This site's eponymous kitties, Mr Noggins and Mr Binkles, or Noggins & Binkles for short, are no strangers to travel and can count planes, trains and automobiles in their travel adventures to date.
Those of you who are familiar with their story will know that Mr Noggins hails from the Seychelles and Mr Binkles from Mauritius. It follows, therefore, that they are probably some of the most well-travelled rescue cats in the world having spent time living not only in their respective countries of origin but also in France and now the United Kingdom. It also follows that their humans, seasoned travellers themselves, know a thing or two about travelling with cats.
The purpose of this post is to help other humans to understand the challenges and joys of the international jet-set for their furry friends. Whilst this post focuses on the journeys that Noggins & Binkles took to get to the United Kingdom, there are some similarities to the experience that other cats and small dogs would have in the same situation. Like anything, we suggest that you seek advice from your travel agent, relocation agency, airline or veterinarian well in advance of your move date if you are embarking on a journey with your four-legged friends and make sure you do lots of research.
Apart from the usual car journeys to and from the vet in the Seychelles, Mr Noggins' first taste of the international jet-set came when his humans relocated from the Seychelles to Mauritius, a two and a half hour flight in a southerly direction across the Indian Ocean. At the time, his humans were very much novices in the pet travel world and the idea of getting Mr Noggins safely from his home in the Seychelles to his new home in Mauritius was, frankly, quite daunting. By the time Noggins & Binkles travelled to the United Kingdom together, their humans had learnt quite a lot about the process, but every journey is different and still needs to be carefully planned.
One very important thing to say is that you need to start planning a long way in advance of your departure date because depending on where you are travelling from and to, local requirements, particularly those relating to quarantine and vaccinations, will be different. This post does not focus in detail on the vaccination or quarantine requirements because these vary materially depending on where you are travelling to and from. Always seek advice prior to travel.
Flying Solo: the Seychelles to Mauritius
For Mr Noggins' first journey from the Seychelles to Mauritius, his options were fairly limited. The only direct flight from the Seychelles to Mauritius was a twice-weekly flight marketed by the national airline of the Seychelles, Air Seychelles, but operated on a wet lease by Air Seychelles' partner Airline, Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi. Initial enquiries suggested that this flight would not be suitable because, it was said, Etihad Airways did not allow pets to travel in the cabin nor was the hold of the Airbus A320 used on this route suitably 'ventilated' for the carriage of live animals. After some further enquiries, however, it became clear that in fact the hold of the aircraft was suitable and Mr Noggins looked like he might be able to take the direct flight after all. This was good news for Mr Noggins and his humans because the alternative was a 16 hour flight on Emirates with an overnight stop over in its hub, Dubai, and at considerable additional cost.
Once you have identified that it is actually possible for your pet to travel on the route that you are planning to take, you will need to identify the appropriate type of pet carrier. This will essentially depend on the size of your cat or dog and the airline's policy on animals. Some airlines, like Air France or Delta, will allow cats and some breeds of small dog into the cabin with you but the majority of airlines will require that your furry friend travels in the hold, either as cargo or checked baggage. The importance of the distinction between cargo and checked baggage will become clear later in this post.
The International Air Transport Association, or IATA for short, is the trade association for the majority of world’s airlines and provides helpful guidance on matters relating to air travel including in relation to travelling with pets. On its website, IATA provides specific guidance on the size of carrier that is required depending on the size of your cat or dog. IATA says that airlines will use the IATA guidance to ensure the animal has enough space to turn about normally while standing, to stand and sit erect, and to lie in a natural position. IATA also has guidance relating to what food and water you should provide to your furry friend for the journey. Make sure that you familiarise yourself with this guidance because the airline may not accept your pet if you do not meet the requirements. We also recommend checking the carrier requirements with your airline before you decide to purchase your carrier.
Knowing now that Mr Noggins would be able to take the direct flight, albeit as cargo in the ventilated hold of the aircraft, his humans set out about identifying the appropriate carrier. After consulting the IATA guidance mentioned earlier in this post and taking guidance from the airline, a suitable container was identified (albeit not available locally), bought online and brought to Seychelles by a friendly visitor ready for Mr Noggins' big journey. The carrier of choice was a Petmate Sky Kennel, which appeared to be a popular choice for air travel, but there are a wide range of carriers available online and these vary in price and quality. It is important that you buy a carrier that is IATA approved and meets the requirements of the airline that your pet is travelling on otherwise the airline may refuse to carry your pet. For extra security you can also use plastic cable ties to secure the door of the carrier, as was done when Noggins travelled.
