Transport a cat internationally in hot weather
June 16, 2019 10:37 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine is moving and trying to figure out how to transport her cat from New Orleans to London, England in August. But she's running into difficulty because the airlines won't transport animals in the hold in hot weather. Are there any solutions we're not thinking of?

Maybe she could travel by boat somehow with her cat? Or any other ideas? Thank you.
posted by hazyjane to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there a reason why her cat can't ride in a soft carrier in the cabin with her? When I moved across country in July, my giant-ass cat managed to fit under the seat in front of me. (He was suuuuuper drugged, and honestly I probably should have been too, but we all did just fine.)
posted by kalimac at 10:48 AM on June 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think you might talk to different airlines and see who can fly a pet in the cabin.

The Queen Mary 2 allows pets, but it's expensive and you have to book way in advance.

Hopefully your friend has already started vaccinations and chipping and such.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:00 AM on June 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't think cats can fly internationally in the cabin unfortunately - only domestically. She had started the process.
posted by hazyjane at 11:06 AM on June 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are several airlines that definitely allow international in-cabin pet travel: Air Canada, Delta, JetBlue, Air France except in business class, and some United flights (you have to ask about the individual flight).

She may need to drive to a non-local airport in order to access one of these airlines, but since she’s willing to go to the trouble of boat travel, the extra drive might be easier.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:18 AM on June 16, 2019 [7 favorites]

Condor Airlines has direct flights a couple of times a week between New Orleans and Frankfurt and seems to allow you to book a small pet with you beforehand. They have connecting flights to London through Lufthansa, so you would have to check their policy, too. At worst she could probably take a train from Frankfurt.

I know some of the airlines are fist come, first served and have a limited number of total pets allowed in the cabin, so you may show up to the airport and find they can not travel with you. I would not recommend having an animal fly in the hold at any time, no matter what the weather. The Condor flights seem to be fairly cheap as well as I believe they are still a promotional fare for the new route.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 11:38 AM on June 16, 2019

Just chiming in to say yes, your friend really shouldn’t transport her cat in the hold. I speak from personal experience: twenty years ago I sent a dog on a two-hour flight in the hold of a plane because I didn’t know any better, and she was super-traumatized. (And was not generally a nervous animal: she was very chill normally.) I felt terrible and vowed I would never do it again. I think it would be worse for a cat, probably, because they tend to be more vigilant and situationally aware. So yeah I would definitely explore in-cabin options.

This article says her best bet is to fly to Paris with the animal in-cabin and then take the tunnel or a ferry to London from there.

Good luck to your friend and her cat!
posted by Susan PG at 12:02 PM on June 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

Has your friend already looked into quarantine or other immigration requirements for moving her cat? I assume so, but if not, she should begin that process now. She may wish -- or need -- to use a transport service for this process.

That aside, I agree with the above: please tell your friend not to transport her cat in the hold, even if she finds an airline that will do it! It's terrifying and stressful for the cat, and in hot weather it's absolutely not safe.

I have traveled internationally via Air Canada with a cat (though not to the UK) and it was a very simple and surprisingly stress-free process. Your friend will want a low-metal harness and leash for going through security, as she'll have to remove the cat from the carrier and put the carrier through the luggage scanner while carrying the cat through the human x-ray machine, so a nonstop would be ideal if it's at all feasible, and it's best to minimise hand luggage (the carrier will count as one carry-on but she can still take a personal item/laptop bag).

Soft-sided carriers are best -- I recommend a Sherpa because it's very comfy, difficult to escape from, and has a spring-frame that compresses to fit under a seat without collapsing in and impinging on the pet's space. I believe many of them are airliner-guaranteed, but any carrier that conforms to the airline in question's specific size requirements will work.

A quick look at mid-August availability suggests a one-way on the specified route with Air Canada is about $2.5K USD with one or two stops. (There are almost definitely cheaper options -- AC is notoriously pricey.) Another option might be booking a flight to a larger international hub, spending the night in a pet-friendly hotel, and a flight out in the morning, to minimise the overall stuck-in-carrier time. A chance to use the litter box, drink and eat would probably be welcome for the cat (and a good break for your friend).
posted by halation at 12:10 PM on June 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I moved my cat from Philadelphia to Cambridge in the summer of 2015. My wife and I ultimately gave up flying to the UK with the cat. We flew to Paris with our cat in the cabin instead.

When I moved (and I have no reason to believe the rules changed), the UK required that animals entering the UK by air could only arrive as cargo (and at Heathrow only, at that). No animal could fly into the UK as baggage; it had to be cargo (which is effectively a separate plane ticket and airport terminal for a cat—it's strange and expensive). Because we moved in the summer, carriers kept canceling our cargo reservation (due to temperature and aircraft-specific requirements). We gave up on this route.

Instead, we flew to Paris with the cat in cabin. We hired a taxi service based in Suffolk to pick us up and drive us into the UK via Eurotunnel Le Shuttle (the roll-on, roll-off train service between Folkestone and Calais).

