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Travel

 

 

 

 

Trains Cars Subway

 

Travelling by Plane

Travelling in the Hold Travelling in the Cabin

 

Flying Between the UK and USA with Your Cat in the Cabin
Flying from the UK to the USA Flying from the USA to the UK
Our Experiences Travelling from the USA to the UK via France

 

British Airways Save Harpsie!

 

Introduction

Harpsie was a well-travelled boy, He travelled by all the means of transport mentioned above, plus he often walked (i.e. he's wheeled along in his chariot) to the vet. So it was lucky that Harpsie coped well with all forms of travel. In fact, often after a trip we would leave Harpsie's carrying basket out because he liked to lie in it, but if your cat gets stressed, you may wish to try flower essences or Feliway to help calm him/her.

 

The American Veterinary Medical Association has some tips on travelling with your cat.

Feline Advisory Bureau has information about travelling with your cat.

 

Trains

The day we first collected Harpsie, we travelled back home with him in his carrying basket on a train. He seemed to do fine with it, and purred the whole time; of course, back then we were rather ignorant of feline behaviour and did not realise that cats may purr when they are under stress or to comfort themselves, not only when they are happy. Still, Harpsie survived it, and judging by the way he's coped with other modes of transport, I think he did not find it as stressful as most cats would.

 

Cars

For Harpsie, as for most cats, the car usually meant trips to the vet. As a British cat, for Harpsie it also meant trips to the cattery, where Harpsie spent his time when we went on holiday. UK catteries, by the way, are not cages! We use a cattery approved by the Feline Advisory Bureau and it is very nice. The cats have a little heated house, with an outdoor run, and they can see the duck pond - they love watching the ducks.

 

Most of Harpsie's car trips were short ones, no longer than 20 minutes as a rule. However, when visiting the UK cardiologist, we travelled for around two hours each way. I was worried how Harpsie would cope with these longer journeys, but in fact he coped very well, he simply went to sleep. We did carry a litter tray, food and water with us, just in case, but he never needed any of them.

 

Cats International has some tips on travelling by car.

The Cat Site has some information on travelling by car.

Pets on the Go has information on hotels and motels in the USA which permit pets.

Cats International has information on staying in motels.

 

Subway

Harpsie used to go to acupuncture once every two weeks for his arthritis. Taxis each way were becoming very expensive so we decided to see how he coped with the subway. Being Harpsie, he coped just fine, although I did cover his ears when trains passed through the station while we were waiting on the platform. He met admirers on most of his trips, whom he usually ignored, but at least he brightened their journey. He usually travelled in his Pet Wheelaway, and every single trip we took, at least one person would ask where we bought it - here is a photo of one (ours is black). I also used this when we walked to the vet's. Amazon sell the Pet Wheelaway for around US$70.

 

Air Travel

This was probably Harpsie's biggest adventure. In April 2004, he flew from England to the USA to become an Englishman in New York. We were moving there because of my husband's job.

 

When travelling by plane, you basically have two choices: take your cat in the cabin with you, or have your cat travel in the hold. Most of this page is about taking the cat in the cabin with you, though there is also some information about travelling in the hold, which our Karma has done three times.

 

Petflight is a US site which summarises the policies of various American airlines for internal flights.

Squidoo offers a similar service.

Cats International has some tips on travelling by plane.

JetBlue has helpful information about flying with pets.

Feline CRF Hints gives tips on travelling with a cat with chronic renal failure, though many of the tips apply to all cats.

 

If Your Cat Has to Travel in the Hold

Unfortunately sometimes this is unavoidable. Karma has flown in the hold three times with no problems, but it is riskier, so if at all possible I recommend taking your cat in the cabin with you.

 

If your cat has to travel in the hold, arrange direct flights if at all possible, and try to travel on the same flight as your cat. Unfortunately, many airlines now insist that cats travelling across the Atlantic in the hold do not travel as accompanied animals (i.e. essentially excess luggage, charged at excess luggage rates) but instead are shipped as cargo, which means:

  1. you have to use a pet transport company.

  2. it costs a fortune in comparison (when I enquired in 2008, it was as much as US$750-1000 per cat).

  3. there is no guarantee your cats will travel on the same flight as you, which means you may need to go back to the airport at a later date to collect them

People often worry about their cats getting hit by moving suitcases, but all reputable airlines have a separate pet cargo area in the hold. You need rigid carrying baskets, which will be restrained by special belts in the pet cargo area so they can't move about during the flight and injure the cats inside.

 

These pet holds are pressurised and temperature controlled (the animals would die of cold at high altitude otherwise), but most airlines refuse to carry animals in the hold during the summer months and sometimes during very cold weather - these rules are for when the plane is on the ground, when it is far harder to control the hold temperature.

