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Email to the Ratlady

sent: 6/05/2005

Howdy Ratlady,
And greetings from New Orleans with my adorable rat Macy!

A couple months ago my aunt Eleanor sent the inquiry below, regarding air travel with a rat. You kindly replied with great detailed info and suggestions. My sweetMacybaby is the last survivor of three sisters that I adopted almost three years ago, and there’s no way I was going to abandoned her in my move from CA to LA! I want to let you know how that turned out.

After receiving your tips, I immediately started preparing to sneak Macy on a plane. I obtained an inconspicuous plastic carrier to bring in my backpack, and my mom began experimenting with different sizes and configurations for a pouch to strap under my shirt. As my departure date drew closer though, I became rather anxious about getting caught. Standing 6’6”, I have a hard time keeping a low profile, and my slender build made it difficult to hide the bulge even under the loosest-fitting shirt I own. I considered other options of bringing Macy through the metal detector doorway. A coworker insisted that security never checks beverage containers, and suggested walking her through in a Big-gulp cup. However, Macy tends to chatter and squeak at times, so that was a risk no matter how I tried to conceal her. The last straw for me came when an acquaintance who works in Baggage at San Jose International told me that security had recently gone on “high-alert” there, even though this was not officially announced to the public. He also spooked me upon mentioning that I could theoretically be charged with a felony if I were caught sneaking contraband onto an airplane.

I was getting desperate! Since I had earlier gotten nowhere phoning the various airlines, I headed over to the airport one day less than three weeks before my planned departure date. Dressed in my nicer work clothes and armed with two photos of Macy at her absolute cutest, I prepared to deliver a rehearsed personal plea to anyone who would listen. (For a second I even contemplated producing some tears-on-demand, before determining that this technique would make me appear more pathetic than sympathetic). As one who doesn’t travel often, I was anticipating a row of corporate offices where I could recite my pitch to head honchos. Upon stepping into SJC though, I quickly realized that there were no high- or even medium-ranking officials waiting around to talk to me. So I hesitantly approached the end of the check-in line for America West, which offered the cheapest one-way fare to New Orleans, but whose web site states that only “One small domestic dog, cat, or bird per passenger” is allowed in the cabin for an $80 fee. When my turn finally came to step up to the counter, I explained to the agent that I was not traveling on that day. Rather, I was just about to quit my Mechanical Engineering job to become a public school teacher in Louisiana (Establishing the “I’m such a good guy” vibe). However, my biggest stress at that moment was that I had been unable to find any airline with a friendly pet policy that would allow me to take my “domestic mouse” with me (deftly avoiding any unfortunate “rat” prejudice). Then I flashed the two photos – One being a baby photo with Macy and her sisters all cuddled together on my shoulder, and the other more recent photo showing her peeking out from the front of my shirt collar. With no teeth or tail visible in either photo, her cuteness was undeniable to all but the most hardened animal hater. I ended my case with an appeal for just one airline to step forward and help me resolve my dilemma.

The turning point in my story is stunningly anticlimactic. “Oh sure, you can take your pet mouse with you” said the America West agent in the most matter-of-fact tone. She explained that all I had to do was purchase my ticket as I normally would, presumably over the internet. Then I would call the internet support number which would appear as I complete the purchase, and explain that I’m bringing my “mouse” with me. (This number, 1-800-327-7810, was different from the customer support line that had originally told me rodents weren’t allowed.) I wouldn’t even be charged until check-in on the day of my flight. Of course I wrote down the agent’s name before leaving the counter, but the entire process went exactly as she described. Macy was even issued her own confirmation number. I’m still puzzled by the discrepancy with their stated policy on the Web, but I didn’t ask questions.

A week ago I checked in with America West at SJC. I “forgot” to mention that I had a pet in my carry-on bag, and thereby avoided the ridiculous $80 pet charge. I walked through the security gate with Macy perched on my shoulder. No one ever bothered to check her health certificate. I put Macy back in her travel cage during boarding and flight, but occasionally reached in to pet her. The whole day of travel went extremely smoothly, and we arrived in New Orleans about 8 hours later. The next day I picked up my car, which had been shipped a couple weeks prior, and retrieved Macy’s full-size rat cage from the trunk. She’s now back to living the spoiled life to which she’s become accustomed. I know Macy is approaching the latter days of her life expectancy, but she still seems to have plenty of energy and spirit left in her. I can now focus on adjusting to my new career path and new life in a new part of the country. I chose to undertake these drastic changes with a sense of adventure, but leaving Macy behind was a change that I certainly was not willing to make!

Thank you again for your wonderful response to my aunt’s inquiry. Even though I didn’t end up having to sneak my sweetMacybaby on the plane, you alerted me to some issues that helped me plan out a successful trip and keep her very happy!