Cats in the Cargo Hold: Keep Calm and Travel with Pets

When my husband asked me if I wanted to move to San Francisco, one of my first questions was: “Can we take the cats?” He replied: “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere without the cats.”

As soon as our visas were confirmed I threw myself into the logistics of how to get two furry felines from Crouch End in London to San Francisco in California. I Googled furiously, I consulted with my vet and I tried to find other people out there who had experience with cats and a transatlantic journey.

The first two tasks were easy, but I struggled to find anyone who had first-hand, recent experience of relocating with pets… which is one of the reasons I decided to write this post.

So, here’s our experience: We decided not to use a pet relocation company. This meant we were responsible for their health, passports, tickets, transfers, and crates. We went to our vet to find out what vaccines they’d need. We scheduled the appointments (I think there were a couple) to get their shots up to date and order pet passports (yes, they’re a REAL THING) before D-Day.

Cats - Black Cat British Expat

British Expat Cat

We decided to fly with Virgin who have a strong track record of transporting animals. They also have a long list of rules and regulations you have to adhere to, but they’re all in the name of safety. For long-haul flights animals must go in the hold. I was a bit devastated not to have them by my side, but on reflection, I would have been stressed out if I could see they were upset and I couldn’t stroke them.

Once we’d secured their spaces on our flight we ordered cat crates and booked them in for a final health check a couple of days before the flight (this is mandatory).

On 31 July 2014 we headed to the airport with two cats, two bicycles, three suitcases and two sets of parents. It was one emotional day. I managed to hold it together until we dropped off Bobbie and Minton at the Virgin collection point at Heathrow Airport. My eyes filled with tears, as I looked into their confused little faces. My heart broke at the subdued mewing emanating from each crate.

I was crying about two cats I would see in less than 24 hours! This did not bode well for saying goodbye to my parents! Needless to say, the scene at the security gate at Heathrow was a messy one.

Once on board I asked one of the flight attendants to double check that B & M had made it on the plane. She went to have a look and reassured us that they were in a special pet cabin that would remain pressurized and heated for the whole flight; she also let us know that they had the place to themselves… I was panicking that they would be sharing with a Great Dane, a Boxer or, worst of all, a yapping Corgi!


The only hitch came when we landed. Virgin had told us to pick them up from one location. The airport staff gave us another. We went to the place the airport staff recommended. Forty-five minutes went by: no sign of B & M. The combination of an emotional day, an 11-hour flight, jet lag and the fear that my cats were half way to Singapore was too much. I broke down all over again, this time with a member of the airport staff. She rang various numbers but none of them yielded results so we decided to go back to the initial plan and follow Virgin’s instructions.

Virgin’s instructions involved going to one depot to collect a piece of paper, taking it to two other depots to get it stamped and then taking it back to the first depot where they released B & M into our care. After an hour and a half and several wrong turns, we had completed our mission. I poured tears of relief all over again!

One year later and B & M have settled into their new lives in San Francisco. The neighbourhood cats love their ‘cute British meows’, they adore the constant warmth of our sunny garden and we love having our furry friends from home as our constant companions.

So remember, keep calm… and travel with cats.Cats - Black Cat British Expat Settled

About Felicity H. Barber

I am a speechwriter, who coaches people to make awesome speeches, presentations and pitches. I moved to San Francisco from London with my software engineer husband and two cats in 2014. As if moving half way around the world wasn’t enough, I made the crazy decision to start my own business at the same time! Life has been a big adjustment to go from in-house to freelance, tea and scones to coffee and brownies, rainy days to constant sunshine, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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3 thoughts on “Cats in the Cargo Hold: Keep Calm and Travel with Pets

  • Chloe Walsh


    Thanks for this – it was sweet to read over what your experience was. We just landed a week ago with our three cat babies and they seem to be doing really well. We has a similar problem at the airport this end – nobody seemed to know where we were meant to be picking them up from! Extremely stressful after a long flight. We are currently in corporate housing in Redwood City but looking to find an apartment in the city asap! Perhaps our British kitties might cross paths. 🙂


    • Felicity H. Barber

      Welcome to the Bay Area! It’s so stressful when you’ve landed and you don’t know where your fur-babies are. Good luck with the housing search! I can recommend Bernal Heights if you’re looking for a cat-friendly neighborhood where some of the apartments have gardens.

  • Jannet L

    I think you have an amazing husband. Having cats is one thing, but having to move them is not easy at all. They’re much harder than dogs when it comes to moving and require special attention. Congrats on the successful move and thanks for sharing your amazing article with us – really enjoyed reading it!