Welcome to Part Three of my series on transporting your pet from the USA to Malaysia. Part I was was about travel accessories, and Part II was about essential pet travel documents. In this post, I’ll describe my overall experience travelling with a cat on a plane, including flight check-in, going through security, claiming Schubert on arrival and checking him in with the quarantine office (MAQIS.)
Domestic leg & TSA checkpoint
Per standard procedure, arrived about two hours early at IAD to check in. I flew with Virgin (don’t need to pre-book travel for your pet, just show up and pay the fees,) and while I was given a “priority” boarding pass, it didn’t make any difference when going through TSA. I still had to join the masses 🙂 queuing to put their carry-ons and miscellaneous items into bins for the x-ray scan. In fact, NO ONE would have noticed I had a cat with me if I hadn’t tapped a guy on the shoulder and asked him what I should do.
“You’re gonna take your cat out of his bag, and you’re gonna carry him through the metal detectors,” said the officer, as he pointed towards a gate beside the body scanner. “And the bag’s gotta go through the x-rays.”
Take Schubert out of his bag? The instructions were clear, but the officer resumed what he had been doing without alerting colleagues near the metal detector. I imagined horrible things happening after I took Schubert out of his carrier.
Fortunately, it wasn’t bad at all. Schubert refused to get out of the carrier from the side, so I opened it up from the top and grabbed him around the middle, lifting him up and out of the bag.
“Awww!!!” said a woman’s voice from the queue behind. Schubert just looked confused and had no desire to struggle out of my clutches. I looked around at the TSA officers again, and this time, the ones near the metal detectors indicated I should step over towards them. I can’t remember if they patted me down after walking through the detectors, but I’m gonna say they didn’t.
Overall, TSA checkpoint with Schubert was uneventful. My expectation was that the agents would be all over me because I was carrying a live animal — this wasn’t the case. There’s no telling if your experience will be the same, but it’s good to keep in mind that if nobody notices you’re traveling with a pet, take the initiative and alert them.
You might get some stares and some smiles as you make your way through the airport. “Oh, kitty kitty!” cried a few people. “Can I take a photo of him in his carrier?” asked a guy sitting beside me at my gate. A woman sitting nearby, brightened up and cast furtive smiles at Schubert’s carrier. My cat, who’s a bit of an attention whore, would have loved all this if he wasn’t so busy being confused by our trip.
On the plane, Schubert was very quiet the entire way. I only felt some frantic scrambling while waiting to enter the plane, and during takeoff. Vacuums are Schubert’s mortal enemy, and the plane’s engines must have sounded like the Grand Monster Vacuum to him. Once we were on the plane, I was supposed to tuck him under the seat front, but couldn’t. I wrote about this in Part I, and here’s what I said:
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.
Besides that, he was calm and ventured to lovingly rub his face on my hand whenever I poked into the carrier to check on him.
International leg & transiting
In Part I, I described the Petmate Sky Kennel that I used to transport Schubert all the way to Asia. This is an excellent and very sturdy, bolted kennel that comes in various sizes. I had considered sizing up just to give Schubert a bit more room to move, but the one I got was for pets up to 15 pounds and it was roomy enough.
At the Korean Airlines counter in San Francisco (SFO,) I checked him in together with my luggage. This is also the time when they’ll ask for documentation and the $200 pet travel fee, and you must pre-book your pet’s travel.
Before I could proceed through security to get to my gate, I was asked to wait by the check-in counter for a handler to escort me to the oversized baggage counter. Obviously Schubert isn’t oversized, just a more unique type of, uh, baggage.
Once again, I was asked to hold Schubert while they checked his carrier at the oversized baggage counter. This was a quick procedure, done in under a minute. When he was safely back inside, the handler took over transporting Schubert to the plane, as he couldn’t be sent down to the hangars via conveyor belt like the rest of the bags.
As the handler walked away with Schubert in tow, I suddenly felt a pang of fear that he’d be placed on the wrong flight, but quickly told myself I was being irrational. Yes, bags do get lost but more often they end up in the right place. (Or do they?)