A few days before the flight, Mr Noggins' humans were contacted by the airline and it became clear that Mr Noggins would travel in the hold but as checked baggage rather than cargo. Not only, it turned out, would this be much cheaper, but the total journey time could be reduced significantly because Mr Noggins would no longer need to be dropped off early at the cargo terminal and could simply be checked in just like regular baggage at the same time that his humans checked in. The other advantage was that upon arrival in Mauritius, he could be collected alongside the humans' other bags rather than at the cargo terminal. This would make for a much less stressful journey for both Mr Noggins and his humans. You should always check well in advance with the airline to make sure that you understand when and where your pet should be dropped at the airport and collected at the destination.
Arriving in Mauritius: Quarantine
Upon arrival at the airport in Mauritius, Mr Noggins' humans collected him from the oversize luggage area where he was happily sitting among the surf boards and golf bags, which had also been spared the indignity of endlessly going around the baggage carousel awaiting collection. The first stop was the airport animal health authority, which checked to ensure that Mr Noggins' paperwork was in order. After being waved through customs, Mr Noggins was met by the staff from the Mauritius government quarantine facility who carefully loaded him into their van for the one hour drive to the quarantine facility where he would spend the next four weeks. This was a simple facility consisting of a basic but spacious and clean concrete pen. Mr Noggins was well looked after during his time in quarantine and his humans were able to visit every day. He was also allowed to have some creature comforts from home including his own bed, toys and food. It is important that you check the quarantine requirements of the country that you are travelling to well in advance to ensure that your furry friend can be accommodated from your arrival date and that the authorities are expecting him or her on the day that you arrive. You also need to make sure that you have the right paperwork on arrival at the airport. Noggins only ended up staying in quarantine for three weeks because space needed to be freed up for another cat arriving. Since travelling to Mauritius in 2013, there has been a reduction in the amount of time you can expect your cat or dog to spend in quarantine and currently it’s a minimum of five days for countries without rabies and a minimum of a month for countries with rabies, for up to date information check with the Mauritius Ministry of Agro-industry and Food Security.
Back on the Road: Mauritius to the United Kingdom
A little over four years after Mr Noggins arrived in Mauritius, and three years after Mr Binkles was rescued by the humans and brought into the family, it was time for Noggins & Binkles' next adventure: relocation to the United Kingdom. By now, Mr Noggins was a seasoned traveller, but Mr Binkles' only experience of travel had been trips to and from the vet and the time the humans had moved house in Mauritius.
Many of the things that the humans had done when Mr Noggins moved to Mauritius had to be done again for the new adventure and a route from Mauritius to London was finally identified and planning could get underway.
The First Leg: Mauritius to Charles de Gaulle Airport
For the first part of their journey, which would take them to Paris, France, Noggins & Binkles had the luxury of travelling in the cabin alongside their humans. For this particular flight, they enjoyed the extra comfort of the Air France premium economy cabin. It is worth noting that on Air France, pets may only travel in the cabin with their humans if their humans are travelling in economy or premium economy class, but not if their humans are travelling in business or first class; not that they would notice the difference in any event.
Noggins & Binkles in their Sleepypod Air bags waiting in the departure lounge at Mauritius Airport for the flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport
It is important to check with the airline to establish the type of carrier that is acceptable for pets travelling in the cabin because this differs between airlines and carriers suitable for travel in the hold are not suitable for travel in the cabin. On its website, Air France says that dogs and cats must travel in a special closed, and preferably flexible, travel bag that does not exceed 46cm x 28cm x 24 cm (or 18in x 11in x 9in). The website also states that the bag must be well-ventilated and be big enough for your animal to stand up and turn around and must fit in the area underneath the seat in front of you. You must ensure that your furry friend stays in its travel bag for the duration of the flight so don't be tempted to let him or her out!
