with RC. Based on our experience on a boat, I imagine we'll be cleaning up after him if that changes, regardless of when he was last fed.
Airports and In-Flight
While RC likes to fly, airport terminals are on his least favorite places list. They buzz with activity ... unknown voices ... squeaky wheels ... toots from the airport shuttle carts ... it's just too much stimulus for him. We try to find an unused gate area where we can wait until it's close to boarding time, to minimize his discomfort.
As you pass through airport security in the USA and some European countries, you'll probably have to take your cat out of his carrier. Usually Mark goes through first and takes a jacket or sweater with him. Then, I inform the guards that I have a cat who prefers not to see all these scary strangers and ask if Mark can pass the jacket back to me. I then take RC out of his carrier as quickly as possible and stash him in the coat, throw his carrier on the moving belt for the x-ray machine, and RC and I step through the metal detector. We really stop up traffic, but I'm afraid RC will get away if he's out of his carrier without some place to hide. He's more than happy to jump back in the carrier after this ordeal. If the agents are reluctant to allow you to use something to cover your pet when you remove him from his carrier, try explaining how a cat chase through the airport isn't going to improve security. :) (Continue)
Please do not put your cat through the x-ray machine. Airport x-ray machines are set at very high dosage levels because they are expecting to only examine non-living items. X-rays are very dangerous for you and your pet so please take the extra time and energy to remove your cat from his carrier. This will save you and your pet a lot of pain and grief in the future.
If you're traveling in the USA, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time for the added security -- and possible education of the TSA agents. Although the TSA's web site clearly states that pets should never be put through an x-ray machine, there are stories that show that all the agents aren't up to speed on this topic. Read one story of agents overstepping their authority.
Remember before you take your cat out of his carrier to get rid of all extra metal from your pockets (e.g. coins, keys, metal tags on your cat's collar -- if there's too much total metal between you and your cat, the alarm goes off). It's really frustrating when you keep setting off the alarm and you have a squirming cat in your arms.
We usually inform the airline attendants that we're traveling with a cat and request that we be allowed to pre-board. Even if the airline doesn't offer the convenience of pre-boarding, the attendants usually move us toward the front of the line once we explain how this could prevent our cat from disturbing their other passengers.
RC prefers sitting by the window ... okay, okay ... I prefer to sit by the window ... but he benefits by getting one stable wall so no one can jostle him. We usually don't put a suitcase under the seat next to him which gives him more air flow. We figure stretching our feet out beside him probably adds to his comfort because he detects our scent ... of course, we don't mind the convenience.
If the flight lasts for over 7 hours, I take RC to the restroom with a disposable litter box. If we're flying on one of the more modern airplanes, I look for the restroom for the handicapped ... they are spacious and heavenly when you're trying to cram yourself, a litter box, and a restless cat inside. Otherwise, see if one of the restrooms has a diaper changing table. It gives you more surface space, but be sure to set up the litter box on the floor -- you don't want a sudden shift in the plane to dump your cat and his box. :)
It's taken RC a while to realize when we're traveling and a litter box is offered, he should grab the chance to use it. RC seems to have a 10 to 11 hour bladder and if I can set up a litter box for him 8 to 9 hours after the last time he used it, he'll usually take care of business in seconds. It's important to wait until he shows some sign of restlessness or else it's almost always a wasted effort. Another trick that often works is to feed him in the rest room. He often munchies up and then empties out in minutes.
Of course, we're always prepared for "accidents" and if this is your kitty's first flight, I'd be sure to be ready for your cat to spend more time looking around than using the box ... eventually nature will resolve the issue.
Documents and Red Tape
It doesn't seem to matter where we travel, RC needs a current vet's certificate and rabies certificate to travel by air. Check with both the departure and destination countries about their specific requirements for entering and leaving the country with a four legged friend. RC had to get an export license to fly out of Costa Rica and Thailand, but those have been exceptions. Generally, it's the destination country that has special requirements.
If you're flying within the USA or from the USA to another country, then you'll need an US Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals. Your vet should be able to supply this with ease. Although many European countries don't require the International Certificate be authenticated by the USDA, we think it's worth the extra effort ... the last thing we want is to be told RC can't enter the country because we needed another stamp that's only available on the other side of the Atlantic. See the FAQ for more details about the international health certificate, authentication, plus quarantine and import policies.
If you fly into Mexico, be sure to keep the Mexican Ministry of Health Certificate that you'll receive at the airport. Waving this document around anytime someone questions whether your cat should travel with you makes most challenges disappear.
Flying to and in Europe is as easy as it gets. RC entered Europe the first time via Switzerland and never had to show his papers nor was he inspected by the officials. Another trip into Germany was almost as hassle free, except the official did verify his Rabies vaccination was current. A travelogue I saw several years ago suggests that France has a similar easy entry policy. After traveling for 14 months in Europe, I suspect any European country that allows pets to visit quarantine free will make the entry as seamless.
If you have specific questions about your cat flying with you, see the frequently asked questions section.
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