Air Travel with Furry Friends
For many of us, pets are an integral part of our lives. I have 2 cats, and they (in theory) have more frequent flier miles than many people I know. Here’s a quick review with the ups, downs and learning curve of pet air travel.
The first time the cats flew, was in 2004 when we moved from Toronto to Milwaukee. I was terrified something would happen to them and spent lots of time talking to my vet and the airline. The regulations to bring a pet into the USA are pretty straightforward, especially from Canada, so I just recommend doing some good research to ensure papers are in order. We flew the quick 1 hour flight on Air Canada and the cats traveled as cargo. For this trip we had discussed, at length, the pros and cons of giving them tranquilizers and decided to do it. Learning number one...I won’t do that again. Not that it harmed them in anyway, but I think it was scarier for them, because not only was their environment strange, but they didn’t feel like themselves either. We had fantastic ground crew in both Toronto and Milwaukee; in Toronto the crew even came into the terminal just before we boarded and told us the cats were safely on the plane. That was a nice touch.
The next trip for the cats was to Brussels, Belgium. We booked onto Continental Airlines from Chicago O’Hare to Newark to Brussels. Continental has an in-depth pet transport program that inspires a lot of confidence, but it is quite pricey. Again, they traveled in cargo but this time we did not tranquilize. Going to Brussels required much more paperwork than coming to the USA, but it was not impossible. Again, the research upfront is key. The service by Continental again was great, however we did encounter problems. Our flight from Chicago to Newark had to emergency land in Cleveland due to a fire in the cockpit! It was really scary to land and have fire trucks chasing us down the runway. However, the gate agents in Cleveland were patient with me as I worried about the cats. She assured me they’d be re-routed with us. Because of the emergency landing, we missed our connection to Brussels in Newark. It was a bit chaotic there, and as a rule I never fly through that airport anymore. We were routed onto a flight to Brussels via Lisbon that night, however were told that the animals had to go straight to Brussels, so they would go on a flight the next evening. They were kenneled in New Jersey. This was very scary for us, but when we landed in Lisbon we called the kennel and spoke with a wonderful lady who was taking care of them.
The next day we went back to Brussels airport to pick them up and it was a red-tape nightmare because they were arriving separate from us. This was another lesson; if you have delays or mis-connects, always try to stay on the same flights as your pets.
Then next trip was from Brussels back to Toronto and we decided to do this via Amsterdam on Northwest Airlines. Knowing we would be taking them through another European Union country, we were proactive and in addition to the papers needed for Canada, we got them EU pet passports. It’s so cute! They actually have their own passports now. We took the Thalys train from Brussels to Amsterdam and this was so simple with the cats. The train stops right at Schiphol airport, where we caught our NWA flight to Toronto. This was the best flight for our furry friends; they arrived in good spirits, without any bladder accidents. We must be getting good at this.
The final trip (so far) for them has been coming back to Milwaukee from Canada. We were experts at the paperwork and decided we’d try traveling with them in-cabin. We lived in a smaller town outside Toronto so we flew from Kitchener to Detroit and then Detroit to Milwaukee on NWA. The cats traveled in carry-on soft-sided bags, that fit under the seats. They didn’t utter a sound and seemed in good spirits the whole time. On our Detroit to Milwaukee flight the flight attendants didn’t even realize they were on board until we mentioned it! They were so well behaved and didn’t seem traumatized at all.
What’s next in their travels around the world? There’s a possibility we’ll be moving to Asia at the end of this year, so that will pose another challenging but necessary trip for the felines. We couldn’t imagine leaving them behind, as they’re such a part of our lives. Kudos to all the vets, airline employees and customs agents that make traveling with a pet possible.