On Tuesday, officials said that the checked bag was being examined by the TSA as it was going from JFK to Atlanta, Georgia. The bag was headed to Atlanta for a connecting flight to Melbourne Orlando International Airport in Florida.
After the luggage underwent a X-ray machine at the airport’s security station, it was flagged and taken aside, which is when an orange tabby was found inside it. The pet was then rescued.
According to TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein, the person who had the suitcase was not the owner of the cast.
“The cat did not belong to the individual with the suitcase, it belonged someone else in the household,” Farbstein told NBC News.
Farbstein also said that it “was implied” that the cat saw the empty suitcase and jumped in without the traveller noticing it.
On its Instagram account, the TSA also poked fun at the discovery and encouraged passengers to always check their luggage before heading to the airport. The agency also shared a photo of the X-ray of the suitcase, with the cat in it, and a photo of the animal’s fur sticking out of the luggage.
“On a more paws-itive note we have info on how to best travel with your pets,” TSA wrote in the caption. “Always check with your airline be-fur you arrive at the airport for their rules. Once at our screening area REMOVE GARFIELD FROM THE BAG before sending the CARRIER through the X-ray. Take a meow-ment though if you believe your pet will make an escape.”
Speaking to NBC News, animal behavioural expert Katherine Houpt, who is also a professor at Cornell University, explained why cats are attracted to open suitcases.
“I think one reason is that it’s like a cat bed. Cats like spaces with barriers around it,” she said. “And presumably it smells like the owner and I think they associate it with an impending loss. They might not necessarily want to prevent that owner from going, but perhaps at least they want to signal stress.”
This isn’t the first time that a cat had unexpectedly made its way into an airport traveller’s bag.
In 2019, when couple Nick and Voirrey Coole were headed to New York, from the Isle of Man, they left one of their suitcases completely empty. However, unbeknown to them, Candy, one of their three cats, had climbed inside.
“We were totally shocked,” Nick said, at the time. “She must have snuck into the bag before we left for the airport, but we didn’t hear or feel her at all on the journey there.”