 

Whenever I have travelled with a pet in the hold, I have asked the flight attendant to remind the captain there are cats in the hold and have asked them to confirm the temperature controls in the pet cargo area are on. They have always been happy to do this.

 

Travelling with Cats in the Cabin

This process was actually easier than we expected in the end, but it did take some planning. Here are a few important points to bear in mind about travelling with cats in the cabin:

  • Airlines which permit animals to travel in the cabin restrict the number of animals who are allowed on each flight (it is often a maximum of three animals per flight), so it is very important to make your booking as much in advance as possible, and to re-confirm it shortly before your travel date.

  • You are only allowed to take one animal per person on board, so if there are two of you and three cats, one would have to travel in the hold.

  • The airline can advise you about the size of the carriers you are permitted to use. Do not try to get away with a bigger carrier than they advise, because if your cat's carrier will not fit under the seat in front of you, s/he will be forced to travel in the hold. We used soft-sided Sherpa Pet Carriers to take Harpsie and Indie on board with us. These are available from Petco in the USA. We bought ours from Pet Planet in UK, they have a choice of sizes but the medium size worked fine for 10 lb (4.5kg) Harpsie, and met United Airlines' requirements for cabin travel.  

  • Many airlines require that your cat has up to date rabies vaccinations -  check with the airline you are using.

  • You usually need to see your vet within 24 hours of departure to obtain a certificate of fitness to travel. This is both for the airline, and to show to US Customs if you are flying into the USA. Check with the airline you are using and double check with the US authorities. The certificate of fitness to travel which we received from our vet was also an export certificate - Defra said an export certificarte was not required for the USA but my vet issued a combined form.

  • Do not give your cat a sedative before flying. It is potentially extremely dangerous, because it may make it harder for the cat to regulate his/her core body temperature at high altitude. The American Veterinary Medical Association advises against the use of sedatives for air travel. Our cats managed just fine without sedation. 

  • Carry food, water and a small litter tray with you. You can take your cat into a disabled toilet to use the litter tray, though none of my cats was interested. I did line the cats' baskets for the flight with incontinence supplies but they did not need them. Classy Pets sell a type of incontinence pad specially for pet travel called Dry fur.

  • Do not draw attention to your cats if you can avoid it. You don't want people with allergies to cats complaining about their presence on the aircraft.

Main Concerns: Flying to and from the USA

 

When planning our move from the UK to the USA and back, we had three main concerns:

  1. how to get the cats to the USA without them having to travel in the hold;

  2. how to get them home to the UK again without them going into quarantine;

  3. how to get them home to the UK again without them having to travel in the hold.

On most internal flights within the USA, and many international flights from the USA, taking cats in the cabin with you is permitted. However, on flights into the UK all animals must travel in the hold because of UK quarantine laws. Therefore, for the sake of administrative simplicity, most airlines operating UK flights will only transport animals in the hold, regardless of whether they are flying into or out of the UK.

 

Although the law regarding travel to the UK will be relaxed from 1 January 2012, there will be no changes to this aspect of the legislation, so it will continue to be a problem.

 

We did manage to fly with our cats in the cabin in both directions. Read on to learn how we did it.

 

Flying From the UK to the USA: Cats in the Cabin

I searched desperately to find a way to take the cats in the cabin. And I found it in the form of wonderful United Airlines, to which I shall remain eternally grateful. Like all airlines, they are not allowed to permit animals to travel in the cabin when entering the UK; but they did permit it when leaving the UK. Sadly, since they joined forces with Continental Airlines, it appears they no longer permit this.

 

A possible alternative would be to travel via another European country, although this would of course be more expensive and take longer. Read about how we flew from USA into UK via France below for more information and consider doing this trip in reverse - obviously you would not need to spend two days in France, but you might have to spend one night there, and possibly obtain a fitness to travel certificate from France rather than from the UK - check the US regulations on this.

 

Here are a few tips on what we did when we travelled from UK to USA (please also see above for general tips).

  • We made our booking about three weeks before travel, and re-confirmed it shortly before our travel date. We paid £54 per cat in 2004 (around US$90 at the time).

  • We were only allowed to take one animal each on board, so since we have three cats, Karma did have to travel in the hold. She drew the short straw since she has flown in the hold before (see My Siblings) and we knew she could cope with it.

  • We used soft-sided Sherpa Pet Carriers to take Harpsie and Indie on board with us, which we bought from Pet Planet in the UK. They have a choice of sizes but the medium size worked fine for 10 lb (4.5kg) Harpsie, and met United Airlines' requirements for cabin travel.  

