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Air Canada sent a Toronto man’s cats to California without him

The airline’s mistake separated the cats from their owner for nearly 16 hours

Abbas Zoeb's cats, Mimi and Bubba. (Abbas Zoeb)
5 min

Abbas Zoeb and his cats, Mimi and Bubba, were setting off on a new adventure earlier this month: a flight from Toronto to San Francisco for a move to the United States.

But after Zoeb encountered delays at the airport, Air Canada sent the felines on the trip without him. He was left to fret in Canada, and he tried to track them down until they were reunited nearly 16 hours later.

“The moment I saw the cage, the first instinct wasn’t happy,” Zoeb said. “It was: ‘I’m worried if they’re alive or not,’ honestly.”

Air Canada declined to discuss the situation, but said that “our customer service team remains in contact with the customer about their case.” A screenshot of an email reviewed by The Washington Post shows an Air Canada representative apologizing to Zoeb for the incident.

The airline says on its website that it is not accepting new requests for pets to travel in the baggage compartment through Sept. 12 “due to longer than usual airport delays, and for the safety and comfort of your pet.”

Zoeb, a Canadian citizen who lives in Toronto, said his ordeal unfolded on July 6, when customs officials had questions about the dates on his visa. They took him to an office to get more information, he said, and the process took so long he realized he would miss the flight.

He said a representative from Air Canada who came to the office told him they would take care of his baggage. When he told them he had pets, they said that would also be taken care of. He said he was told no pets could board if the passenger wasn’t flying.

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What followed, Zoeb said, was a full day at the airport waiting in line at check-in counters and baggage claim, asking workers about the whereabouts of his pets. He was assured that the cats — a brother and sister who are a year and seven months old — couldn’t fly without him.

“I was completely lost because everyone did say the pets are there, but I didn’t see the pets,” he said. “I just had a bad feeling that something has happened because they are just too nonchalant about this.”

Finally, he said, someone from the airline called with bad news: Mimi and Bubba had mistakenly ended up on the plane without him — though his luggage had been taken off.

“I did say that, yeah, this is obviously stupid, but I don’t really care about complaining and stuff right now, because all I care about is the cats,” Zoeb said. Air Canada told him he could go to San Francisco and retrieve the cats, he said, or have someone else pick them up there. Either way, they would be unattended for hours.

Zoeb said he asked the airline if they could return Mimi and Bubba to Toronto; finally, an employee told him they would be placed on a return flight and arrive late that evening.

The three were finally reunited about 11:45 p.m. Mimi and Bubba survived but appeared unwell to their owner. Zoeb said the cats looked tired, were not playful and were sneezing for about a week.

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He said that someone from the airline initially said they would look into what happened. Zoeb eventually contacted a reporter from Business Insider, which published a story about the situation on Saturday. He communicated with a customer service representative Monday, though he said he felt their response was lacking.

The airline told him that it was refunding the ticket, pet fees, baggage and other fees for the missed flight and offered 200 Canadian dollars ($155 in U.S. currency) to use toward a future flight.

“I sincerely apologize that we were unable to retrieve your two cats to you in time when you were unable to travel to San Francisco as originally planned,” said an email screenshot reviewed by The Washington Post. “I do wish the best in health for you and your cats.”

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Zoeb said he thinks the airline owes him a more proper, public apology and heftier compensation. He is considering whether he can find help to take legal action to hold the airline accountable. Air passenger protections in Canada say airlines must compensate travelers up to $2,300 to replace items lost or damaged while in the carrier’s control. If a bag is delayed, they must provide up to the same amount for items the traveler may need until the bag is returned.

“$200 is totally insignificant for how much I’ve been going through and how much time I’ve put towards this and what my pets have gone through,” he said. “I did let them know that that is not an acceptable apology or not an acceptable amount if they want to rectify anything....They said that’s the most they can do.”

Zoeb is still moving to the United States — Wednesday, in fact. But the cats are staying with his parents until he can figure out a ground transportation solution.

“I learned from my mistake,” he said.