Since I’ve been back, one of the thing that people want to hear about the most is how Charlie fared on the long plane ride to the U.S.
In a nutshell, he was fine.
And it is surprisingly simple to travel with a cat from Chile to the US. The following are the steps I took to do so. Hopefully this will be helpful for anyone considering traveling with a pet!
1. Decide to bring your cat in the cabin or as luggage. For me it was a no-brainer: I took him as a carry on with me in the cabin. This will somewhat limit your airline options: Delta, Air Canada and COPA were the three I could fly from Santiago to the U.S., but I wanted the peace of mind of having Charlie with me.
2. Buy your ticket.
3. Call the airline and make a pet reservation within 24 hours of buying your ticket.
4. If you don’t have a carrier, buy one. Make sure it fits with the airline’s regulations in terms of size and material. For example, a friend traveled with her cat on COPA and the carrier had to be hard-sidedand made of plastic or wood (?). For Air Canada, it could be hard-sided or soft-sided, but the airline preferred soft-sided.
5. Within 7 days of traveling, bring your pet to the vet. Make sure you are up to date on all vaccines, especially Rabies. Ask the vet for a health certificate.
6. Take the health certificate to SAG, which is on Av. Portales 3296 in Estacion Central (or check their website for other locations outside of Santiago). Here, they will check over your health certificate and emit and official looking document saying that your pet is healthy. If you were planning on returning to Chile with your pet, you could do so within 21 days. You have to pay around CH $5.000 for this document.
7. The day of traveling, take away food and water about 6 hours before putting your cat in the carrier. I chose not to give Charlie any tranquilizers because I read that there can be complications, especially with the altitude involved in air travel. One thing I did do was have the carrier around in the apartment for a few months before he had to travel. He slept on top of it or in it a lot (of his own volition) so it had familiar smells. I also put his favorite stuffed animal and toy in there.
8. They say to get to the airport a little early if you are traveling with a pet, but I was running a little late. Come to find out, there was a problem with the Air Canada flight so I ended up flying Delta, whose flight was an hour later, so I was fine.
9. When you go through security, you have to take the pet out of the carrier and carry him through the metal detector. In Chile, this was no problem because it’s a relatively small airport and it doesn’t have the stress of U.S. Security. In Atlanta, it was not fun. I had Charlie out of his carrier and the TSA agent said that I had to take my sweatshirt off (I had already taken off my jacket). Then, I couldn’t go through the x-ray machine (because apparently it’s dangerous for animals…ALSO DANGEROUS FOR HUMANS…but that is another rant), so I had to go to the other side of the security apparatus and wait for them to swab my hands for explosives, all the time holding Charlie. He was not happy by all of the people and was getting freaked out. I was really glad I had put a harness on him that I could hold onto because he is a wiggly fellow.
10. Charlie was a gem flying. I positioned the carrier under the seat so he could look up at me, and he hardly made a peep. On my flight from Atlanta to Hartford the ladies sitting next to me didn’t even realize he was there until we were exiting the plane.
11. Charlie didn’t go to the bathroom at all while in the carrier. Everyone who I talked to told me he wouldn’t but I didn’t quite believe it. It was true, though!
12. When I got to customs in Atlanta, I had to go through a special “Agricultural” line, where the inspector asked to see his Rabies vaccine. However, as I was getting the paperwork out of my bag, she barely glanced at it before saying, “Ok, fine, go on through.” The U.S. didn’t care AT ALL about the SAG paperwork, and I kind of wonder if I really had to do it, but I wanted to be sure. Also, the airline didn’t have any specific requirement, but it’s best to check with the individual airline to make sure.
13. It was hard for him to adjust to being in a new place. He didn’t eat for about two days. I asked the local vet and she suggested giving him Fancy Feast so he would eat something, and that seemed to work. I also bought a special spray that imitates cats pheromones and sprayed it around so he would feel calmer. Not sure if that worked, or if he just gradually got used to his new surroundings.
Traveling with Charlie was pretty stressful, but not as bad as I thought it would be. He didn’t meow constantly or pee in his carrier. Most people who saw him thought he was beautiful and wanted to pet him or let him out of his carrier. I didn’t let him out at all, but did open one end so he could stick his head out. But mostly, he wanted to be safe inside where there weren’t any scary noises or new things.
I hope this is helpful for people considering traveling with a cat. It’s not as hard as it may seem, and 100 percent worth the extra effort.