  • Before we checked the cats in, I took them into a disabled toilet at the airport and offered them food, water and litter, but none of them was interested. I did line the cats' baskets for the flight with incontinence supplies but they did not need them.

  • We checked the cats in when we checked ourselves in i.e. we did not have to go to a special check-in desk or terminal. We watched Karma have her security check, since she was going in the hold. She was then whisked away from us and kept in a secure area until she could be placed on the aircraft.  Harpsie and Indie were taken away from us to have their security checks, whilst we went through the usual security checks separately. They were then waiting for us (with a guardian) at the gate where we were to board the aircraft.

  • The flight was completely uneventful from a feline perspective. All the cats coped far better with it than we expected - I think Harpsie and Indie were reassured by our presence. They did have to remain in their carriers for the entire duration of the flight, but they could see us. 

  • After landing at JFK, they were paging us to come and collect Karma before we'd even got through passport control! Somebody was waiting with her until we reached her (and no, they don't put them on the luggage carousel!). We declared the cats, but there were no problems at all about them entering the USA, it took seconds.

  • United Airlines took wonderful care of the cats, and were really kind and gentle towards them. I cannot praise them highly enough.

Travelling from the USA to the UK
Avoiding UK Quarantine

Preparation for Travel: What You Need to Do

Travel to the UK Without Travelling in the Hold

 

Avoiding UK Quarantine

The initial goal is to avoid having to put your cat in UK quarantine. Fortunately, animals travelling from the USA to the UK can usually enter or re-enter the UK without having to go through six months quarantine as long as they comply with the requirements of the UK Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), administered by the  Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website.

 

At the time we travelled you could not re-enter the UK for six months after the rabies blood test required under the regulations but since we were going to be away for two years (which turned into four), this was not a problem for us.

 

From 1 January 2012 the timeframe will be a lot shorter, i.e. you will only have to wait for 21 days after rabies vaccinations before you are allowed to travel without needing quarantine.

 

However, any animal who fails to meet the requirements will have to enter quarantine. Quarantine is not as horrible as it sounds: the cat is not in a cage! (each cat has a room) and a vet visits daily; but it is expensive (I was quoted US$3300 per cat for six months in December 2007) and rather boring for the cat (though you are allowed to visit frequently), so obviously it is worth avoiding if at all possible.

 

Below are the steps you need to take that I am aware of in order to take your cat into the UK without him/her having to go into quarantine. At the  time of writing (late July 2011), your cat cannot enter the UK until six months after a blood test showing an acceptable (to the UK authorities) level of rabies protection. The requirements of the UK Pet Travel Scheme are to be relaxed with effect from 1 January 2012, so I am only going to talk about requirements under the new scheme, because in practice that will be in place before anybody starting the process now can bring a cat into the country.

 

I'm providing this information here in an attempt to make things simple and clear. However, I cannot emphasise this enough, do not rely on the information here, because it may no longer be accurate by the time you read it. The law seems to change frequently so be sure to check at the Defra website for current requirements. 

 

Travelling from the USA to the UK: Preparations for Travel

You have to comply with both the Defra regulations and US and airline requirements. It can get quite complicated, so this section outlines what is necessary, but as ever, please check because requirements can change without warning.

 

Defra Requirements for Travel After 1 January 2012

The following steps outline what you need to do to meet Defra requirements and avoid the need for quarantine. Be sure to refer to the Defra website every step of the way, because many of the requirements are very precise and must be followed to the letter. Note that in defra-speak, the USA is a listed non-EU country.

  1. Your cat needs to be microchipped.

  2. Your cat needs to be given a rabies vaccination or series of shots after the microchipping has been done. The microchip number must be entered on the rabies vaccination certificate. Your vet will advise you of the correct number of shots required for the type of rabies vaccine which s/he is using on your cat. Only use a vaccine which is acceptable to Defra. Apparently what matters to them is that the vaccine is a dead or killed vaccine with a marketing authorisation in the country of use. We used Merial PureVax, which Defra confirmed was acceptable to them, but double check this is still the case.

  3. You must then wait until 21 days after the shot (or after the final shot, if your cat requires more than one) before your cat can enter the UK.

  4. Regular booster shots as recommended by the vaccine manufacturer must be given within the recommended timeframe.

  5. If you are travelling from USA to UK, your cat is not eligible for a Pet Passport. Instead you will need an Official Third Country Veterinary Certificate (see the last three pages of the document), completed by an authorised vet in the USA, and endorsed by your local USDA Veterinary Services area office. Defra explains more about the documentation requirements.

