So you think airports and airplanes are stressful places? Try the flying experience with two cats while you are highly pregnant. Here’s how we survived it.
About two years ago, my husband and I adopted a street cat in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. We decided to name her Aizo. Aizo had babies of which only one kitten survived. We decided to keep the kitten and call her Charaka. Some of you already know these two characters: I’ve previously written about the difficulty of owning pets in Ethiopia and about not giving up on a paralyzed cat.
These cats became a part of our family, and when it was time for us to move back to Finland, leaving them behind was not an option.
Getting the paperwork done for them is a story of its own. It can be done, but if you have an animal you would like to bring with you and are reading this right now: start well in advance!
Let me tell you about our trip now.
This whole trip, our cats traveled in the cabin with us. I was not ready to ship them as cargo, having read too many horror stories of pets lost in the process (although most probably make it home completely safe).
We decided not to sedate our cats. There are differing opinions about this. Our reasoning for not doing this was that the cats would be shocked enough about the whole experience, no need to mess it up even further with medication.
Our flying journey started in a hotel room on a Monday at 5:30 pm and ended on the other side of the world the next day, on Tuesday, at 2 pm. The cats spent a total of nearly 24 hours in their carriers. So how did they survive it?
Let’s start from the beginning. After putting the cats in their carriers (not too easy with our former street cat), we covered the carriers with fabric to prevent the cats from seeing everything from the rush hour of Addis Abeba to the taxi hassle at the airport. This is my first tip: cover the box whenever you can. It will calm your pet down.
Then came the first horror spot, the security check. All travelers with pets must remove their pets from their carriers and scan the empty carrier through the x-ray machines AND walk through the security check holding the cat in your lap. I think this is the most dangerous/stressful part of the whole journey.
Imagine a normal hassle at an airport security check. Now multiply that stress by 500, and you are getting close to the Addis Abeba airport experience. I don’t like to complain about these things, but that airport is my least favourite in the world. It is not well organized.
There we were, standing with the carriers in our hand, getting closer to the moment we had been dreading for months. We knew we could try and negotiate to have a private room for screening the carriers. Did we try this? Oh yes. Did it work in Addis Abeba? Nope.
Well, what could we do except get it over with? The most difficult thing for us was to get our pets out of their carriers, because at this stage they were too scared to move. They tried to curl up in the back of their carriers.
This part of the journey will be a lot easier if you are traveling with your companion or friend. Once your pet is out, cover its eyes with your hands or any fabric. Make sure the carrier is sent through the x-ray first so that it also arrives on the other side first and will be ready for re-loading with your pet!
And here’s another tip: get to the airport early, ridiculously early. All things will take much longer when you are traveling with your pet.
A word of comfort for those losing their sleep over worrying about taking your cat through the security systems: your cat will most likely not run away from you. It is too scared to do that. Just hold it firmly and cover its eyes if possible. It will be alright.
In Addis Abeba, there are two security checks – one you have to upon entering the airport, and another one upon entering the gate area.
In our case it was the second one that caused the most trouble. The situation was just so stressful. People were pushing us and walking past us, security guys were laughing at us (“It’s just a cat!”) and getting too close to the carriers (cats were terrified).
We tried to explain to them that the carriers were already checked at the downstairs security point. Why do we have to take the cats out again? They insisted. Well so did we. I asked the guys to call their manager and stubbornly waited for half an hour before the manager appeared.
We explained our situation, and she let us go through without checking the carriers again after calling her colleagues downstairs.
This waiting game demanded some obstinate determination. After the situation was over, I broke in tears though (the closest I got to a nervous breakdown on this trip), the whole situation just being too stressful. So here’s another tip: don’t be afraid to be adamant about some things, e.g. requesting a private room or refusing to take your cat out if the carrier has already once been checked (as was our case in Addis Abeba).
And then we entered the airplane. We placed Aizo’s carrier under one seat (covered) and Charaka’s on my lap. This was the easiest part of the trip. They went into silent cat mode. Sometimes we’d give them water (I dipped my fingers in water and they would lick my fingers) and light snacks.
The total flight time from Addis Abeba to Frankfurt was about nine hours, and the cats meowed maybe two or three times during this whole time. No fellow passengers complained.
After my experience on this flight, I would like Lufthansa to name itself the Most Pet Friendly Airline Company. The whole crew on flight LH599 on that day, September 14, was just so supportive and wonderful. They were cat-life savers!
Once in Frankfurt, we had to pass through one more security check to get to our connecting flight to Helsinki. At this stage, I asked the security personnel to provide us with a private room. There was no problem with our request.
After going through the checks ourselves, one of their staff members carried our cats to a private room where we had to lift them out of their carriers one more time. They were terrified, again. But we knew the trip was almost over.
The last two hour flight felt like an eternity. And yes, especially Aizo looked miserable and moody in her carrier. And she had probably peed in her carrier, poor little thing.
But then, after almost 24 hours of traveling, there we were in our Helsinki apartment. Once letting our cats out of their carriers, we immediately showed them a litterbox and gave them food. This was well appreciated. But after the initial enthusiasm of having freedom again, they hid themselves under the bed and it took 4-5 days for them to trust as again.
But guess what. Here we are, chilling on the sofa and enjoying life.
Traveling with pets is difficult but know this:
- It can be done.
- You can do it.
- Your pet can do it.
Good luck! Ask me for more tips if you are nervous about your upcoming trip.