Help my cat be a transatlantic jet-setter, COVID edition
October 7, 2020 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Some time in the next two months I (US-based, US citizen) will be starting an extended visit to the UK as part of setting up for a relocation to join my fiancee (UK-based, UK citizen) there. I would like to bring my cat with me. Prior to COVID this process was reasonably straightforward but options look very limited now. Maybe there are more options/solutions available than I think?

I have some flexibility in both timing and (within reason) budget. Health and safety for the cat, plus strictly respecting local public health regulations for COVID, are top priorities.

Restrictions as I understand them:
  • UK law prohibits pets from flying in-cabin from out of the country. Pets entering the UK must travel as cargo. As a US citizen/resident I can enter the UK as a visitor but must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. Ireland has similar restrictions to the UK.
  • Some EU countries do permit pets to enter via in-cabin flight. However, as a US citizen/resident I cannot enter or travel in mainland Europe myself due to COVID travel restrictions.
  • A number of airlines that ordinarily offer pet travel services have suspended or discontinued them due to COVID.
  • Heathrow (our home airport in the UK) animal customs is over capacity so entry dates may be restricted or delayed, not clear to me exactly how.
Options as I know about so far:
  • British Airways is still offering pet cargo services and flies direct from my US home airport (San Francisco) to Heathrow. However, they recently added a $5000 (yes, that's $thousands) up-charge to the service. That makes the minimum cost to transport the cat over $6500, not including my own ticket or required pre-flight veterinary work for the cat. That's a lot. When I said my budget had some flex I did not mean $5K of flex.
  • I spoke with a pet relocation company. Their suggested workaround to both the $5K up-charge and Heathrow customs' lack of capacity was for me to drive the cat down to Los Angeles, have her flown from LAX to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, comfort stop there, then flown into Manchester (where customs is not over capacity), and then taken via ground transport down to London. I fly direct to London on my own. The cost is more reasonable (under $4000 for the kitty). However, I worry that this extended process would be stressful and terrifying for the cat. Plus with so many steps/transfers, I fear the chance of something going really wrong for her would go way up.
  • Try to find a long-term foster host for her, visit the UK on my own, and hope that the COVID situation improves in a few months. I don't have any family members who are in a position to take her, nor any friends who are looking to borrow a cat... but I might be able to work something out.
  • Accept that the financial burdens and health/safety risks are too high and re-home the cat. This is a last resort and I do not like this option. I take the commitment I made when I adopted her seriously, I believe it's a lifelong commitment barring major health or financial problems. But I also can't really let a pet decide something as important as what country I live in and I have to consider her long-term health and comfort too.
What do you say, international travelers and cat lovers of AskMe? What's the best way to unite me, my fiancee, and our adorable cat?
posted by 4rtemis to Travel & Transportation around London, England (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A variant of the second option that might be less stressful is to the change in the US, i.e. to fly domestically to New York JFK. The cat could (as far as I know) travel in the cabin for the domestic leg, and you have the option of a pit stop in a more familiar environment than Frankfurt. There are then direct flights from JFK to Manchester.
posted by caek at 12:38 PM on October 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

Ooh me, me... Kind of. I don't have all the answers but some of this may help.

Currently with my own cat in Italy, heading back to the UK this weekend. We are flying kitty to Amsterdam, and taking her across to Harwich (outside of London) on the Stena Line ferry. They have an onboard kennel for the five hour journey. As we are sans car, this is the best, fastest and cheapest way we have found. Around €110 for her costs, plus human fares.

Other options included travelling by train to Amsterdam, and repeating the same, or heading to France and getting a taxi from Calais to Dover on the Eurotunnel.

Caveats here — kitty has a European pet passport, so I don't know what restrictions yours may have. If you can get her to Amsterdam that would definitely be my pick.
posted by teststrip at 12:39 PM on October 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Rereading this the cost really is human power. If there's a way to get her to Europe with a returning college student or someone similar you trust, in the cabin to Europe could work. Feel free to memail me — my cat is currently more well traveled than most people this year. (Cat also went from Chicago to Madrid last Christmas in Iberia.)
posted by teststrip at 12:47 PM on October 7, 2020

Not sure if this is possible, but could your fiancee travel here, pick up the cat and carry it in-cabin to Amsterdam and then travel by ferry back to UK? That way the cat wouldn't have to be cargo and your fiancee would be able to go straight home with the cat and would not have to self-isolate.
posted by mccxxiii at 12:50 PM on October 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

For people suggesting workarounds involving boats from Europe: please take a look at the UK's (very strict, pre-covid) policies on bringing cats into the UK. In general an American cat transiting via Europe doesn't get more favorable treatment than a direct arrival. And if you screw up you may lose the pet for four months of costly quarantine, or be sent back on the next boat. Covid is an additional complication, but the rabies policies are the baseline situation.
posted by caek at 12:58 PM on October 7, 2020

Response by poster: Kitty is microchipped and vaccinated such that she can enter the UK without quarantining. However she does not have an EU pet passport.

My fiancee cannot come to the US at all right now as the US has a travel ban on visitors from the UK/Europe. I believe she is allowed to visit some parts of the EU, but that might be impractical (self-isolation requirements) or inadvisable (increased risk of COVID exposure, unstable travel corridors).
posted by 4rtemis at 2:33 PM on October 7, 2020

I take the commitment I made when I adopted her seriously, I believe it's a lifelong commitment barring major health or financial problems
This was me. We brought kitty with us in a complicated move involving multiple short-term stays and significant ground travel on both ends of a transatlantic flight before settling in to our final home. She was stressed and unhappy the whole time. I truly believe it would have been kinder to rehome her before we left.
posted by evilmomlady at 3:53 AM on October 8, 2020

Try to find a long-term foster host for her, visit the UK on my own, and hope that the COVID situation improves in a few months.

This honestly sounds so much kinder for the cat. Bring the cat when you're ready to come for good, but not for an extended holiday.

ETA: Sorry, don't mean to imply your trip is a jolly, I realise it's not just a holiday.
posted by penguin pie at 4:34 AM on October 8, 2020

This does not answer your question directly, but a US/UK mixed nationality couple I know was able to circumvent the US visitor ban by spending two weeks in Barbados (UK>Barbados>US). The UK citizen was able to enter the US with no issues after two weeks in Barbados.
posted by girlalex at 4:22 PM on October 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Friends in a situation like this flew from Hong Kong to Amsterdam with their dog and then took a pet taxi service like this to Calais, onto the car train through the Channel Tunnel, and then to their UK destination. It was way, way cheaper than $5000.
posted by mdonley at 9:01 AM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

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