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I'm going to be graduating this May and I'm looking at moving from the midwest to the west coast, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to get Vala there.

I have a friend who's offered the two of us a place to stay rent free for a couple months while I look for a job/apt. He doesn't have a lot of space, though, so I don't want to take most of my stuff out there until I have my own place. So I figured I would fly out with Vala as my carry-on and a checked bag or two crammed with everything I can't live without for a few months. I don't own a car and as I said I don't want to take a lot of stuff at first so driving out (either renting a car or having a family member take me) seems unnecessary.

Vala's fairly easy going and likes adventure, so I'm not too worried about the stress being too much for her. But the size limitations on carriers for fitting under seats looks awfully small. And looking at airlines, it looks like Southwest has the cheapest airfare, pet fees, and two free checked bags, all of which makes me think they'd be a good fit, but they also specify:

The animals must be harmless, not disruptive, odorless, and require no attention during flight.
It's the not disruptive and requires no attention thing that worries me. Because while she's pretty mellow, Vala can be very, uh, vocal when she wants attention.

Does anyone have any experience with flying with pets? How strict are airlines usually? Would some place like Petco carry the airline compliant carriers and would they let me stick her in one before I buy just to see if she fits comfortably?

Also, it's impossible for me to get a completely direct flight from where I am to where I'm going. I even looked at other airports several hours away, but nothing within a reasonable distance will get me there directly. So she'd be in that carrier for awhile (everywhere I've looked so far looks like it'll be a minimum of 5 hours). There are some flights where we stop but don't change planes, and some where we do change planes. Which do you think would be better? No change means she remains in a fairly quiet environment and there's less bumping about with me carrying her all over, but she's cooped up for the whole time. A change means I might have time to find a pet area where I could let her out on a leash for a little bit, but there'd be a lot more commotion and stimulation, and just because she's a mellow cat doesn't mean she never gets freaked out.

I wanna do what's best for her, I'm just not sure what that is.
 

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Hmm, I just asked this question about a month ago as well. :p

If I wind up having to move home it'll be a 5 hour flight (plus 2 hours in a car) or 4 days of driving. I have a soft sided carrier that is 17Lx12Hx10W that he uses to go to the vet. Continental required it be 17Lx12.5Hx8W. That's plenty tall and long enough for Mow but 8W is a bit narrow for him. Continental will rent you a carrier for 55.00 but it's a hard carrier and goodness knows how well they sanitize between pets.

From all the research I did MOST people said that if the seat next to them was empty the airline was ok with them (don't ask/don't tell)putting the pet up on the seat next to them (in the carrier of course) SO my thought was that I'd buy an extra ticket. One middle seat and one window. That way I might be able to tuck him into the window seat and the attendant might not say anything. Of course, i'm risking the cost of a ticket if they object. This was another plus side to the soft carrier, it could be a little bigger (squashable to fit under the seat until after take off) and if he could be on the seat next to me have a few extra inches of room.

ALso, they only allow a certain AMOUNT of animals per flight so if you have to fly you want to book early and let them know you'll be bringing an animal to reserve her spot.

There were tons of opinions on drugging/not drugging and that's my biggest worry too. MowMow is *VERY* vocal when he wants something. The longer he's ignored the louder he gets. I still haven't decided on what to do about drugging him if I have to do this...

As for letting her out to walk around... I don't know that I'd do that with my guy. He's pretty laid back too but that's a lot of noise with cars going by, planes flying low overhead, people talking, and such. Also, it's not like she's going to use the bathroom out there in the pet area. :p

You could always box up your stuff and ship it ahead of you via UPS/Fedex so it arrives just before you do. That way she won't have to wait while you work your way through baggage claim/etc. You can just deboard, find your friend, and get in the car.

Oh, one other suggestion I read was to line the bottom of the carrier with towels stacked on top of each other and put ziplock (Gallon size) baggies in your purse/pet carrier. That way if there is an accident you can roll up the towel, stuff it in the ziplock baggie and ask them to throw it away. No mess/no smell (which I'm sure the other passengers will appreciate).
 
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