  6. Your cat has to be given a treatment against parasites which contains praziquantel 24-48 hours before you enter the UK.

  7. If your cat is travelling in the hold, as will be the case unless you consider entering the UK via another European country (see below), you need to use an approved transport company on an authorised route.

Preparations for Travel: Detailed Information

This tells you more about what what you need to do, and gives details you may not easily find elsewhere.

  1. One critical aspect of entering the UK under the Pet Passport Scheme is that your cat's microchip needs to be ISO standard and readable. Unfortunately, many US microchip readers cannot read European chips, and vice versa.  We had our cats microchipped in the UK, but when we had their chips checked by our US vet, he could not detect them at all. Things may well have improved in this regard, but if you have had your cat microchipped in the USA, it might be safer to obtain a microchip reader to take with you when you travel to the UK. We were able to buy a chip reader which could read our European chip from Crystal Tag in the USA, who sold me the Mini Max II pocket reader, and who provided fast, efficient and helpful service.

  2. If your cat is travelling in the hold, as will be the case unless you consider entering the UK via another European country (see below), you need to use an approved transport company on an approved route.

  3. Cats travelling from the USA to the UK are not eligible for a Pet Passport, but instead need a completed Official Third Country Veterinary Certificate. This form is headed “Veterinary certificate for domestic dogs, cats and ferrets entering the European Community for non-commercial movements (Regulation (EC) No 998/2003)”. In the example of this form I link to above, it is the last three pages of the document.

  4. This form is supposed to be an original, so you are not supposed to  print it from the internet. However, I was not able to obtain it in any other form (the vet who completed it for me did not have any copies), so I did print it (complete with the word Annex) and used it without any problems.

  5. The form must be completed by a government approved vet. My US vet was not a government approved vet, but fortunately he employed someone who was. Ask at your vet's office. If they have nobody on staff, they may be able to point you towards a vet at another practice, or check with the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

  6. You can have this form completed up to four months before you travel, but it is only valid up to the date on the certificate or four months after it is completed, whichever is earlier, so I would not have it done too quickly.

  7. Your local USDA Veterinary Services area office needs to endorse this form and all other supporting documentation (e.g. rabies vaccination certificate). The US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service gives details of USDA Veterinary Services office locations. Check this carefully, because many of these offices only have limited opening hours and some of them may require you to make an appointment. You do not need to take your cat with you when you have the endorsements done.

  8. Most airlines require that your vet issues a fitness to travel certificate within 30 days of departure if your cat is travelling in the cabin, or within 10 days of departure if your cat is travelling in the hold. Check with the airline you are using to ascertain their particular requirements. I had this done at the same time as the Official Third Country Veterinary Certificate, and I took this certificate along to the USDA office and had it endorsed too.

  9. Your cat has to be given a treatment against parasites which contains praziquantel 24-48 hours before you travel. However, this is a little tricky: you cannot enter the UK until 24 hours after the treatment has been given, but you cannot enter more than 48 hours after it has been given. Thus you basically have a window of around 24 hours to get your cat into the UK. Any vet can give this treatment, it does not have to be a government approved vet, but details of the treatment must be entered on the Third Party Veterinary Certificate. It is acceptable for this to be done after the forms have been endorsed by USDA. Make sure your vet uses the 24 hour clock, which is not commonly used in the USA (e.g. 3 p.m. is 15.00 hours).

  10. Carry all your cat's paperwork with you in your hand luggage so everything is available for checking both before your cat leaves the USA and when s/he arrives in the UK.

  11. You will need to complete UK customs formalities. Your transport company should be able to arrange this for you. If you are travelling with your cat in the hold, it is often included as part of the service, and will take place after your plane lands. If you are travelling via France, it is part of the checks prior to boarding the Eurotunnel shuttle train and is included in the cat ticket cost.

Travel from the USA to the UK Without the Cat Going in the Hold

Any cat travelling on a direct flight from the USA to the UK must travel in the hold of the plane. This is non-negotiable, it is UK law, and it will not change when the scheme changes in January 2012.

 

A possible alternative is to take a Cunard liner from the USA to the UK. However, unfortunately they can only carry 12 animals on each trip so they can get booked up up to a year in advance. I was also told that the cats are not allowed in your cabin, but instead they must stay in the ship kennels for the entire voyage (5-6 days) with other passengers' dogs nearby, though you are allowed to visit. We are Cunard has some helpful and interesting information about the service.

 

Flying from the USA to the UK via Europe

We decided our best bet was to investigate the possibility of flying with the cats from the USA to another EU country before entering the UK. Any cat entering the UK on any flight route has to travel in the hold, but by doing this, we would at least be able to take the cats in the cabin on the longer transatlantic part of the journey.

