How to take your pet on a plane

How to take your pet on a plane


When the time came to take Ares, our 13 lb. mountain lion-infused Korean persian home to America, I felt prepared.  At 3 am I loaded all my worldly possessions into a bus bound for Seoul, 6 hours away.  In my hand I had Ares, neatly packed into his airline approved hard carrier.  I was calm.  I stowed my luggage under the bus and thanked the bus driver in flawless Korean.  I was a legend.  Tawny would be following along a couple weeks later. Tonight I was alone, just me and the cat.  I was poised.  I mounted the steps to the bus with an air of confidence.  That was, until the bus driver told me to put Ares under the bus.

I lost my s!%#.

After 10 minutes of explaining to the driver that there was a snowball’s chance in hell that I was going to stick my cat under the bus for 6 hours, he finally let me on.  I had to sit in the seat reserved for children and the elderly with my hyperventilating cat on my lap.  This is how our 20 hour journey began.

I love my cat.  And Sour Patch kids.  Mostly my cat.

If you’re a traveler, you will more than likely find yourself in a position to travel with your pet. According to National Geographic, “Six out of ten American households have a pet… More than half of all pet owners (60 percent) bought a dog or a cat on a trip in 2010.” As it turns out, Tawny and I are no exception to that statement. While teaching abroad in South Korea we fell in love.  His name is Ares.  You can watch Tawny swoon for the first time below.


However, after the initial courting period, the cold truth came to dawn upon us.  We were going to have to get this lynx sized, saber clawed, baby home.  This was the first time we had to ask, “how do you transport a cat on Delta?”  What do you need to do? Are there shots? Can he fly with you? Will he be safe under the plane?

Ares attempts to package himself didn’t seem like enough.  We had some research to do.

This is what we found.

Things you need to do to take your pet home to the US

  1. Make sure they have their rabies shot and the paper work to confirm the vaccination.
  2. Get a health check-up with a local veterinarian and a signed note saying that they are OK to travel.
  3. Buy an airline approved hard carrier for your pet if they are going to fly under the plane in the designated (and pressurized) pet compartment.
  4. Buy a soft carrier if your pet can fit under your seat. They will be designated as a carry on.
  5. Line the pet carrier with wet pads for accidents.
  6. The night before you fly, freeze their water in the pet carrier’s dish. This way it will defrost as you travel and give your pet water to drink without spilling in transit.
  7. Bring your paperwork to the airport customs office before you depart. They will have an office specifically for pets. Show them the paperwork to prove that they have a clean bill of health and a rabies shot.
  8. Drink. Take that edge off.

If you want to take your cat or dog home from South Korea (and many other countries) to the US, there is a narrow window for their shots. You will need to get their rabies shots at least two months before your flight. We almost missed the deadline. Also, call ahead to make sure that your airline carrier allows pet to come on-board.  Ares was too big to put under my seat so I let him ride in the pressurized pet compartment below the plane. The stewardess brought him fresh water every hour as we flew from Japan to Seattle.  I was drinking the whole time.  I don’t do well with animal related stress.  Normally I just carry my dog around, I’ve never had to trust animal transport to a third party before.

I have to say though, I was really impressed with Delta. When I touched down to transfer flights in Japan they were very calm and assured me that Ares was doing well. When we arrived in Seattle they personally hand delivered him to me with the utmost care.  When I kept asking for scotch on the flight over the stewardess got wise and told me that she would check on Ares herself.


If you have any questions about how to take your pet on a plane internationally or how to drink scotch, leave them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear your stories!

6 thoughts on “How to take your pet on a plane

    • Author gravatar

      Major cat envy going on!

      #6 = brilliant!

    • Author gravatar

      Very useful tips! thanks! the matter is that it’s harder to find spots and accommodations admitting pets, rather than flying with them!
      However, your pcs of your kitties are gorgeous!

    • Author gravatar

      Fly all the time with my Fuzziers and so far smooth sailing. About to take her on her first road trip this week.

    • Author gravatar

      I used Delta’s Pet service to “ship” my Norwegian Forest Cat, Riley, from Michigan to California. I know they’ve received some “bad press,” but this was a very good experience for me since I was comforted by the fact they have a pressurized area of cargo where the pets are placed. You are right that the best way to travel with a cat is “don’t” but if you have to (as you certainly didn’t want to leave your pets in Korea, these are great tips…and the scotch is a bonus!

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