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Cat’s Tale Ends Happily : Felix the Flying Feline Has Record Ride as Stowaway

Times Staff Writer

Felix the flying feline returned home to television lights and a champagne-and-caviar reception Thursday after disappearing for 29 days aboard a Pan American World Airways 747 jumbo jet.

Like a triumphant astronaut, Felix arrived at Los Angeles International Airport an instant hero, climaxing what airline officials called an unprecedented odyssey. The cat logged 179,000 miles on 64 flights spanning three continents after somehow escaping from her travel cage on Dec. 3.

It was an unofficial record for animal aeronautics and the fastest anyone has ever racked up that kind of frequent-flier mileage, airline spokesman Alan Loflin said.

“They say a cat has nine lives,” he said, “but this was a most unusual thing. We have no idea what the cat ate, if anything.”

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The cat’s owner, Janice Kubecki, escorted by limousine to LAX from her home at Edwards Air Force Base, welcomed her 2-year-old pet with hugs, laughter and sympathetic words. She had given up hope for the cat weeks ago.

“I thought she was stolen or dead,” Kubecki said, standing with her 4-year-old daughter Nadine in a crowd of cameras and reporters. “I have no idea how she got out of her cage.

“I hope she gets used to us again. I love her so much. She’s been a part of the family.”

The reunion was more than just another shaggy dog story, even if Felix seemed indifferent to the hubbub of noise and flashing cameras. The empty and damaged cage that was carried out of the jet’s vast cargo bay after a flight from Germany marked the beginning of an incredible journey in which Felix touched down in Paris, Rome, Madrid, Nice and Zurich, among other places.

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Unable to find the cat, airline officials gave apologies to Kubecki and her husband, William, a security official at the Air Force base. Then, shortly after Christmas, luggage loaders in London saw the tail of an animal just before the plane took off for Frankfurt, recalled Pan Am employee Jane Ford.

As soon as the plane was back in London, Ford, also a cat owner, joined the search for the stowaway, discovering the cat weak and frightened on an overhead rack. “There are so many places inside the belly of a 747 that a cat can hide,” Ford said Thursday, after delivering Felix to Kubecki. “We can only assume she lived off the (water) condensation inside the hold. As for food . . . it’s unfortunate we can’t ask her. She was very thin.”

When she found the cat, Ford had no idea who the owner was. Pan Am officials in New York said computer records do not list the names and owners of traveling animals, so its past was a mystery. After three days, strict animal quarantine laws in Great Britain threatened to force Felix to be destroyed--until Ford stepped in and raised $1,300 from other airline employees to pay for boarding the cat for up to six months.

“I fell in love with her,” Ford said. “She’s a beautiful cat.”

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Meanwhile, spokesman Loflin said, another cat-loving employee in New York pawed through stacks of records to discover how and when the cat had disappeared.

Felix’s last flight Thursday was markedly different than the others--in a first-class seat with complimentary caviar. She opted for tuna and catnapped along the way, Ford said.

“I can’t thank you enough--I really can’t,” Kubecki told Ford after their arrival.

“I’m speechless, I’m thrilled,” Ford said, fighting back tears.

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Kubecki, who was given travel passes by Pan Am to any destination in the world, said the escapade seems to fit into Felix’s bag of tricks.

“She’s a naughty little thing,” the happy owner said. “She does exactly as she pleases. My husband’s 6 feet tall, and she hits him in the face and runs away. She’s wonderful.”

But next time, she said, Felix is “going in my bag . . . under my seat. She’s not going in another cage.”


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