 

We considered flying into Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany and France. Swiss, KLM, Lufthansa, United and Air France all carry cats in the cabin on routes to these countries. We eventually decided to travel to Paris because that was closest to the UK border.

 

We also looked into other ways of reaching the UK once we were in Europe so we could avoid the cats going into a plane hold for the last part of their journey. This basically boiled down to using either a boat or a train.

 

Onward Travel from Europe to the UK By Sea

It is possible to enter the UK on a small number of approved sea routes from France and The Netherlands, and it is permitted for you as a foot passenger to take your cat on board with prior permission, but your cat is taken from you during the crossing and held in a separate area for animals. P&O Ferries have more information about requirements and prices.

 

Onward Travel from Europe to the UK By Train

Unfortunately Eurostar (the passenger train side of the Channel Tunnel) does not permit animals to travel on its trains.

 

It is possible to take cats on Eurotunnel (the car transport train which uses the Channel Tunnel), but renting a car in one country and leaving it in another can be tricky.

 

Entering the UK via France

We eventually decided to travel from the USA to the UK via France. We would have liked to travel with United Airlines again, but surprisingly they did not fly from NYC to Paris. We considered travelling to Washington from NYC and catching the United flight from there but this was additional travel for no good reason, so instead we travelled with Air France from NYC to Paris.

 

Once you arrive in Paris, you have to find transport from the airport in Paris to Calais. We chose to fly into Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport in Paris because this has its own train station. Originally we had thought we would have to travel into the centre of Paris and out again, but by flying into CDG we could instead take a train direct from the airport (Terminal 2) northwards to Lille, where we could change on to a train to Calais. The journey including connection time at Lille takes about 1.75 - 2 hours. 

 

The cat has to receive the anti-parasite shot in the last country visited before entering the UK, so this requires that you stay in France for a day or so in order to complete the requirements relating to that. A number of hotels in Calais permit pets.

 

Travelling from the USA to the UK via France: How We Did It

Here are our experiences of travelling from the USA to the UK via France. Please read the rest of the page too so you are aware of the various legal requirements.

 

Booking the Flights

Our first surprise came when we booked our flights. For some reason, it is far more expensive to travel from NYC to Paris than it is to travel from NYC to London. It actually cost more than twice as much for an economy seat. This meant we could not even consider travelling business class, but that was academic because the seat layout is such in business class that you are only allowed to take cats in economy class anyway.

 

We also discovered that a one way ticket cost more than a return! We therefore booked a return and cancelled the return portion of the flight once we were safely back home.

 

The good news was that we were able to choose our seats free of charge online immediately after making the booking. Try to travel on a B747. These aircraft narrow at the back, so there are only two seats across near the windows (basically seat A, by the window, is missing in these rows). We chose the first row of two seats (row 52). This was a good choice because where seat A should have been there was some kind of bulkhead  with an empty space under the A seat in front of us. Therefore we were able to place Karma under this seat rather than under the seat in front of my husband, which was a blessing considering he is 6 ft tall and really needed the legroom for his legs.

 

Pre-Flight Preparations

There were a number of things we had to do before we set off.

 

Paperwork

  1. Firstly we had to have the Official Third Country Veterinary Certificate completed. This form is supposed to be an original, so you are not supposed to  print it from the internet. However, I was not able to obtain it in any other form (the vet who completed it for me did not have any copies), so I did print it and used it without any problems.

  2. The form must be completed by a government approved vet up to four months before you travel. Defra told me any registered vet could complete this form, but my US vet told me it had to be a US government approved vet who had passed a particular exam. My vet was not a government approved vet, but fortunately he employed someone who was, so we felt it was safer to have her complete the forms. We had the paperwork done about ten days before we were due to travel.

  3. At the same time our vet issued a Certificate of Health Examination.

  4. We then had to take all the paperwork (i.e. evidence of rabies shots, rabies bloodtests, certificate of fitness to travel and the Official Third Country Veterinary Certificate), but not the cats, to the nearest USDA Veterinary Services area office for endorsement - the paperwork is not valid for travel without this. Our local office was out in Queens near JFK airport. Unfortunately it was too far to walk from the airport and not served by public transport, so we had to get a taxi out there, which we asked to wait because there was nowhere to hail one for our return journey. We hit roadworks so we arrived later than we had planned, at 12.05 p.m. on a Friday, only to find they had closed for the weekend at 12 p.m.! We therefore had to go back home and return the following Tuesday. Getting all the forms checked and stamped cost US$80, but the vet (Dr Ahmad) was very helpful, and checked all the forms and told me he thought everything was in order from a UK perspective. It took about half an hour altogether.

