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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An overweight cat was denied by a Russian airline. His owner hatched an elaborate scheme using an impostor.

Viktor the cat enjoys business class on an Aeroflot flight. (Photos from Mikhail Galin)

Mikhail Galin was distraught when Russian airline Aeroflot told him his cat, Viktor, was too heavy to fly in the cabin.

The gray-and-black feline was already sick from an earlier flight from Riga, Latvia, to Moscow that he had been allowed to take, Galin wrote in a Nov. 6 Facebook post, and he couldn’t bear the idea of putting him in cargo for eight hours. Aeroflot allows pets in the cabin if they and their carrier container max out at 17.6 pounds, but Viktor weighed in at 22.

“I was very worried that during the duration of an eight-hour flight, something would happen to him in the cargo and he wouldn’t survive the trip,” Galin, 34, told The Washington Post. After his pleading failed to change any minds, he refused to fly.

Then he came up with what seemed like the perfect solution: a “mini-Viktor” body double. With the help of friends and the power of social media, he found a “miniature kitty” named Phoebe to present for inspection. Galin was able to use miles to book a flight on business class for two days after the original flight.

“After spending another night in the capital, we went to the airport with a cat, a cat double and his owners,” Galin wrote, according to a translation of his Facebook page. The switcheroo was a success: Phoebe was deemed an acceptable weight, but Galin ultimately brought his pudgier buddy onboard.

Photos he posted on Facebook showed the nearly 4-year-old kitty perched on Galin’s lap, peering out a window and gazing at a glass of champagne from his carrier.

“He liked business class a lot better than economy class, because he considered himself superior,” Galin says.

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But the story didn’t end there. Aeroflot confirmed Wednesday that it had kicked Galin out of its loyalty program and stripped him of his airline miles for breaking the rules. The carrier started investigating after the tale took off online and determined Galin “had seriously violated a number of animal transportation rules,” including failing to check an over-sized pet into the cargo hold and removing the cat from its carrier on board.

“This information has been confirmed by CCTV footage,” the airline said in a statement. “During pre-flight procedure, the passenger took out of the container a big-sized cat resembling in appearance the one in the photo made on board and posted on the passenger’s social media page later.”

Galin, who said he had 370,000 miles in his account, told The Washington Post he found out about the punishment through media reports.

“I did break their rules,” Galin says. “Because of that, their internal program decided to hand down a punishment, and I can only agree with it.”

Commenters chimed in with support for Viktor’s plight. A politician with an apparent soft spot for pets and creative owners wrote a letter to the airline urging it to return Galin’s miles and change its policies, NBC said. The Kremlin, for its part, declined to weigh in, according to Russian media.

In a follow-up post Tuesday, Galin wrote that he hoped the airline would allow people in the future to pay extra to bring an overweight pet in the cabin. He also said that Viktor is on special diet food, and that he had to bring the cat on the trip because he was moving for a work contract.

As a bonus, Galin included a photo of a younger, slimmer Viktor, “when his weight still met the requirements of the air carrier.” He said he’s had Viktor since the cat was a month old and tries not to fly with him. But he’d been on a work contract in Latvia for two years and brought the cat along.

“I myself fly a lot, so it’s actually very bad they took my miles,” he said with a laugh.

But the news hasn’t all been bad. Some companies have stepped forward with offers, Galin said, because they don’t agree with the airline’s action. Viktor appears to be nearing cat-fluencer status.

“A few companies have offered cat food for an entire year,” Galin says. “Other companies are offering bonus miles for car-sharing. I’ve been offered a taxi for practically unlimited use. I’ve even been offered a jersey in celebration of Viktor.”

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