The Air France flight from Mauritius to Paris, France, takes around 11 hours so Noggins & Binkles' humans wanted to make sure that Noggins & Binkles were as comfortable as they could possibly be. The total journey time, including travel at both ends, would be close to 24 hours; this is a very long time for your furry friend to be in a carrier so finding one that is comfortable is very important. After a lot of research, it was decided that Noggins & Binkles would each travel in a Sleepypod Air. The Sleepypod Air’s unique design allows it to contract in size to fit in the space below most airline seats during the restricted times of takeoff and landing. The advantage of this is that once the plane is in the air, the Sleepypod Air can be expanded to allow a pet the largest possible space below an airline seat. The Sleepypod Air proved to be the perfect choice because not only did it meet all of the Air France requirements but it also provided a stylish addition to the humans' luggage. In fact, it wasn't obvious that the Sleepypod Air was a pet carrier at all, making it much easier for the humans to navigate the airport without too much unwanted attention at what was, undoubtedly, a stressful time for Noggins & Binkles. The strong construction of the Sleepypod Air, together with the soft plush interior, made it the perfect choice to afford Noggins & Binkles the comfort that they needed for such a long journey. The soft plush interior made it a comfortable choice, but the humans decided to also add an absorbable pad (the type used for beds or puppy training) on the top just in case there were any ‘accidents’ during the journey. The humans were also armed with spare pads, poop bags and wipes for clean-up operations, but remarkably none of it was needed and there were two clean carriers when we arrived at our destination almost 24 hours later.
Noggins in his Sleepypod Air under the seat in the premium economy cabin on Air France
Noggins and Binkles were also wearing their breakaway safety collars with ID tags, which had the humans' mobile number in addition to the phone number of the place we were staying at in France, just in case! At the airport in Mauritius, security needed to check inside the bags so the humans requested a private room with a closed door before the bags were opened as there were images of Noggins and Binkles escaping in the airport, hence the ID tags. There are always private rooms near the security at airports so make sure you request one before you open your carry bag just to avoid any possible chance of escape.
Most research suggests that you should not feed your pet for four hours prior to the journey or for the duration of the flight. It is, therefore, important to pack some treats into your hand luggage so that you can feed your furry friend upon arrival at their destination, particularly for long flights like the one that Noggins & Binkles took. If you are provided with a bottle of water on the flight, it is worth taking this with you when you leave the aircraft so that you can provide your pet with some water. The humans did also try putting a little water on their fingers and poking it through a small gap in the bag during the flight just in case Noggins or Binkles were thirsty.
Arriving in France: Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris
Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, there were some formalities that needed to be completed to enable Noggins & Binkles not only to enter France but importantly to be able to travel onwards into the United Kingdom. On the whole this was a straightforward process but it is important that you familiarise yourself with the entry requirements for the country you are travelling to and for your final destination if you are travelling through more than one country to ensure that the paperwork is stamped and signed in accordance with the relevant requirements. This was particularly important in the case of Noggins & Binkles because the papers used to enter the European Union in France needed to be stamped by officials in France to enable Noggins & Binkles to travel onwards to the United Kingdom without any need to spend time in quarantine. Don't assume that the officials at the airport will be familiar with all of the requirements so ensure that you are able to guide them where necessary. You don't want to find yourself in difficulty because the paperwork was not properly endorsed somewhere along the journey. We had to request that our paperwork was stamped at Paris Charles De Gaulle and had to explain to the customs officials that we would be travelling onwards to the United Kingdom.
Noggins & Binkles waiting on the train platform with their humans at Paris Charles de Gaulle Train Station in their Sleepypods
The Kitties take the train: Paris to Southwest France
The next leg of the journey involved a new form of transport for Noggins & Binkles: the train. The French railway, operated by SNCF, allows pets in both standard and first class on trains for a relatively small fee depending on the weight of your cat or dog. For dogs and cats up to 6KG, a bag or basket no larger than 45 cm x 30 cm x 25 cm is required. Whilst carriers are not required for pets weighing more than 6KG, the animal must wear a muzzle during the entire journey. The Sleepypod Air proved as suitable on the train as it did on the plane and fitted neatly under the seat in front of the humans in first class. It is worth checking the SNCF seating plan when you are booking your train tickets to check the layout of the train cabin and if you book in advance you can often buy first class tickets for only slightly more than standard class, which the humans found helpful as there was a little more space. More information in relation to taking your pet on trains operated by SNCF can be found on the SNCF website.
Noggins & Binkles on the train in first class from Paris Charles de Gaulle Train Station to South West France (just enough room for the humans!)
The Last Leg: Southwest France to London
It is worth noting that bringing pets, particularly cats and small dogs into the United Kingdom is more difficult than bringing them into France. This is because it is not possible for any animals to enter the United Kingdom in the cabin of an aircraft or by using the Eurostar train service. However, with careful planning, it is still quite straightforward to use other means of transport to get from France into the United Kingdom with pets.
