Friday, February 19, 2010

Flying to Copenhagen with Cats...

Last week, I decided to take my cats with me on a rather long trip to Denmark.  I just couldn't bear being away from my cats for such a long time (6 weeks), so I jumped through hoops to get ready for our big trip.

First stop, White Pine Veterinary Clinic in Park City, Utah on a snowy Friday morning. I got out of my car and the guy parking next to me playfully said, "I didn't know who was driving, them or you."  Okay, so I had let them sit on the heated passenger seat next to me, yowling and peering out at traffic along the way, but it was too early in the morning for me to do much more than nod at the guy making conversation as the snow fell on my face.

I would have been much happier for someone to hold the door open for me, as the wind whipped under my already fur-covered black coat! Not very clever to wear a black wool coat with white cats, but vanity wasn't exactly a primary concern that morning.

I settled in with Damon (the larger male) and Diva (the little female) both on my lap. A one-eyed Husky showed up behind us and the Siamese yowling banter ceased temporarily. A boisterous black Laborador Retriever made a big entrance and the yowls of discontent (disdain, perhaps?!) escalated.

Fortunately, we were invited to step into the examining room to finish the paperwork for international travel (rabies updates, international microchip tracking, and U.S. and E.U. health certificates). Diva promptly jumped from examining table to the small counter over a cabinet in the corner of the room. Damon peered suspiciously out the sliding glass door at various creatures parading up and down the passageway. I kept petting Damon to reassure him of my presence and continued to build up a thick layer of cat fur on my coat.

Diva has asthma, so I was glad to hear her lungs sounded good. The cats did really well overall, as they think all humans are really on this planet to admire and love them, including vets and even handymen visiting the house. Back in the car, I headed to PetCo at Kimball Junction to find a larger cat carrier. A quick breakfast at Whole Foods and I was ready to head down Parley's Canyon.

Tess met me in Salt Lake City and we set out to find the US Department of Agriculture's office near the airport to get the cats "certified" for flight. Files about "brine shrimp" crawled up one wall and it felt like the oddest place in which to find myself toting cats around. Tess kept me company while the receptionist disappeared into the interior of the office complex to confer with the veterinarian. I kept my eye on the clock, noticing that this part of my rapidly compressing travel day was expanding like a hot Southern evening. Finally (phew), I got the stamps and approvals and was off to finish packing.

With Tess's terrific help, I made it to the airport on time and paid an oh-so-reasonable airfare for the two cats (in the one carrier) of $100.00. Perfect, until I had to go through security.

"M'am, please take your pet out of the carrier before you step through the scanner."  Hmm, I thought to myself that this should be interesting. The two sedated cats were like rag dolls, with their limbs akimbo in my arms, and attracted a lot of attention. The Parisienne flight attendent behind me was fascinated and started chatting as I was trying to place my cats back in the carrier, with their little paws and ears poking up again and again before I could get the carrier zipped up.

The cats settled down and all was quiet while I looked for things to read on the plane. I boarded with no problem either, with the "Large" carrier fitting easily under the seat in front of me. The man next to me, a Brit, was a huge cat fan. Even better yet! No allergies or fussiness about the occasional yowl that was echoing out from the seat in front of me (Damon was especially vocal as he hates confinement of any kind).

My seat mate and I made easy small talk that ranged from pets to his Ph.D. work until I rolled my coat up and fell asleep next to the window.

The next thing I know is that I am being shaken awake by my seat mate. Barely able to open my eyes, I heard, "Did you know that your cats are loose and wandering around up in Business Class?"

Say what?! Impossible. However, I checked the carrier, and, indeed, the cats were gone. There was a grapefruit-sized hole in the mesh side of the carrier. Damon, undoubtedly, was the one who had chewed through. I craned my head out to view a weaving Damon cruising through Business Class and next caught sight of Diva swaying her way dreamily starboard.

My seat mate captured Damon and I swept Diva up and I put them back in the carrier. I sat there with that carrier on my lap, my left arm petting the cats and plugging the hole for the moment. Problem was that I couldn't deplane in Paris with the cats in a damaged carrier. Egad. Halfway through a 9 hour flight, I scooped the cats and carrier up and did my own sway through the dark aisle, making my way back to the broad kitchen space at the back of the plane.

