When I was in college in California, I had a pet Ball Python that was a little shorter than my arm. I wanted to take him back with me to Wisconsin for the Summer Break, so I read up on the official requirements from the airline.

It wasn't pretty. I needed to put him in a cloth bag, then put the bag inside a cardboard box, then put the box inside a wooden box. I also needed a signed document from a veterinarian that he didn't have any diseases. And oh yeah, there was also that $150 "Because we have to take your icky animal on the plane" charge. I still wanted to be an upstanding citizen, so I made an appointment with the local veterinarian.

She advised me to smuggle him. She made a few good points: Snakes are very laid back, they don't bite unless provoked, and they don't make the mess or noise of dogs and cats, which are regularly carried on planes without as much fuss.

So I did smuggle him, very successfully, four times.

Here's what you'll need to do it yourself:

  1. Using the scissors, cut off one sleeve of the old sweater, so that you have a long tube made of cloth.
  2. Using the beads, tie off both ends of the sweater. I tried using string for this step, but it really didn't hold as well.
  3. Strip down to a t-shirt.
  4. Add more beads to your cloth tube in two loops, then put your arms through the loops.
  5. Adjust the bead strings so that your cloth tube is hanging alongside your belly button.
  6. Remove the tube from your body and loosen one end.
  7. Patiently insert the snake into the tube. If you try to force him, he'll resist, so just kind of ease him in, and he'll go on his own. Snakes like to crawl into holes.
  8. Tie off the tube with your beads again, and put it back on your body.
  9. Put the baggy sweater on top. Make sure it bags out mostly in the front.

Now you're ready to go to the airport. Some tips on getting through security:

  1. The idea here is that you want to get past security as fast as possible while attracting minimal attention. Remember this.
  2. Wear no jewelry or metal items. This is why we tied the sweater with plastic beads. If you have a watch, take it off and put it in your carry-on bag. Make sure your shoes don't have any metal studs. You want to go through the detector in one pass. You DON'T want to be stopped and swept with the hand gadget. It won't pick up the snake, but if he decides to squirm as you're getting scanned, they'll likely notice.
  3. Dress conservatively. You don't want to wear anything that will attract too much attention to yourself. If you wear a sweater with a somewhat random pattern, that will help break up the image of a suspicious bulge in front of you.
  4. Above all, act normal. You aren't smuggling drugs or explosives, so you have nothing to fear from dogs. Act like this is the 20th time you've been through the checkpoint, and you just want to get to the gate.

Once you're past security, it's smooth sailing. My snake was very calm through the whole trip, and only really acted up when we were on the plane in the air. I covered him calmly with my hand, and slowly stroked him through the sweater, which calmed him down.

Finally, when you get to your destination, the best way to let your snake out is to untie the tube and place it in his new home, and let him crawl out himself. After one expedition, I put my snake into a cage that smelled like its previous snake, and the combination of the unfamiliar smell and the seven hours of being cooped up caused him to strike at my hand. It wasn't anything serious, fortunately, since Pythons don't have sharp teeth, but it was surprising.

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