Bookings

We booked a room at the Holiday Inn Coquelles in Calais which cost €119 for the room per night for bed and breakfast, plus €10 each night for each cat. This hotel is very used to dealing with people travelling with pets and was very efficient and helpful. They made an appointment for a French vet to come and give the cats their compulsory anti-parasite treatment at the hotel.

 

Since we didn't know exactly when we would be able to catch a train within France, we decided not to book our train tickets from Paris to Calais in advance but simply bought them on the day.

 

We had been trying to find a way to cross the Channel, and would probably have taken a ferry and then rented a car in the UK, but my brother-in-law kindly offered to come and get us on Eurotunnel, which was much better. We booked the Eurotunnel shuttle in advance. It cost £54 for the car and up to four adults return, but the cats' tickets cost an additional £60! We booked the return trip for four hours after the departure from the UK, but because of the time difference this meant there was really a three hour difference.

 

Our Gruesome Journey Home!

The good news is, we did travel home with the cats in the cabin via France. The bad news is, it was a complete and utter nightmare during which many different factors conspired to make it one of the worst days of my life. Yes, I'm afraid it really was that bad, in fact I still have nightmares about it.

 

Monday/Tuesday: Travel from New York City to Paris

We set off to the airport one afternoon in early June. We had more luggage than we had planned to have (we had to go and buy a spare case an hour before we set off) so we had four suitcases of checked luggage, two small cases of hand luggage and two cats. Eight items of luggage altogether - this was a major problem later on. The cats travelled in their soft carrying baskets (see above).

 

Air France has a weight limit: the cat and carrying basket together must not weigh more than 6 kg (a fraction over 13 lbs). This was a potential problem for us because Karma was around 10 lb at the time. When we went to the check in desk, we were asked to place the cats on the scales before anything else happened. Luckily both cats scraped in under the weight limit. Removing the puppy pad and carrying strap from Karma's basket helped.

 

We then had to pay for the cats to travel. We had to go to a separate ticket desk for this. Since we had so much luggage, I went alone to the ticket desk, but no, my husband and the cats had to join me! We paid an additional US$150 per cat (this was in 2008).

 

We then had to go through security. The cats had to be taken out of their carrying baskets, which were put through the x-ray machine with the other hand luggage while we carried the cats through the metal detector. Some people recommend using a harness so your cat does not escape, but we were so concerned about Karma exceeding the weight limit that we just held the cats tightly and had no problem.

 

Once we were through security, we found a relatively quiet place to sit and I bought a bottle of still water with one of those tops where you can sip from the bottle. I gave the cats some baby food and some water. I think this saved them later. I also took them to the disabled toilet with their small travelling litter tray we carried in our hand luggage but as expected, they did not use it.

 

Our problems began when we boarded the plane. We decided to board it relatively early so we could find room in the overhead locker for our hand luggage and get the cats settled. We boarded about an hour before we were due to take off and were able to settle in as we hoped.

 

Unfortunately it was an unexpectedly hot day. En route to the airport I had noticed a building that had one of those readers on it and it said it was 95 degrees (about 35 degrees celsius); it was also extremely humid. This would probably have been OK, but for some reason our flight was delayed. We sat there on the tarmac and it got hotter and hotter on that plane. We kept opening the cats' carrying baskets to give them some air and water but the flight attendants kept telling us to stop. We began t think we should get off, but then we taxied towards the runway and were told to keep the cats under the seats in front of us because we would be taking off shortly. Sadly this was not the case. We sat there baking. By this time my hair was so drenched in sweat I looked like I had just stepped out of the shower. I was worried sick about the cats. I opened Karma's carrying basket and she was open mouth breathing! I then opened Indie's basket and she was open mouth breathing too! This is an extremely serious sign of great distress in cats. I left the lids of their baskets open and the flight attendant told me to close them. I told her they were seriously ill and I wanted to get off the plane with them - she said I couldn't. I tried to syringe some water into their mouths and was told to stop it. I said I would take them to the toilet and syringe water into their mouths there and I was told I could not leave my seat. The male flight attendant told me they had had dogs die in the cabin before but no cats. I told him it was about to happen if he didn't let me give them water and he just told me "cats are tough." They just wouldn't take it seriously. They couldn't seem to grasp that my cats are Persian, with thick coats and flat faces, so they were at greater risk. They kept trying to catch us opening the baskets so the cats could breathe a little. It was absolutely awful.

 

I honestly thought the cats were going to die. I sat there in the dark (they had dimmed the lights for the not as yet occurring take off) with tears pouring down my face. I felt so guilty. I had tried to keep the cats in the cabin with me to protect them, but they were going to die anyway. If one of them had been in the hold, I think they would have died. This was absolutely one of the worst moments of my life.