Some key cautions on this route:
  • Your cat must have a European microchip. Our vet was able to get and install this for us. The UK border check on animals will scan your pet's microchip and it must match your paperwork.
  • Speaking of paperwork, it's a huge hassle. You'll have to have your vet complete the paperwork only a few days before you depart, overnight it to the USDA for a signature and stamp, and get it overnighted back to you. I'm sorry, but this is stressful—it must happen within a few days of your departure.
  • The French customs staff were way more chill about a pet entering Europe than the UK border staff. The French customs staff tried to just wave us on without looking at our cat or paperwork, but we needed their stamp and signature at our EU port of entry to be valid for onward travel to the UK. We had to be a little pushy with them, to insist that they completed their part. We're glad we did because…
  • If there's anything amiss about your paperwork entering the UK, then the UK staff will turn you around and you'll have to redo all the paperwork with a vet in the EU. Our driver said this was quite common (thankfully, he withheld this information until after we got through on our first try).
  • If you've got some British friends who wouldn't mind driving to Brussels or Paris or Amsterdam to get you, this would be loads cheaper than a car service. Paying a taxi service was great, but I'm certain that being driven from CDG to Cambridge will forever be the most expensive taxi ride of my life. Renting a car wasn't really practical for various reasons I won't get into here.
The UK government page on this whole thing was somewhat helpful.

I wrote a nearly 3,000 word newsletter to friends and family documenting this process. Memail me and I'll send that to you.
posted by ddbeck at 12:51 PM on June 16, 2019 [41 favorites]

You can definitely fly between the US and Europe with a cat in the cabin. I've done so on KLM, which is a partner with Delta in the US. I would call the airline to book the trip, rather than booking it online. Also, I highly recommend Sherpa brand soft-sided carriers for fitting under airplane seats.
posted by neushoorn at 12:54 PM on June 16, 2019

Cats can definitely fly in the cabin on many airlines, domestically and internationally; the trouble she's running into here is about the UK's super-restrictive rules on pet importation, as ddbeck notes above.

If she decides to take their approach and fly to a European airport and enter the UK by tunnel or boat, some pointers from my own experience of moving a cat transatlantically (Turkey to the US): it wasn't exactly a pleasant experience for either of us, but it went fine. There was a fair amount of paperwork related to taking her out of Turkey, but all the airline (I think it was United?) needed to see was proof of up-to-date vaccinations, an appropriate soft-sided carrier, and the in-cabin pet fee (which was something in the range of $150, I believe). That was for flying into the States, so she'll want to review the relevant EU rules. The fees may go up if there's a stopover; I'd choose a ticket with as few stops as possible to minimize the stress but there may not be many direct options out of NOLA.

For the flight itself, restrict food and water beforehand so the cat is less likely to soil the carrier on a long flight, and choose a carrier with an additional small zipper port that's too small to permit an escape, but allows her to pet the cat, let it smell her, offer treats, etc. If the vet says it's medically ok, I'd recommend giving the cat a sedative; my cat's flown three times and was definitely noisier and more agitated the one time I didn't have meds for her. That said, airplane engines are pretty loud, so even if the cat starts meowing/crying it won't be as loud or disruptive to other passengers as a fussy infant. And she calmed down a lot once the carrier was under the seat in front of me; the dark/enclosed space seemed to make her feel safer. Make sure the cat has a harness and leash for the parts where it has to come out of the carrier for screening. And if using a sedative, dose the cat before leaving for the airport so it will start to kick in before going through security.

Alternatively, I guess she could leave the cat with someone else for a few months until the weather cools down and pets are allowed in the hold again, but I'd personally rather deal with the hassle of an extra stop than make the cat fly cargo--both because I think it would be more stressful for the cat, and because I'd be too nervous to let her out of my sight and trust her to the airport/customs staff (but mine's a bit of an escape artist, so ymmv).
posted by karayel at 1:57 PM on June 16, 2019

It is worth considering why the UK is so stringent about importing pets. Basically this is a legacy of Rabies Paranoia which was a huge thing until about 20 years ago (see my comment in this thread about a Rabies book for some examples of how people arriving with undocumented pets were viewed back in the 1980s). It was not that long ago that you would have to put a cat into quarantine for 6 months on arrival in the UK - at your expense - not so now - but the British still blanche at the prospect of anybody bringing in their foaming moggy in hand luggage which could elude a check at incoming customs!

As ddbeck point out - you are not going to have this sort of problem when arriving in Paris (pets are expected to go everywhere their owners desire to take them in France, more or less). But my suggestion is then to travel to the UK via Dover: either ferry or the Channel Tunnel. Reason: this is how Brits take their pets on holiday and back from holidays - so the whole system is set up for quick checks. You will still, of course, need the documentation, but it avoids the issues of having to use Heathrow directly.
posted by rongorongo at 12:43 PM on June 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

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