The flight attendants were relaxed and chatting as most of the passengers were now asleep or watching videos. I confessed that I had a rather interesting problem. Any duct tape? Nope, only masking tape, which, of course, was not strong enough to seal up the hole. Any sewing kits?

My most favorite Delta stewardess of all time went to the front of the plane and came back with a kit for sewing buttons on heavy overcoats. The thread she brought seemed to be made of titanium and the needle was at least three times the size of a normal needle. Any kind of sewing kit was huge progress; however, we couldn't cut the thread or pull it apart like normal thread. I found that I could chew my way through the thread, as a plastic knife's serrated edges practically dissolved when we tried to saw our way through that thread!

So, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the kitchen in the middle of the night, I attracted attention from those in line for the bathroom. A blond woman's long locks cascaded across her face as she bent over to peer inside to see the cats. The parade of curious passengers continued while I chatted with my newest best friend from Delta, who had taken a personal interest in me and my cats. Once my home economics skills had been put to a test, I asked if I could store the cats in an overhead bin. Sorry, that was out of the question, but my new friend offered her private storage bin, a place so snug against the sides of the carrier that no chewing through could possibly happen again. Yay!

Back to my seat and back to sleep for a few hours. I never felt so loyal to Delta. I missed breakfast but was happy just to know my cats were safe until we landed. Unboarding last, I made my way out into Charles de Gaulle airport to find my next gate for my leg to Copenhagen. All was suddenly seeming easy again.

But wait. There's more. At the check-in counter for my Copenhagen flight, the rules changed on me. The cats were too heavy to be taken into the cabin with me. I had a fleeting moment of panic and then calmly asked what I could do and inquired whether I could buy them a ticket for a seat of their own. Nope. No time for that. The only possibility was to buy a ticket for them underneath in a special compartment for pets. The catch? I would miss my plane and would have to buy a plastic crate to take the cats on the next plane to Copenhagen.

Sigh. I have two plastic crates back at home but I didn't have much choice, so I paid for the crate and the second airfare and checked them through as oversized luggage for the pet compartment. Released of my guardianship for a brief period before I had to board, I had my first meal in many, many hours, a simple Caesar salad with some Evian water and made the next plane to Copenhagen.

The good news? Despite having one of my bags missing at the baggage claim, the cats made the trip just fine and have adjusted to the time zone and temporary change in residence quite nicely.

Looking back, the flight between Salt Lake City and Paris may go down as "most memorable ever."  My seat mate thought it was downright entertaining to look up and see two Siamese cats loose on an international flight. And, my stewardess friend shared that someone up in Business Class dangling a shredded airplane pillow had asked whether someone had "gotten hungry" on the flight. She assumed that one of my cats did it and I don't doubt it.

Bashfully, I shook my head and said, "You know how some people do crazy things when they are on sleeping pills?! I'm just glad I wasn't traveling with someone like my dad having a reaction like Damon had to his 'kitty Ambien.'"  The stewardess, my seat mate, and I had a good laugh, and I can't help but laugh every time I think of the trip.

So, I just had to share with my readers, many of whom are huge cat fans. Here's to life with the feline lot!!!


RobertJ said...

Wonderful Story and very well told. Thanks for sharing.

Angie said...

Cindy, that was a great 'cat' story, and you were very brave to travel with 2 cats (and Siamese are no ordinary cats, they are a class all to themselves) on your own. So glad it all worked out, and I fully understand your not wanting to be away from them for so long. When I went to Europe fora month, I missed them terribly, but strangely enough, a cat would find me, most every day during my trip, so I got my kitty fix. Love, Angie K.

Cindy Marteney, CEO, Our Health Co-op said...

Thanks Robert...and Angie, what a great experience of having cats show up each day for you while you were in Europe. That was my experience when traveling in Spain (when I was in the Navy and stationed in Rota, Spain). Everywhere there were cats (one hotel had so many tame cats in the courtyard, you could literally borrow a cat for the evening. Not so here in Copenhagen. I see few dogs on the street being walked (nothing like New York City or Park City, both big "dog" cities) and have not yet seen a cat in downtown Copenhagen! Sooo glad to have my cats with me!