As a result, the final part of the journey was slightly more complicated and involved a combination of two SNCF trains, the Paris Metro, the Eurotunnel and a pet taxi. On this journey, Noggins & Binkles had the opportunity to sample the Paris Metro which links Paris Montparnasse, a station in the south west of Paris into which SNCF trains from Bordeaux arrive, with Gard du Nord, a station in the north of Paris from where the SNCF train to Calais departs. Aside from needing to walk a fair distance (approximately 15 minutes) at Paris Montparnasse to transfer from the SNCF train to the Paris Metro, the journey is much quicker (around 45 minutes) and cheaper by Metro than by taking a taxi between the two stations, particularly at rush hour. For travellers with a lot of luggage, consider taking a taxi but make sure that you allocate sufficient time (up to ninety minutes) to get from one station to the other.
Noggins & Binkles in their Sleepypod Air bags under the seats in first class on the SNCF train from South West France to Paris Montparnasse
Despite the English Channel forming a 22 mile wide watery border between the north coast of France and the south coast of the United Kingdom, the easiest way to get from France to the United Kingdom is, surprisingly, by car. That may sound strange to some but despite there being no road bridge or road tunnel linking France to the United Kingdom it is possible to make the journey by car, either by using one of the many ferries that regularly ply between various ports in France and the United Kingdom or by taking the Eurotunnel from Calais, in France, to Folkestone, in the United Kingdom. It is important, here, to distinguish the Eurotunnel from the Eurostar. The former is a service running from Calais to Folkestone which carries passenger and goods vehicles and the latter is a foot-passenger only service which runs from Paris to London. Most ferries and the Eurotunnel allow passengers to bring their furry friends with them. Noggins & Binkles' humans opted for the Eurotunnel because the overall journey time would be shorter than taking the ferry and it seemed that on most ferries you would need to leave your pet in the car unattended. The only slight challenge was that Noggins & Binkles' humans did not have a car, a pre-requisite on the Eurotunnel, which, unlike most ferries, does not take foot-passengers. This challenge was, however, quickly overcome when Noggins & Binkles' humans discovered that a specialist pet taxi firm, Folkestone Taxi Co, based near the Eurotunnel in the UK, could meet Noggins, Binkles and the humans at the SNCF train station in Calais and drive all the way to their final destination in London.
After successfully navigating the first SNCF train, crossing Paris on the Metro and a second SNCF train, Noggins, Binkles and the humans arrived at Calais Frethun station. Calais Frethun is a short drive away from the Eurotunnel terminal and had been arranged as the meeting point for the pet taxi. Folkestone Taxis had provided the name of the driver along with his contact and vehicle details in advance so finding the driver was very straightforward. The driver had caught an early morning Eurotunnel train from Folkestone that morning and the price of the taxi included the return fare on the Eurotunnel for the vehicle and all of its passengers, both human and feline.
Upon arrival at the Eurotunnel terminal, the first port of call was the Pet Reception Centre, where staff scanned Noggins & Binkles' microchips and checked that the paperwork, which had been duly stamped on arrival at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, was all in order. After less than 15 minutes, Noggins, Binkles and the humans got back in the taxi where they would stay until they arrived at their final destination in London. After passing through passport control, the journey on the Eurotunnel is straightforward and involves driving your car (or in Noggins & Binkles' case the taxi) onto the train. The journey on the train takes approximately 35 minutes, most of which is spent in the Channel Tunnel. Once the train arrives in Folkestone, cars drive off the train and straight on to the M20 motorway, which is approximately a 90 minute drive to central London. Don't forget, cars drive on the left in the United Kingdom!
The Pet Reception at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais
All in all, travelling with pets is relatively straightforward provided you do plenty of research and plan the journey well in advance. Here at Noggins & Binkles, we think that the best experience is if your furry friends can travel in the cabin with you although, as noted in this post, this is not always possible particularly with some breeds of small dog and larger dogs in addition to country and airline restrictions. This post is based on the experience that Noggins & Binkles and their humans had and the information is accurate at the time of travel. You should do your own comprehensive research before embarking on any journey with your furry friends.
Noggins & Binkles' top tips for travelling with pets:
1) Plan your journey well in advance and seek advice from your airline and local authorities;
2) Choose direct flights where possible to avoid the stress associated with changing aircraft;
3) Choose a comfortable carrier which conforms with IATA and airline requirements;
4) If the airline permits, try to travel with your pet in the cabin rather than in the hold;
5) Do not give your pet any type of sedation prior to the journey;
6) Do not feed your pet less than four hours prior to the journey or during the journey; and
7) Examine your pet in a safe place when you arrive at your destination. If your pet seems unwell, contact a veterinarian immediately.