 

I did keep pouring water on to the cats through their carrying baskets. After two and a half hours of this awful sweltering heat, we finally took off, and the cabin began slowly to cool down. As soon as the seat belt signs were switched off, I took each cat in turn to the toilet, and syringed water in to their mouths. They slowly began to recover, though they would not eat or drink voluntarily, I had to syringe the water in from the water bottle I had bought. It was so close, I still shudder when I remember this. I honestly think they would have died if they hadn't had some water and baby food in the airport before take off.

 

The rest of the flight passed uneventfully, thank goodness, though I must mention that Air France has some of the hardest, most uncomfortable seats I've ever sat on.

 

Tuesday: Arrival in France

We landed in Paris the next morning. Because we had been late taking off, we were also late landing, so we had missed the train we planned to catch, but we thought we would just get another train, that things shouldn't be too difficult from now on. Thank goodness we didn't know then what we know now!

 

The queues for passport control were massive. It turned out the French were on a national strike. We queued up for an hour and a half. It was baking in there too, and I was terrified the cats would develop breathing difficulties again but they coped.

 

We then came out to find the baggage handlers were also on strike. We had to wait another hour for our luggage. It was still hot, so I took the cats a little way away to give them some baby food and water. I also took them to a disabled toilet again with their litter tray but of course they refused to use it. I couldn't go too far because we had so much luggage so we needed two luggage trolleys.

 

Finally we got out of the airport and made our way to the train station. The queues for tickets were massive. Surprise, surprise, they were on strike too. We queued up for over an hour and bought our tickets. Unfortunately because of the strike there were only a few trains and we had to wait over an hour for ours. We sat and ate while we waited.

 

Our allocated seats were in coach 17 of the train to Lille. We were not allowed to take trolleys down to the platform, so we were anxious to go and stand near where our coach would stop. We lugged our luggage along the platform and tried to find where to stand. As far as we could tell, the train was only going to be composed of 16 coaches!

 

The train arrived. It was heaving, because it was the only train for the past several hours. We got on somehow, me with the two cats. A very nice Belgian guy already on the train kindly helped my husband get our luggage on. It had to stay by the doors because the train was so full. Reserved seating was irrelevant, it was a free for all. Many people were already standing. I entered a carriage and astonishingly I saw one free seat. It turned out it was free because it was broken - it had a metal spring sticking out of it. It was still better for the cats to be there rather than out in the aisle getting pushed and jostled, so I sat there with the spring sticking into my thigh and a cat on my knee. There was another Belgian guy next to me with a young baby, whose wife was across the aisle. He kindly gave the baby to his wife to hold so he could hold Karma for me.

 

The train made another stop and got even fuller. By the time we got to Lille, it was unbelievably full. I was worried we wouldn't have enough time to get the cats and all our luggage off the train in time, but the first nice Belgian guy helped us again, thank goodness. He then asked my husband to help while he passed something to him. We thought it was going to be somebody else's suitcase, but it was a little old lady who could not climb over the mound of luggage still on the train blocking the exit nearest to her!

 

All I can say is thank God for nice, helpful Belgian guys!

 

We were now at Lille station. We waited about an hour for a train to Calais. We were nervous again about getting everything on and off the train in time, but we managed it.

 

We finally arrived in Calais at 7.30 in the evening. Even then there was one last hurdle. We got a lift up from the platform with all our luggage and then walked across the bridge, only to find there was no lift on the other side! We had to carry everything down the stairs. It was a bit like one of those crossing the river with the fox and chicken puzzles, where we were trying to keep the cats with us at all times whilst protecting everything else! Outside I saw one taxi only with somebody approaching it. I did an Olympic-worthy sprint and bagged the taxi!

 

It was only a short journey to the hotel, though it took some time loading all our stuff into it. We got there about 7.45p.m. We had been travelling for a total of 19.5 hours! We, and the cats, were exhausted. And we all hate Air France.

 

Tuesday: Holiday Inn Coquelles in Calais

We had booked the hotel in advance online (see above), and what a relief it was to arrive there! They were very used to dealing with travellers with pets. They put us in a room at the end of a corridor so the cats would not be disturbed by lots of people walking past. We let the cats out of their carrying baskets and quickly set up a litter tray, a somewhat bigger one we had brought with us in one of the suitcases along with a small amount of litter in a bag, and they used it one after the other. Indie had peed in her carrying basket, but the puppy pad had absorbed it. Poor Karma had held it all in! They then had something to eat and drink. Indie retired under the bed and Karma slept on the bed. We ordered room service and had a lovely meal, and fell in to bed.

