Airline Felines

Air cats…

Or, Cats on a Plane!: How to bring cats into the USA on international airline flights

You’ve always heard about people who’ve taken their cats along on international flights. Here’s what REALLY happens.

After seven years in Denmark, I moved to the USA. This included my two Danish cats.

I called a travel agent and asked if cats could travel on airplanes. He said “Sure! But there’s a six month quarantine.”
That didn’t make any sense. Hollywood actresses often fly with her poodles to Paris for lunch and a pedicure. It turned out that he’d never actually sold a cat ticket. So I called the US embassy in Copenhagen. My call bounced from one office to another. Someone asked “Are these cats stuffed?”
“Only after dinner,” I replied.
“Hmmm… nothing under house cat. It’d be easier if they were stuffed. Or endangered. Then it’d be a permit from the Secretary of the Interior.
“Maybe I should try that.”
“I only said easier because it’ll be a routine no.”
A few more bounces. Finally I reached the embassy librarian. She knew the rules and she once took her Danish dog to the USA.
“What about quarantine?” I asked.
“A popular myth. You think poodles sit in quarantine?”
“What about permits?” I asked.
“I’ll read the rules to you: documentation is recommended but not required…”

Now I had to arrange transportation to Copenhagen. I called a commuter airline.
“Cats?” asked the ticket person.
“Yeah, they’ll be in cat carriers.”
“Oh… Well… Okay… I guess. Last week we had a poodle. But there’s a limit. Only one dog or two cats per airplane. The cats will need reservations, tickets, and boarding passes.”
I made the reservations. “When do I get their tickets?”
“Oh, just pay at the counter when boarding.”

Now for the trans-Atlantic tickets. “I’ll be traveling with two cats,” I told the airline representative.
“You’ll need documentation.”
“The embassy says I don’t.”
“Well, you do,” he said.
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I don’t. The US embassy says “recommended but not required”.”
He surrendered. “In any case, they must have reservations and tickets.”

Finally, I was ready to travel. I showed up at the commuter airline’s ticket gate.
“Under no circumstances may you bring a cat onto an airplane. It’s prohibited by Danish law. And besides, it can cause an accident.”
“That’s silly.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Here are their cat reservations.”
She looked at the papers for a long time. Finally, she told the baggage handler to put the cats on the airplane. I watched the cats roll away on the conveyor belt.
Now to pay for the tickets. She efficiently typed on her computer. Long pause. More typing. Longer pause.
“What’s the matter? I asked.
“Hmmm… nothing under katte”.
“Maybe it’s in English.”
She tried CAT. She tried KATZEN. KITTY. CHAT. GATO. We began trying the word “cat” in every language we knew. “How about meow?” By now, everyone was on the airplane except me. Finally, she looked up and said “Look, let’s not worry about the tickets. Have a nice flight.”

At Copenhagen, I watched the cats be unloaded and put onto a baggage truck. They disappeared into the baggage transit building. I went to the transatlantic airline’s counter. The cat tickets were in order. The agent said “Let’s check that your cats are on board.” She called down to the baggage building. Long wait. Finally, she looked up and said “They can’t quite locate the cats. But don’t worry, it’s three hours to departure. They’ll turn up.”

Two hours later, I went back to check. “We found a poodle. But no cats. The supervisor is looking.”

Thirty minutes to departure; no cats. The staff told me not to worry; they’d send the cats with the next flight. At five minutes to departure, I boarded. The cabin door closed. The door opened. The supervisor came running onto the airplane with the cats. “We found them!”

Seven hours later, I landed in New York at JFK International Airport. I had a bunch of baggage, plus the two cat carriers, so I got a porter and a baggage wagon. The porter looked at the cats and said “Hey, whaddya know! Cats!” I asked him if cats were uncommon. He said “Nobody brings cats. Poodles, all the time. But never cats.” He put the cat carriers on top of the baggage cart. We moved off towards US Customs. We managed to arrive first, so the full flight of some 300 people were lined up behind us.

The customs agent said without looking up “Good-morning-welcome-to-New-York-passport-please.”
There was a meow.
“And-animal-documentation-please.”
“Here’s my passport. The cats are pets.”
“Right. Documentation for the animals, please.”
“I don’t have documents for the cats. It’s not required.”
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Look, if you don’t have documents, I won’t let the animals into the country.”
“The American embassy in Copenhagen told me documents were not required.”
“Whadda’ they know? They’re State Department. We’re US Customs.”

He called the US Customs vet. The phone rang and rang and rang. Looking up, he saw the entire planeload of people waiting in line. He was looking at an hour of trouble. He hung up, handed me my passport, and said “Welcome to the United States. Just get those cats out of here.”

That was how I got my Danish cats into the USA. So… if you want to bring your cat into the USA, get documentation from the vet. Even if it isn’t required.