Women and cats. Those of us with gentle souls can’t help it. Those squishy, baby-sized furry creatures with their big sparkly eyes — sadistic predators though they might be in the animal kingdom, their sweetness and affection towards us bring out the instinct to protect almost like we would our own children. I brought my four-year-old Schubert from the county animal shelter to live with me when he was just five months old. Now he’ll be going with me on this big trip, despite many people telling me to leave him here in someone else’s care.
Taking any pet halfway around the world is a big decision. Airline rules, permits, certification, shot updates, fees and travel accessories — the requirements will vary from country to country. You must start researching, planning and budgeting at least three months before your travel date, as finding out accurate information can sometimes get dicey. If you’re taking your pet from the United States to Malaysia, perhaps you’ll find my experience a useful source of info.
I haven’t left the US, and have yet to complete this journey with Schubert, but will update this as I go along. I’ll start with travel accessories in Part 1.
Airlines have pretty specific dimensions for pet carriers, as to be expected, and most international flights don’t allow pets in the cabin. Not being able to fly with me by his side would also be pretty stressful on a little domestic shorthair. I wrinkled my nose, imagining a bewildered cat getting stinkier and stinkier while cooped up in small space for more than 24 hours, so I’m breaking up the trip by flying from Washington D.C. to San Francisco before embarking on the long flight to Malaysia. That way, he can fly with me for the domestic leg of his epic journey to the East. I chose Virgin America because of the reasonable fees and lenient pet rules. I called the hotline and was told I could just show up with my cat and pay the $100 fee on the day itself. The customer service representative I spoke to said that plastic carriers sometimes don’t fit, and suggested getting a soft case carrier so I could comfortably tuck Schubert under the seat.
(Update: Despite the customer service rep’s advice, the soft case was still about two inches too tall to go under the seat. If you really need to have it fit under, you’ll have to find one that doesn’t have wiring to retain the bag’s shape. The flight attendant wasn’t overly picky about it, but she said to try and make him fit the best that I could. In the end, I just moved him over to the floor of the empty seat beside me.)
I got a Whisker City one easily at Petsmart for about $35. Schubert’s new carrier is actually quite nice, resembling a small blue duffel bag with blue flower patterns. The sides are mesh for ventilation and you can open it up from the side or from the top. For added convenience, a shoulder sling is included (perfect because I’ll be wheeling a second piece of carry-on luggage.) The carrier folds flat and has a tough cardboard bottom covered in a rug material, presumably so your pet can have something soft to sit on. I bought dog pads to line the carrier,
but hopefully he will hold it till we get to San Fran. and it ended up as extra soft padding for Schubert.
To get him used to the idea of being in the carrier, I set it up and left it open. Scattered a bit of catnip and placed his smelliest old toy mouse in there; walked him into the carrier and zipped him up shut. After about ten minutes and not hearing a single meow, he got lots of praise and a few treats! I’ve been doing this for the last few days and yesterday, lo and behold, look who walked in to the carrier and hung out there for over half an hour on his own!
Of course, five hour flight will be a little different, but at least he sees the carrier as a safe and friendly place for now. He was quiet the entire way to San Francisco, even as the plane engines revved at takeoff. I felt some scrambling — he must have been imagining it was some mega monster vacuum cleaner — but not single peep the entire way there.
After we land in San Francisco, the soft case will be folded up and tucked away in my luggage, and Schubert will have a larger case for travelling to Asia. I’ll have four days to repeat the “get the cat used to his travel case” process again while visiting a couple of friends. It’ll be lined with dog pads again, and I’ll throw in a couple of my old t-shirts for added comfort. He’ll also be reassured that I haven’t abandoned him — don’t laugh at this! Hunters use this trick to locate lost dogs in the woods; by leaving familiar smelling items (clothes) and water around their hunting grounds, the lost dogs have a way of knowing they are closer to home and have a reason to stay near the familiar items in case their owner comes back.
If you were in his paws, you’ll be glad for some reassurance too. Schubert will fly for half a day from San Francisco to Seoul, in the passenger cargo compartment of a Korean Air flight. Before our final six-hour journey to Kuala Lumpur, we have a one-day layover in Seoul, where Schubert will be in quarantine and I’m unsure if I can visit him there. If I can’t, Schubert the House Cat will be on this strange journey, locked up in strange surroundings for more than 20 hours without any of his creature comforts. Other animals suffer worse fates, I know. But as sure as first world problems exist, a house cat only knows how to deal with house cat problems. Besides, he is my house cat, and I want him to be as comfortable as possible.
(Update: When travelling West to East, the jet lag always gets to me in a huge way. By the time I arrived in Seoul, all I wanted to do was grab a cab, check into my hotel and pass out. Should you ever need or want to go check on your pet at Incheon, the clearly marked quarantine office is on the second level in the arrival hall area.)
To find out more about pet travel on the international flight, once again I was on the phone, but the first call to Korean Air was confusing. The customer service operator didn’t seem to know much about pet travel procedures and I was forwarded to the cargo shipping department. When I looked up the website, I found an entire section on the airline’s website (under Customer Support>Traveling With Pets.) Calling for the second time to confirm that the requirements listed were up-to-date, I lucked out with an operator that did know her stuff, but she still got the dimensions of the cage wrong, which continued to cause a bit confusion when I went to look at Petsmart. Nuts and bolts are required for carriers that can be taken apart; clasps aren’t enough. The carriers at Petsmart don’t have nuts and bolts — you have to get your own online or from the hardware store.
The one I ended up ordering from Amazon is a Petmate Sky Kennel that meets Korean Airline’s cargo compartment requirements, which are:
-Total dimensions cannot exceed 97 inches. Height cannot exceed 33 inches.
-Kennel must be made of wood, metal or plastic and has enough room for pet to move around.
-Kennel must be bolted, and must have ventilation on all sides.
-Total weight of kennel + pet must not exceed 32 kilos.
-And one last requirement is a padlock, which doesn’t come with the kennel but can be purchased easily.
A food and water clip-on bowl is included, but I got a separate bottle water feeder with a tube tip to prevent spilling. Hopefully Schubie will know how to use it!
(Update: I bought the padlock, but never used it and wasn’t asked to either. The Sky Kennel is a great buy – very sturdy, clip-on bowl is useful for food and includes more metal bolts and plastic wing nuts than necessary. I think Schubert did drink some water from the bottle feeder, but it may also have leaked. I can’t be sure.)
That’s it for Part 1, which I will update after we complete our journey. Stay tuned for future parts on travel documentation and other procedures.
Five more days before our flight to San Fran, and 10 more days before we leave the US. Fingers crossed for an easy journey!
Comments or questions? Post them below!