Help me get my cat home.
May 5, 2009 4:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving home to Toronto after 2 years in Egypt, and I need to take my cat. I know about the immunizations and paperwork, but I am not in control of booking my flight and need to know what to do if I end up with a long layover or a non-pet friendly airline. How does moving half-way around the world work with a cat, exactly?

I've finished my contract with the company I've been working for in Egypt, and as part of the contract, they fly me home from Cairo to Toronto. Because of this, I don't have control over the airline or the flight connections. I have told them I would pay extra for something that is more convenient for kitty.

The first flight they came up with (and the cheapest for them) was flying through Athens, with an overnight there (normally an exciting prospect!). I've asked if there is an alternative, but this might be the one I end up with.

Is it possible to board a cat at an airport (I don't want to take her into Greece - seems like an awful headache for one night)? Will airlines take responsibility for pets overnight? Even if I can get another flight, it's still a long way - do the airlines feed the animals? Or is there another way altogether that I could get her home that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg?

She's also quite small so I might be able to take her in the cabin, but then what do I do with her in the airport while waiting for my connection? (and is crammed under the seat really any better?)

I know this is a lot of questions, but I'm new to travelling with a pet and I'm a bit nervous for her sake and mine.
posted by scrute to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: PS- Yes I know getting a cat when overseas on a medium-term contract is not smart. It was not planned. She found me, and it was a matter of taking her in or letting her die.

What's done is done.
posted by scrute at 4:59 AM on May 5, 2009

I moved my cat from Scotland to the U.S. about three years ago. I used a company that shipped pets and she went back about two months before me. I was worried about having her in the cabin because she is very vocal, and then I found out it wouldn't work anyway because one leg of my flight home involved flying on a smaller plane that didn't allow pets in the cabin. I purchased a larger cat carrier that was approved for airplane flight and she came home in the baggage hold, which is pressurized. I had to go to the veterinarian and get a letter proving she could fly (no health issues, etc.)

I was coming home to the American Midwest and had to arrange with a woman in Chicago to keep her for the night and then put her on a plane the next day to my final destination. The woman did this for a living, so there are people out there who own businesses that take care of this type of thing. If you want some specifics of the companies I used so you could see what they do and possibly find comparable ones for your situation, MeFi mail me.

BTW, this was not cheap and many people will say that this is too stressful on the animal and not worth it. However, I didn't have anyone I could leave the cat with who I trusted and she would have had to go back to the shelter where I got her. I couldn't live with that, so I paid the money and put her through this. Over three years later, she's healthy and happy and I wouldn't have done it differently.

Good luck to you.
posted by snugglebunny at 5:20 AM on May 5, 2009

I'm an American in Cairo and we brought our cat here a few years ago, and we're bringing our small dog with us to the US this summer. Both on the cabin of the plane, which is the best place for them to be. Some airlines won't let animals be checked in the summer because it's hot. Imagine, today, sitting on the tarmac at CAI for two hours in a carrier.

You should definitely plan to bring your cat on the cabin with you, in a carrier you can easily find at a pet store in Cairo (send me a note for store suggestions if you need them). I would tell your employer that you require a pet-friendly airline (my employer had no problem finding a flight where we could bring the cat). Delta has a flight that goes CAI to JFK, and then I'm sure there are tons of flights from JFK to Toronto. The advantage of this is that if you are stuck in the US, well, you're close to home and you should be able to meet the US restrictions for pets pretty easily.

And I wouldn't even consider boarding your cat at the airport. That's a recipe for poor treatment for her, or maybe getting lost. Airports are terrible places for animals.

Even when you're in the airport, she's supposed to stay in her carrier at all times.

One thing you'll need to consider is the requirements of the country you are entering. You'll have to google for that.

The Delta flights have been running less than $1000/person US lately, and is reporting flights from CAI to YYZ on Delta for about $1020. Can you give them a flight suggestion?

Can it really be cheaper for them to pay for you to overnight in Athens? Are they really unwilling to let you pay the difference? This seems really unreasonable to me.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:40 AM on May 5, 2009

By the way, you have checked Canada's importation requirements, right?
posted by bluedaisy at 5:41 AM on May 5, 2009

These are the Canadian "cat import" rules - make sure you've got prerequisites handled when making the rest of your plans.
posted by batmonkey at 8:27 AM on May 5, 2009

It's been since the 80's, when I last flew with a cat, and that was Toots, the best cat ever (see posting history). Toots wasn't a very sociable cat (a bit timid) but she wasn't antisocial, either. And then we flew together. How weird: this cat sat quietly in the open carrier, in the vacant seat next to me, was quiet, and accepted all the homage offered by the flight crew (Toots was a beauty). I flew again with her a few years latter, and got the same behavior.

I can only suppose that part of what was happening there, was Toots trusted me. I was calm and accepted the surroundings, so she figured I knew what was going on (and thank Bubastus, she never peed in her carrier. She pooed a little once, and that was easy enough to remove with a bit of paper and toss down the pot in the plane's bathroom). The flight crew didn't mind at all that I didn't keep her under the seat the entire time. The airline was clever enough to do whatever it is they do to keep the adjacent seat vacant (after all, any random person might complain about the cat).

Of course, this was all before the airlines were struggling. And the flights weren't as long as Egypt to Toronto (although the second trip was NYC to LA). Obviously, YMMV. Toots may have been quiet and still because there was no escape from All Those People.
posted by Goofyy at 9:17 AM on May 5, 2009

Once upon a time, I found this guide to traveling with pets on United very informative.

You probably won't end up flying on United, but I expect that some of the issues are the same. (E.g., in-cabin pets are allowed for a hefty fee -- on United it's around $200 each way -- but you have to make a special advance reservation because only a few pets are allowed per flight.)
posted by chalkbored at 9:41 AM on May 5, 2009

On Delta the fee is $150, and chalk is right that you have to make reservations in advance to bring the animal.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:52 AM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all - this is all helpful. I have looked at the Canadian regulations and will have all the paperwork in place.

But is there anyone else who has sent their pet on ahead or had them shipped after? I'm worried this might end up being my own option.
posted by scrute at 11:15 AM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: This is a fair bit after the fact - kitty made it to Canada, and I did take her in the cabin. People were generally quite good, and the crew were great (my carrier was actually a little too big, but they found a way to accomodate it.)

BUT - I wanted to add a note in case anyone finds this post when trying to accomplish the same thing.

Knowing what I know, I would say that if it is at all feasible, make sure that your pet meets the entry requirements of any connecting city, as well as your destination. Obviously this isn't always possible, but sometimes there are glitches. We made it half-way across the Atlantic and had to turn around and go back to Frankfurt. Kitty and I spent the night in Frankfurt before flying again in the morning. The airline paid for a hotel, but I couldn't get her out of the airport into Germany and ended up having to kennel her with Lufthansa. It was a big hassle to sort out, took a couple of hours when I really just wanted to be out of there, and made a stressful experience a lot more stressful for both of us. I had all the paperwork, but she didn't have a microchip (not needed to come to Canada) - with that I simply could have taken her to the hotel with me. There were two dogs on the plane as well - one went to the kennel and one went to the hotel.

Turning around is unusual, but missing connecting flights and flight cancellations, not so much. If I ever fly her through Continental Europe again, I'm going to make sure she can get into the country if she needs to.
posted by scrute at 10:49 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

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