Flying with Kitties

I would now like to share with anyone that I can the wonderful program that helped me get our kitties Jack and Zoe, two kitties who can barely handle the .5 mile drive to the vet, safely and healthily from Cleveland to Seattle.

The first thing to remember is that I have 2 cats. Yes, it is very common for people to bring pets right into the cabin with them, placing them in a soft-sided carrier and under the seat in front of them. The airline (as do most airlines) only allowed one pet per passenger in the cabin. I was travelling alone (George was driving), so at least one of the kitties would have to fly in cargo. I did not think it would be useful for the two of them to be separated. According to the airline regulations you may only have one animal per carrier, but at least they would sit together.

In January of 2012, United Airlines made the following announcement:

“As part of our efforts to merge the policies and airport procedures of our two airlines, on March 3, United will adopt PetSafe®, Continental’s award-winning program for traveling with animals.”

This is their ” Pet Cargo” program. The pet’s travel is booked separately from the owner, through a separate booking entity. The sooner you book, the more likely you are to be on the same flight. Yes, there’s the possibility you will not be on the same flight. Again, the sooner you book, the more likely you are to be on the same flight. I was right on the edge and got lucky. I would have booked the travel earlier, but confirmation of when our housing would be available in Seattle did not arrive until the very last minute. Fortunately I spoke with a wonderful, helpful customer service rep at PetSafe®.

At this point it is important to get a rough idea of what different planes look like. When you go to the airline web site or to Expedia or whatever, they always list the type of plane that is flying that route. PetSafe® approved planes are always going to be large planes that have a large cargo area. The cargo area for PetSafe® planes is temperature controlled for the safety of the animals. This pretty much eliminates any flights via the normal path of Cleveland to Chicago to Seattle. All of the flights to Chicago are commuter planes that are too small to qualify. You will be going either through San Francisco or Houston or something else like that. We went through Houston. So when I called PetSafe® I had a list of flights up on my laptop screen so I could sync up with the person on the line. She was wonderfully patient and worked with me to find the right fit.

Oh yeah…there are no direct flights anymore from Cleveland to Seattle. Yep. Sucks. BUT, the pets are well taken care of at the connection, and the booking agent’s goal is to ensure they find the flights with the shortest travel durations.

  • At the start of the trip, at the stops, and at the final destination, PetSafe® trained staff will be responsible for your pet. The pets are the last on the plane and the first off at each stop.
  • For the safety of your pet, they do not allow you to place food into the pet carrier. You are asked on the labels you are to put on the carrier to list the time of day the animal last was fed, and when they should be fed again. You are allowed to attach a baggie of dry food to the top of the carrier, and should there be a delay that runs into meal time, they will feed your pet for you.
  • You are asked to attach 2 bowls to the inside of the carrier door (you can find these at your local pet store with the travel supplies). They must be empty. Your pet will be provided with water at the start of the flight, and at each stop, along with their safety inspection.
  • Temperature controlled, sanitary PetSafe® vans transport pets from the terminal to the planes, including connections.

The other thing that made me feel good about this program was the myriad of requirements and restrictions they have outlined. They only take pets of certain ages. Owners of older pets are advised to have certain additional health tests conducted by the vet. They won’t take certain breeds due to tendencies to have various ailments that may make air travel dangerous. You are not allowed to drug your pet. You must have a minimum of loose items in the carrier to prevent the animal from being injured should there be turbulence. It seems like a lot, but really, it is all for the safety of your pet (and of course to prevent law suits), and really shows they have considerable experience in the area.

I will be honest. I was a bundle of nerves through the whole trip. I could care less if my luggage got to Seattle…as long as my kitties were safe. It was like a stab in the gut when I had to drop them off. The “Cargo Office” sounds, and honestly looked, so incredibly industrial. But one thing made a huge difference. When I called, AND when I arrived, the people I encountered were all-business-blah as you would imagine a cargo office would be…until I said I had pets. Then it was a whole other ballgame. Tone of voice changed completely, and the person on the other line was suddenly a concerned, caring, kind care-taker of my pets, understanding that in dealing with me, they were dealing with a fragile person who needed reassurance that everything was going to be just fine.

And it was. Again, start early, and read the instructions carefully. Create a travel check-list even. I bought the carriers weeks before we left, and had them out for the kitties to hang out with. I also followed the advice of the PetSafe® rep and put pillow cases from the pillows we had been using that week into the carriers so they had our scent close by. Little things like that made a huge difference.

Thank you United & Continental!


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