What to bring
· A paper from the cat's vet to prove health, current weight, and that shots are up to date.
· A comfy carrier (either hard or soft) that adheres to the airline's size limitations and is labeled with your name and contact information. Line it with a blanket and add a favorite toy or two. We use two airline blankets and a cuddly toy.
· A credit card ready to pay the airline's pet fee at the airport's check-in counter. These fees range from $75 to $125 each way. Delta's is on the high end, at $125.
How to go through airport security
The cat must stay in the carrier at all times, with the exception of during the security check. At this point, you'll want to be as streamlined and prepared as possible because, along with sending any other luggage and your shoes through the X-ray, you'll be removing the cat from the carrier and sending the bag through as well. Cradle your cat and walk through the metal detector.
While still holding the cat, you must have your hands swabbed to test for explosives, and then reorganize yourself and replace your cat in the carrier. Jetson is only curious of other people around, but we get a good grip on his harness just in case he decides to make a run for it.
Flight 1: New York-LaGuardia to Detroit-Metro on an Airbus A320
We take a taxi to LaGuardia with our luggage and the cat. LaGuardia is actually an excellent airport for pet travel, as it's a quick trip by car from the city and there's no super long walks.
We're confirmed for an Economy Comfort seat, which boasts several more inches of legroom than a standard economy seat, but does require another small fee. We bypass this fee by having SkyTeam frequent flyer status. At the gate, our boarding pass ding-dings and we're handed an upgrade to First Class!* This will be Jetson's first time in First, which on a Delta A320 is made up of only six leather seats. As pets must fit under the seat in front of a passenger, the first row is ruled out.
With Jetson in his carrier, easily tucked under the seat in front, we settle in ourselves. Our seatmate is curious about Jetson and asks his name. The flight progresses just fine, Jetson takes a nap, and we arrive to Detroit without a hitch. What seems to help him stay calm in the situation is looking up at us to be reassured. When he's not napping, he makes more eye contact with us than usual, and we reply with soft words and an optimistic expression.
Flight 2: Detroit-Metro to New York-LaGuardia on an Airbus A320
Security at Detroit-Metro's McNamara Terminal was even smoother than at LaGuardia. For one, the TSA agents apparently don't see cats coming through very often and were delighted (rather than annoyed) to deal with us. For another thing, Detroit's McNamara Terminal is a modern airport with proper space for security checks, whereas LaGuardia is not and can feel cramped.
This flight didn't surprise with a First Class upgrade, so we took our assigned window seat in Economy Comfort. The underseat area in front of our feet had plenty room for Jetson's carrier, and the 2-hour flight passed without incident.
Although it's highway robbery to charge more for a pet than for a human adult to fly, the ease with which we travel with a cat means we plan on making Jetson quite the jetsetter. The key is streamlining your own baggage, being educated about extra fees, and hopefully getting your cat accustomed to travel from a young age. Any tips of your own? Share in the comments!
*The upgrade comes because we have SkyTeam Elite Gold status. This also means we get Economy Comfort seats without having to pay the additional fee, which ranges depending on the length of flight.
Looking for more pet travel information? Check out our guide to airline pet fees for 2013.