A man who tricked his way into getting his overweight cat into the passenger cabin of a plane has been penalized by a Russian airline.
Aeroflot stripped the passenger, Mikhail Galin, of his air miles and removed him from its frequent-flyer program after he bragged on social media about sneaking his hefty pet onboard by switching him for a lighter cat during check-in.
When airline employees told Galin that his 22-pound cat, Viktor, was simply too heavy to fly in the passenger cabin on a flight to Vladivostok, in eastern Russia, he devised a plan to ensure his kitty did not wind up in the cargo hold.
Galin said in a post on Facebook that he delayed his flight and used air miles to secure a business class seat for himself and Viktor. After asking friends for help, he then sourced a 15-pound feline called Fibi, describing her as an “understudy cat.”
When he presented the slimmer pet at check-in, she came under the airline’s limit of 8 kilograms, or about 17 pounds, for animals flying in the passenger cabin. Galin and Fibi were approved for takeoff.
But unknown to Aeroflot and its staff, Galin swapped Fibi for his real pet, Viktor, before boarding the plane.
Galin, unable to resist the temptation to capture the moment, took photographs and posted them on Facebook and Instagram.
Viktor, a brown cat with black stripes and long white whiskers, was snapped in a pet carrier in front of a glass of what appears to be sparkling wine.
He was also shown being held up to the plane window by Galin, with Aeroflot’s branding clearly visible on the headrest.
Those images eventually played a role in his downfall.
The airline told Agence France-Presse that it opened an investigation after Galin’s post caught their attention, and that it eventually found video surveillance footage of the cat swap at check-in.
“Aeroflot has taken the decision to take this passenger out of its frequent flyer program,” Aeroflot told the news agency. “All of the miles collected during his time in the program will be annulled.”
According to news reports, Galin had nearly 400,000 miles on his account.
Aeroflot did not respond to requests for comment. In a message, Galin confirmed that his frequent flyer account had been blocked and said that he found out about the penalty through news reports.
The story of the cat swap became so widespread in Russia that it was even mentioned Wednesday in a daily call between President Vladimir Putin and Russian journalists.
Putin said that the Kremlin did not comment about cats.
Galin justified his actions in his social media posts, saying that Viktor had become ill on the first leg of his trip, from Riga, Latvia, to Moscow.
Two days later, before the second flight, from Moscow to Vladivostok, a fastidious employee weighed Viktor and declared him too tubby to continue to fly in the cabin. Galin was then offered the chance to check the cat into the hold.
He said he had engineered the swap because he feared that Viktor would be traumatized by such an experience and might not survive the eight-hour flight.
Last year, a French bulldog named Kokito died after a flight attendant placed the animal in an overhead compartment on a United Airlines flight. The same airline faced questions in 2017 when an apparently healthy giant rabbit died in the cargo hold.
Galin said he had spent the past two years working in Latvia and was flying home to Vladivostok with Viktor.
He explained the cat’s unusual size was because of its breed, although he did not specify which one. Galin added that he had asked the person sitting next to him if they had any allergies.
At the end of his post, Galin rewarded the thousands of people who had followed the story with a throwback snap to when Viktor was a kitten.
“A photo of young Viktor,” he wrote. “When his weight still met the requirements of the airline.”