Cat on a Plane: We Couldn’t Let Skyler Out of the Bag at 30,000 Feet

I recently spent several hours in the sky with Skyler, my son’s 6-year-old cat. She was my carry-on luggage on a flight from St. Louis to New York City. My son and Skyler were moving there for his new job. 

Oh, the things we do for our children! 

Transporting a cat this way never seems like a great idea unless you’re the cat whisperer, which I clearly am not. I’ve never owned a cat. I’ve had several dogs and have taken care of Skyler in her own surroundings when my son has traveled. That meant giving her food, water and some company. But placing Skyler into a cat carrier for at least five hours and placing her under some stranger’s seat in front of us was a first.   

We did our homework by calling the airlines to confirm that Skyler could travel in the airplane cabin and making a reservation for “the cat.” Fortunately, at less than 20 pounds, she fit the parameters as did her cat case. My son got copies of her shot papers from the vet to carry with us just in case anyone questioned her healthfulness. Then, to get the cat used to the case, one week before departure my son put an old towel in there with some of her favorite toys and unzipped the front flap so Skyler could come and go as she pleased. 

Of course, the first question I asked my son was: “Can we drug her?” He was hesitant. So, I asked a good friend of mine who is a veterinarian what to do. He said “no” to tranquilizers. Cats often don’t do well on them. In fact, rather than calm her down, it could have the opposite effect and rev her up. He suggested that we buy Feliway, which contains synthetic cat pheromones that helps a cat relax, and spritz the cat carrier with it. Feliway comes in a tiny spray bottle that rivals the cost of an inexpensive but fine French perfume. 

Moving day arrived. I was nervous, but it was a carpe-diem kind of nervous. I kept telling myself: I can do this! It’s an adventure. Could I seize it? Yes. 

My son stepped out of his car carrying Skyler in the case like he was transporting explosive glass. He carefully handed the carrier to me and mentioned sheepishly, “We have to take her out of the case to go through security.” 

“How do we do that?” I bristled. 

My active imagination got going. I had visions of her bounding out of the case and running through the terminal while we chased after her calling, “Skyler. Come back.” She’d completely ignore us, as cats are wont to do, and race to a secure area where we weren’t allowed. We’d go in there anyway to grab her and a security guard would grab us instead. Then an announcement would blast over the PA system: “Cat on the run. Security breach. All flights are on hold.” Naturally, all this would appear on the nightly news with a headshot of the three of us.  

Fortunately, nothing at all like that transpired. 

Instead… A friend of my son’s who is a cat person and was on a different flight, agreed to meet us at security to help get the cat out of the bag…literally. We carefully unzipped the carrier. She popped out of the case like a toaster pastry and into my son’s arms. On the other end of security, my son’s friend and I were there to gently place Skyler back into the carrier and quickly zip the case.   

In fact, the only one who was calm that day was Skyler. My son and I could have used the tranquilizers. We went to the gate. Skyler was quiet. My son was not. He was coughing and sneezing. “I know I’m getting sick. I feel awful. I have a headache.” No complaints from the cat, however. She figured the best way to communicate with us was to keep her mouth shut. 

We boarded and shoved Skyler in her case under the seat in front. She didn’t wince; she meowed to let us know she was still there. And then the plane took off. 

I felt if Skyler could express her feelings at that moment to us, it might go something like this: 

“This may sound muffled for I am shoved in a box under a stranger’s seat in an airplane at 30,000-plus feet up. Like any cat worth her salt, I am trying not to throw up. But we are going so fast. I really want to go back home where I have my safe spots--behind the sofa I completely destroyed with my claws. Under your bed dad that is now on its way to NYC in a moving van. In your suitcase or my favorite cardboard box.  

“I am still as I listen to people around me. The rapid fire talking about this and that. I wish they’d be quiet about their dysfunctional upbringings, friends and family chatter, their jobs that they inflate the importance of, the lowest points in heir lives. How would they like to be stuck where I am right now? 

“I want to hit terra ferma--and soon. I’m hungry and have to go to the bathroom. I’m not upset with you, dad. I will adjust. But understand that some things will never change even in a new place. I still will find it necessary to bundle myself in any of your clothing, sheets, and towels without asking, have free run of my new home, and take over any cardboard boxes, suitcases and paper bags. Also, it goes without saying that I will always come into your bed at night, jump up and down on your face, and meow for attention until we both collapse.” 

We deplaned and once we arrived at Skyler’s new digs, she checked out the space then hid under the bathroom vanity for hours. It was only after one of my sisters who lives in the same city laid down a new area rug she purchased for my son that Skyler emerged and unleashed a spectacular performance. She rolled around on the carpet and wagged her tail in victory. My son was euphoric, just as any proud parent would be. With a big smile, he shared with all of us “Skyler, you make me so very proud.”

Mission accomplished.


As for me, who needs this stress? Like an airplane, stress is always ready to take off. Mine was in overdrive. I should have sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Instead, because I was sad my son was moving away, I overstepped my role in trying to be helpful. Now that my son and his cat are ensconced in their new home, it’s time for me to move on. They certainly have done so.


1 comment

  • Debbie W.

    My cat and I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Well done Meg .

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