I've been worried about this moment, and it's finally over! The process before the flight wasn't as painful as I thought. Everything went smoothly and we're really happy. Here is what we did to fly our little cat Arya from Seoul to San Francisco!
It's best to know before reading that we flew our 4kg cat in the cabin with us. It may not be possible with a heavier cat, because of weight restrictions in some airlines. Bigger animals may need to go in the baggage hold. The process is also slightly different if you go to Europe, they require a blood test before departure.
3 months before the flight
We went to the vet to get her microchipped and her rabies vaccine. She had never been vaccinated against rabies before. Even if your cat is vaccinated, it's best to make sure it's up to date/still valid.
Before buying the ticket
We called the airline to make sure we were allowed to fly with our cat on the flight we wanted. You need to tell them the date and the flight number, and they'll give you the green light. We flew with Asiana and we gladly recommend it, the staff was very helpful and friendly.
After buying the ticket
Call the airline again and ask to register your pet with you. They will ask you some questions about the pet size and the carrier to make sure it's ok for your pet to fly in the cabin with you. I didn't have to pay anything extra with Asiana before the check-in. After checking-in at the airport, I only had to pay a 200,000 KRW fee.
10 days before the flight
Incheon Airport animal quarantine and my vet clinic told me I needed to go to the vet 10 days within my flight to get a health check for my cat. It only took a few minutes and I received a health certificate + a rabies vaccine certification from them. This is only if you fly to the US or to Canada. For European countries, you actually need to make a blood test for your pet, a few months before the flight.
I went to the airport 5 hours before my flight (this is a lot of time but I'd do the same). I fed my cat the night before the flight and brought a can of food with me. I first went to Incheon Animal Quarantine office, and give them the vet papers for Arya. They made me pay 10,000 KRW and within 15 minutes, I received an official certificate from them, and a duplicata. That's all!
I checked-in as usual and the staff asked me for the official paper, you have to give them the duplicata. They asked me to fill an additional form, from Asiana this time, with information about the pet. They taped everything to the pet carrier, asked me to put the carrier on the scale and that was it. We are allowed a total of 5kg for the pet + the carrier, we didn't have any problem with Arya and her Sturdi bag weighing 5.6kg. I went to the excess baggage counter to pay the 200,000 KRW fee required for the pet and that was it, I received my boarding pass!
Going through security, the agents asked us to carry our cat through the metal detector, but Arya was a little scared and wouldn't budge so they allowed us to carry the bag through it.
And that was it! We waited for the flight with Arya in her carrier. When we were boarding, there was another bag searching security thing by Asiana staff, but they only looked quickly through the carrier when I told them a cat was inside.
During the flight
I think people on the plane didn't even know we had a cat, because she only meowed a few times during take off. Otherwise, no other problems. She must have been quite scared sometimes.
I kept a cat food can with me and gave her a little cup of water. I didn't see her drinking from the cup, but she sure ate all her canned food! I only gave her a little because I didn't want her to poop or pee during the flight... We had a toilet pad in her carrier but I think it would have been very uncomfortable for her and other passengers if she did anything...
This is weird, I don't know if it's normal procedure, but arriving to the US, nobody checked me or my cat. I did check “YES” on the immigration form, when they asked if I was bringing animals, but the officers never stopped me. The immigration was only worried about me looking for a job there, or working there illegally. They didn't ask anything about the cat. I'm not sure if they knew I had a cat because of the Sturdi bag looking like a normal bag. And Arya didn't make a sound. I never had to show any papers, or anything. Weird!
I strongly recommend the large sized Sturdi bag for your pet! It's really awesome for moving around with your cat/dog. It's also, as its name says, very sturdy! My cat tried to claw it and it doesn't have a scratch.