The stowaway was discovered when an alarm went off at JFK’s checked baggage screening point on Nov. 16, according to TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein. Agents looked at the X-ray image and saw the clear outline of an animal.
“The bag was opened by a TSA officer, who was shocked to see a live orange cat inside,” Farbstein wrote in an email.
We’re letting the cat out of the bag on a hiss-toric find. This CATch had our baggage screening officers @JFKairport saying, “Come on meow”! Feline like you have travel questions reach out to our furiends @AskTSA. They’re available every day, from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. (ET). pic.twitter.com/LpIkLbAgzC
— TSA (@TSA) November 22, 2022
TSA agents contacted Delta, the passenger’s airline, who then paged the Orlando-bound passenger, Farbstein said. The passenger said the cat was not his, but belonged to another person in his household.
The cat was safely returned home, but as a result of the feline fiasco, the passenger missed his flight. He was able to rebook for the following day, “without the cat!” Farbstein added.
On Tuesday, Farbstein tweeted a photo from the incident, which shows a black suitcase, slightly unzipped, with orange fur clearly visible inside.
A @TSA officer was shocked to find an orange cat inside a checked bag at @JFKairport after it went through the X-ray unit. Traveler said the cat belonged to someone else in his household. On the bright side, the cat’s out of the bag and safely back home. pic.twitter.com/5XZVJLaZNm
— Lisa Farbstein, TSA Spokesperson (@TSA_Northeast) November 22, 2022
This was not the first time in recent years that a pet nearly found its way onto a flight, unknown to its owners. In October 2021, Kristi and Jared Owens were checking their baggage at Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport in Texas when the Southwest Airlines ticket agent informed them the bag was overweight.
When the couple opened the bag to repack and avoid a fee, they were shocked to discover Icky, their 5-pound chihuahua, tucked into one of Jared’s cowboy boots.
“It was just surreal,” Kristi told The Washington Post at the time. “Are we really seeing our dog in our suitcase right now? Is this happening?”
With the help of Southwest employees, the Owenses called a relative to pick up Icky and scrambled to make their flight to Las Vegas.
Both Icky and the Orlando-bound cat are lucky to have been found before being placed on a plane with the rest of the checked baggage, which could have been fatal. Baggage holds on passenger flights are pressurized, but they can drop to cold temperatures, according to Air Canada.
At the security checkpoint, pets should be taken out of their carriers and carried through the screening machine, according to the TSA’s tips page, “Taking your human on a plane: what every pet needs to know.”
“Don’t put me into the X-ray tunnel. Seriously, that’s not fun for me,” the agency says. “Take me out, place my EMPTY travel carrier on the belt, and leave my X-rays to the vet.”