This is the second part of two posts in which I share my experience traveling with my two cats from Tbilisi to Holland and the preparations that involved. You can read the first part here.
Don’t feed the pets the last twelve hours before your trip and don’t let them drink water the last four hours before. Put an old sweater or an old blanket that smells like you in the cage. Also, put a food bowl, a small bag of wet food and a small bottle of water in their cage, especially if you expect your pets to travel in the hold so they can be fed as soon as possible upon arrival by the animal handlers at the airport. My vet recommended that the cats wear disposable diapers while traveling, but I didn’t think that was necessary and would only make things more stressful. If your pet is traveling in the hold, tape copies of your pet’s travel papers in a plastic folder on the travel cage. I have to admit I dutifully did this, but the tape didn’t stick well enough, so I had already lost Nirvo’s papers in the hustle and bustle of Tbilisi airport before I even reached the check-in line.
Fortunately, friends took me to the airport by car and helped me drag my luggage and cats around. I was very grateful for them to be ready to give up half their night (of course, the flight to Amsterdam is one of those regular middle-of-the-night flights every frequent traveler to and from the Caucasus loathes). Count on things taking a bit more time if you are traveling with pets, so be early at the airport and at the gate. Upon entering the Tbilisi airport building, everyone (and I do mean everyone, not just travelers) has to go through a security check complete with X-ray and detection gate. This meant that I had to take the cats out of their travel cages, walk through the detection gate with a scared cat in my arms while the cage passes through the x-ray machine and put the cat back in the box on the other side. I then had to walk around the security area, sneak back in line and repeat the process with the second cat while my friends took care of my luggage. Of course, the security officers and the other people waiting in line were not happy about me taking so much time and skipping lines, but what else could I do? Keep doing your thing and let other people go ahead as much as possible and you should be fine.
As my cats are fairly big and I had two cat carriers that were bigger than the usual size allowed for taking pets in the cabin, I expected them to travel in the hold with the luggage. I won’t deny I was a bit nervous about that. However, at the check-in counter, the woman who helped me told me my cats were traveling with me in the cabin and that she’d give me two chairs in the very last row. On the one hand this was nice, because now at least I knew the cats would be near me the entire trip. But this also meant I had to drag my carry-on luggage (a trolley suitcase and a shoulder bag) plus the two travel cages with me through two airports, something I had not counted on.
At the security check at the gate, I had to go through the same routine of going through security twice with a scared cat on my arm. This time there were of course fewer people and I made sure I was early at the gate. The same tips apply as I mentioned before: as long as you stay calm, take your time and don’t let the security staff or other passengers waiting in line egg you on, you’ll be fine. Similarly, I made sure I was early in line for boarding, also because I had to go all the way to the end of the plane anyway. Fortunately, a friendly fellow passenger helped me bring my carry-on luggage on the plane and there one of the flight attendants helped me bring everything to my seat and get organized. I put Archy’s travel box on the floor between my seats and the row in front and Nirvo’s on the seat next to me.
In good Georgian chaotic style, a guy showed up who had been assigned the seat next to me, though the woman at check-in had clearly told me she would assign me two seats. Fortunately, the flight was not full (which is also why I assume they let the cats travel with me in the cabin instead of in the hold), so the flight attendants gave him a different seat and I could stay put with my precious cargo.
Once we were seated, I covered Nirvo’s box on the seat next to me with my jacket. This was a good move, as he immediately calmed down in the dark box and stayed calm the entire flight. I really recommend carrying a big shawl, a jacket or something else big enough to cover the cage and calm your pet down during the flight. Nirvo is much more nervous and less people-minded than Archy. Archy was stressed too, but took it all in better and quieter stride than Nirvo. In general, both cats were excellent the entire flight. They’d meow occasionally, but quieted down quickly when I petted them and talked to them.
The biggest drag of the entire trip came at the end. Schiphol Airport is big and I had to carry my luggage and the cats from the gate to the baggage claim area. There are small luggage carts in the transit area, but they only fitted one box and my shoulder bag, so I still needed one hand to pull the trolley and carry the other box and had only one hand to steer the cart. Not a good idea, so I abandoned the cart after only ten meters. I’ve never been so appreciative of the autowalks (yes, that’s what they’re called in English) at Schiphol Airport – Mind your step!
After collecting my luggage I obviously had goods to declare this time. I had to wait for the guy with the microchip reader to show up, so in the meantime I chatted a bit with the customs officers there (fortunately, it was quiet and they were not very busy), trying to improve their image of Georgia and the Georgians. The customs officer checked my cats’ papers very attentively and, as I mentioned above, calculated meticulously the time periods between the microchipping, rabies vaccinations, lab analysis and the actual travel. This all took about half an hour, but everything was fine and Archy and Nirvo were allowed to enter Holland.
From the airport home were another two uneventful hours by car. Within hours of arriving at our final destination, Archy was running around exploring his new surroundings. Nirvo needed more time to get over his big travel adventure and to adjust to his new surroundings. Yes, I was a bit stressed beforehand, but with careful planning and some extra hands at Tbilisi airport, this was totally doable. Which is not to say I am looking forward to ever having to travel with pets by plane again.
You can read part 1 here. I want to stress that in these two blogposts I am sharing my experiences specific to bringing two cats from Georgia to the Netherlands. Requirements for many countries and airlines will differ, so even though I hope my posts will be useful to people traveling with pets, do not take this as a standard guide on how to travel with pets.