The paranoia was probably due to the long layover I had in Korea. In Incheon (ICN,) he was automatically handed over to Korean quarantine for the night, and then transported back over to the plane heading for Malaysia the next day. I was just concerned that someone might get lax (it happens) and Schubert could be heading for Malawi instead.
If you have to transit like I did, you may not need anything. Hopefully, whichever route you take won’t require any additional papers for the transit country.
And after we parted ways in San Francisco, the next time I saw Schubert was in Kuala Lumpur (KUL.)
Arriving in Kuala Lumpur and location of MAQIS
This is the most nail-biting part of the journey. At this point, you’re a bedraggled, jet-lagged traveller, arriving after a (very) long trip and you’re anxious to see that your pet got here safely, but you’re also itching to tear off your travel clothes, have a nice warm bath and fall asleep on a soft bed. Take a breath and brace yourself, because it’ll be awhile before you get there. You still have to queue for customs, take the sky train over to baggage claim, collect your luggage, find the Quarantine office to sign some papers, then wait for your pet to arrive at the baggage claim hall. All require some patience and wait time.
Fortunately for Malaysians, the customs part is fairly quick and painless — just swipe your passport at the turnstile, wait for it to read your thumbprint and you’re through. The main anxiety I had during this part of the journey was finding the Quarantine office, which is also known as MAQIS. I had a few false alarms before I finally found the right one. (By then, my luggage had arrived at the carousel and it didn’t take long to collect.)
Just before the immigration checkpoints, I spotted a large “Kuarantine” sign over a door on the left. Hopped in there and began asking the lady on how to sign off on my cat, when she interrupted:
“Cik, ini bukan kuarantine haiwan, ini kuarantine manusia!” (Miss, this is isn’t animal quarantine, this is quarantine for humans!)
Oops. Hot-footed right out of there quicker than when I entered.
Went through customs and past a few duty free stores. Spotted another quarantine sign soon after but this one said fisheries. Not the right one either.
I didn’t see anything else that looked relevant, so I took the sky train over to the baggage claim hall. After fruitlessly following some signs that said “kuarantine haiwan,” I gave up and asked for directions.
(I think this slight confusion over the office location could have been cleared up if I’d been able to reach someone by phone or email for directions. I’d expected to receive specific instructions on what to do on arrival day from the agent my folks hired, but unfortunately, his communication really missed the mark there. He should have been there to check me in with MAQIS as part of his service, but I ended up doing that on my own.)
MAQIS is located at the far right corner of the baggage hall, in front of carousel J (approximately.) The staff there are super nice and friendly, which almost makes up for the lack of information on their confusing website. They checked my passport, documents and bag claim ticket before making a call to check on Schubert’s status — he was on the way. Hurrah!
While waiting, I signed off on MAQIS’ paperwork, then ran to collect my checked luggages. If you have food for your pet, this is the time to hand over to the MAQIS folk, or leave it on top of your pet’s carrier so they know which pet it’s for.
By the time I found the food in my luggage, Schubert had arrived, wheeled over on a luggage trolley and understandably cranky. The very nice MAS officer said he’d been yowling when he was handed over, and she tried to comfort him to no avail. Poor Schubert!
Nevertheless, it was definitely a relief to see Schubert had arrived in good shape (besides the temper tantrum,) and I noted that someone had taken further steps to prevent the carrier from bursting open by drawing a couple rounds of clear green tape. I’ll never know if it was the staff of SFO, ICN or Korean Air, but I’m grateful for the thoroughness.
Much as I didn’t want to leave Cat with the quarantine folk, I was reasonably assured that he was in good hands, and it was time for me to go meet my folks. Because I arrived late in the evening, I wouldn’t have been able to visit him immediately at the quarantine station if I wanted to. I went the very next day, armed with treats and a soft blanket to make up for all the discomfort.
Stay tuned for the final installment in this series on Schubert’s quarantine station experience.
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