A Christchurch woman says she feared her beloved cat had died after a scary experience with Air New Zealand and is now calling for airlines to review their animal transportation processes.
Sara Hewitson moved back to New Zealand in January, but waited until she was settled in a house before attempting to transport her cat, Baby, from Sydney to Christchurch.
She'd booked a place for Baby on an Air NZ flight on the morning of February 7, but when she arrived at the airport to collect her cat, she received a distressing call.
"I answered the phone and the person told me they had some really bad news," Hewitson told Newshub.
"I thought my cat had died."
Hewitson was told her cat - along with two others - had been removed from the aircraft at Sydney Airport because the plane was overweight.
"They chose luggage over life," she said.
"I could understand if it was something to do with temperature or weather, but they decided that clothes came first and animal welfare comes second."
A spokesperson for Air NZ has confirmed the incident in a statement, saying it "was an oversight by our third-party ground handling agent in Sydney due to the cat being booked as cargo".
"We understand the owner of the cat has now opted to fly their cat with another carrier and we will reverse our handling fee."
The airline's Sydney ground services agent is Swissport, which has been approached for comment.
The experience was made even more stressful for Hewitson when Baby was held in Sydney for four days after missing her flight, due to animal arrivals into New Zealand being limited to Tuesday through until Friday.
"Airlines need to take responsibility, just as we have to as pet owners," she said.
"They need to think about animal welfare, not about whether they need to get a plane off the tarmac quickly."