Rebooting my blog after being in absentia for quite a while. No better way to do that than with an all-time favorite story from our move to Belgium many years ago. We lost Midnight several years ago, but her spirit is still with us in many ways. This story truly captures that spirit!
In the summer of 2006, we were preparing for our move to Belgium. Who would have thought that most traumatic event of the move would center on our loyal feline, Midnight.
We arranged a direct flight from Dulles to Brussels in business class and were taking her into the cabin with us as one of my “carry on” allowances (remember this little factual nugget for later in the story), which was far superior to her being shipped in the cargo hold (a little extreme for an 8-pound cat I think!). Instead of a connecting flight in a commuter jet from Pittsburgh to Washington, we were driving the first leg of our journey.
Early on a Saturday morning we all hop in an over-stuffed rental car and head for Washington, DC. After two days of being moved around from room to room in the house because of the movers and packer, then being stuffed into a small carrier, taken to a strange hotel for two more days, then stuffed back into a carrier, followed by a four-hour car ride, poor Midnight was terribly confused. Despite all, she was still hanging in there with us, sitting on my lap purring away. Little did she, or we, know the hurdles we’d be jumping over during the trip!
Hurdle #1 – check in
We arrive at Dulles: Dale drops me and all of our stuff at the curbside check-in and goes to the car rental return station. I get to loiter around in the ticketing area, looking like a homeless person with the 7 pieces of luggage and the cat, waiting for him to join me so we can check in for the flight,
We check in at the United counter, the agent checks our paperwork, and checks all of Midnight’s paperwork (clearance from the Belgian Veterinary Commission plus, of all things, a pet visa!), collects our $60 pet-on-board fee, prints our boarding passes and confirms our seat assignments, and we head off to security. Please remember the seat assignment part, particularly since the cat carrier must go under the seat in front of us on the plane.
Hurdle #2 - Security
Obviously the pet carrier must go through the x-ray machine, however, the live animal cannot. So here’s the sequence picture in one long, run-on sentence:
I remove my laptop from my rolling carry-on case and from the protective sleeve and place it in a separate bin for scanning, put my carry-on bag, my purse, shoes, belt, jacket in another bin for scanning, take Midnight out of her carriers and walk through the metal detector with her squirming and freaking out, trying to keep her from clawing me to death, retrieve the carrier from the belt, get her back into the carrier (which of course she resists to the death), retrieve my laptop and put it back into its sleeve and the carry-on, put my shoes, belt and jacket back on, reorganize myself, and then run to catch up to Dale who, at this point, is half-way down the Concourse without a blooming care in the world!
It wasn’t a pretty sight. The experienced business travelers took one look at the unfolding comedy routine being played out and moved to a completely different security line.
Hurdle #3 – the wait
We had three hours to kill before boarding time, so we headed for the United Club. The nice people there gave me an OK to let Midnight out of her carrier as long as she was leashed, and the club wasn’t too crowded. I found an out of the way corner for us, near the windows (I thought she might like that), and opened the carrier for her. She was scared silly and spent most of the time hiding between two chairs, but things couldn’t be that simple. Midnight managed to discover a way to climb under my chair – between the bottom upholstery cover and the springs. The only way to remove her was to turn the chair upside down and pry her out; yep, making another incredible impression on business travelers world-wide. I hope United doesn’t mind that new rip in the chair lining.
Hurdle #4 – settling in
Finally, time to board the plane. Dale and I are just a bundle of excitement, looking forward to our overseas assignment and new experiences. Business class boards first, so we get on the plane, head for our seats and discover: WE’VE BEEN ASSIGNED THE BULKHEAD ROW! There is NO seat in front of us for the cat carrier. Can anyone explain WHY the desk agent, after thoroughly examining our carry-on cat’s immigration paperwork and charging us the $60 fee, assigned us the bulkhead rows when we checked in THREE hours previously?
I can’t very well put Midnight in the overhead bin, so we ask the flight attendant if we can switch seats with someone. She asks the couple in the seats immediately behind us first, and the man refused saying “I paid for these seats and THIS is where I’m sitting”. Jerk. A very nice couple four rows back agreed to switch so that problem was solved. Midnight’s carrier fit very comfortably under the seat in front of us, we settled in and soon we off to the friendly skies of United.
Setting the Stage:
By the time we were airborne, our poor Midnight was totally spaced out. Her carrier was a soft-sided but sturdy and allowed us to easily check on her, give her a little ear scratch, while still having locking zippers and snaps to keep her secure. Occasionally we’d check on her, bring the carrier onto our laps and what-not to try and comfort her.
Business class is a wonderful way to fly! In addition to actually edible food with real silverware on linen table covers and the all-you-can-drink free booze (YO!), there is plenty of leg room, and the seats recline almost to a prone level. That makes for some comfortable sleeping on an overnight flight. So, after dinner, and a little TV, we did one final Midnight check before the cabin lights were dimmed and everyone stretched out for a long nap. Remember this tidbit for later – darkened cabin, night flight, almost everyone sleeping.
So, Dale and I are peacefully snoozing away, but I suddenly find myself wide awake, startled by a feeling that something is wrong. I decided to check on Midnight. I raise my seat back, lower my footrest, reach down and pick up her carrier and thought “this seems awfully light” and quickly realize . . .
SHE WAS GONE!! The carrier top snaps and zipper had been breached! The damned cat got out of the carrier and was wandering around the cabin somewhere. Total panic set in.
I immediately started Dale out of his sound sleep. He was baffled. I was hysterical.
We got the flight attendant and explained what happened. He was so cool and calm about the whole thing saying “don’t worry, this happens all the time”. REALLY? He gave us a couple of penlight flashlights (seriously - that’s ALL they provide?) to begin searching for the cat and understand, this cat is named Midnight for a reason. She’s ALL BLACK. So now we have two adults, crawling down the aisles of business class on hands and knees, with penlight flashlights . . .
. . . looking for a black cat . . .
. . . in a darkened plane cabin . . .
. . . 30,000 feet in the air
. . . at night . . .
. . . where people are sleeping.
After what seemed an eternity of unsuccessful searching, I realized that we were only about 90 minutes from landing. I began to visualize the announcement, in three languages: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived in Brussels, but we can’t open the cabin doors until we find the Harmon’s cat who is hiding somewhere in the cabin”, or a vision of Midnight cowering somewhere in coach and jumping on the lap of some person that hates cats resulting in the individual totally spazing out mid-flight.
Suddenly I heard a man’s voice say “Here she is!” Lo and behold, there was Midnights, just three rows up from our seats, under the feet of a sleeping woman. Poor thing was scared to death and huddled as far back under the seat as she could be. I gave the nice gentleman a big hug of thanks, gathered up the kitty and got her back into her carrier. She seemed relieved too.
Oh – the person that found her? The same jerk-wad that refused to trade seats with us! Eh – he deserved the hug regardless.
The remaining trip, including our drive to our new temp living quarters, was completely uneventful. Midnight quickly adjusted to her new home and surroundings and was a very happy cat again!
A couple years later and we are being transferred back the US, and are planning the same flight-drive logistics (in reverse) we used before. However, we are advised that pets are no longer permitted in business or first class on United flights. Apparently the new rule was implemented “about two years ago”, which, oddly enough, corresponds to our little episode. Dale and I decided to call the change “the Midnight rule”!