 

Wednesday: Holiday Inn in Calais

We had to stay in Calais for two nights because of the requirement for the cats to have a parasite treatment at least 24 hours but no more than 48 hours before arrival in the UK.

 

The hotel had arranged for a local vet to come to the hotel to do this at 9 a.m. My husband had gone down to breakfast but I stayed with the cats in case the maid came and it was lucky I did because the vet came early. I went down to reception with the cats. He had never seen a Third Country Veterinary Certificate before, every other animal he had treated had a Pet Passport, plus he didn't speak much English and I only have schoolgirl French but we managed. He charged €55 per cat, but gave me a discount and charged €100 for both.

 

After the maid had been, we walked to the nearest superstore, about a mile away. We took one of our hand luggage suitcases and bought a bag of litter and some more cat food, plus some food for ourselves, and brought it all back in the suitcase. The rest of the day was free, so we slept and read. Karma also did the former, but Indie hid under the bed all day.

 

Thursday: Eurotunnel to the UK

We had booked my brother-in-law's car on to a Shuttle across from the UK, allowed about three hours for him to pick us up, then booked the return journey. Of course, nothing was simple about our journey home, and his outward journey was cancelled. It therefore seemed unlikely we would make our planned train back but since they had cancelled it, we could travel on the next train without penalty.

 

He found the hotel with no problems, it is only a mile or so from the entrance to the Chunnel. We loaded the car and went to catch the Eurotunnel train (the Shuttle). It was a bit confusing, if you have pets you have to turn off to the right but we didn't realise this or see any signs so we got turned back at passport control. We found our way to where we needed to be and the cats were checked. I offered them my chip reader, which they used, but they tested it on a microchipped teddy bear first to make sure ours wasn't fixed! We then had to wait while they faxed all our paperwork over to the authorities in Dover. They told us this would take at least thirty minutes so we didn't think we would make our originally scheduled Shuttle but in fact approval came back after about twenty minutes. We drove round to passport control, and the guy there said we would just make our scheduled Shuttle, which we did. You just drive straight on to the train, and it takes about 30 minutes. We then drove straight off in Folkestone at the British side and a few hours later, almost four days after leaving the USA, we were home. Within minutes of arriving home, both cats asked to go in the garden! They clearly knew where they were, even though they hadn't been home for over four years.

 

Would I do it all again? I'm not sure. If I knew the weather was cooler, and there were no strikes in France, I might - but I would not use Air France!

 

These days, of course, you also have to consider travelling from the UK to the USA via Europe since no airline allows cats in the cabin UK-USA anymore. It wouldn't be as bad because you would not need to worry about flea treatments etc. It's still a big undertaking though. Good luck whatever you decide to do.

 

British Airways Save Harpsie's Life!

This des not involve any feline travel as such, but logically it belongs on the Travel page.

 

We were planning to go home for Christmas in 2005, until my petsitter called to say she could not petsit because of the transit strike that had just started in New York. I managed to find another petsitter via my vet, who actually lives very close to me. Harpsie took a real shine to her. I was still struggling to find a way to get to the airport, but finally managed to book a cab about twelve hours before departure at three times the normal cost.

 

Although the strike had been called off a few hours earlier, we still had to leave really early that morning because everything was not yet back to normal, and we didn't know how bad the roads would be and how long the journey would take. I am most definitely not a morning person, but I dragged myself out of bed in the pitch dark, three hours earlier than usual, and gave the cats several cuddles each before heading out.

 

Ten minutes after take-off, my brain awoke - and I realised I had given Harpsie several cuddles but not his phenobarb for his epilepsy! I was beside myself with worry. Missing just one dose could cause a seizure and possibly death. I was horrified at the thought of Harpsie lying there helpless for twelve hours until the petsitter came in that evening.

 

The plane did not have phones, so I asked the flight attendant, Asha, if there was any way she could help. Good old British Airways! She told the pilot, who told air traffic control, who told ground staff, who called the petsitter, who went and gave Harpsie his meds! The petsitter then called ground staff, who called air traffic control, who told the pilot, who told the flight attendant, who gave me the good news.

 

I am of course deeply embarrassed and ashamed that I had to add to the workload of these people on what was already a very busy day for them. But I am also incredibly touched that so many strangers, and our wonderful  petsitter, went out of their way to help a little blond pussy cat.

 

Harpsie did write a thank you letter to BA, and was delighted to receive a response addressed to Harpsie (Head Cat). Clearly he is now famous in aviation circles too.

 

 

 

 

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This page last updated: 20 July 2011

 

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