Russian airline Aeroflot is facing a public relations catastrophe over its decision to strip air miles from a passenger who fooled the carrier into allowing his beloved chubby moggy to travel business class.
Criticisms have gone viral on social media with attempts to drag Vladimir Putin into the dispute.
Mikhail Galin, 34, cheated Aeroflot’s cabin weight rules by using a cat double called Phoebe as a stand in for his pet Victor after the animal was deemed too heavy and faced being made to travel on an eight-hour flight in the hold.
Russian airline Aeroflot is facing a public relations cat-astrophe over its decision to strip air miles from a passenger who fooled the carrier into allowing his beloved chubby moggy to travel business class. The matter is now trending on social media in Russia with various hashtags circulating to stick up for the fat feline. This image from social media shows a fat cat in a blue cape and a blue mask with a hashtag in Russian that translates to ‘bro is not a luggage’
This image, taken from social media, shows a cat wearing a Middle Eastern head scarf, superimposed onto an Emirates advert. Many of the memes centre around the better way that other airlines treat their feline passengers
Another image circulating on social media, pictured, shows a chubby cat flying in the clouds. The writings read: (top left corner) ‘bro is not a luggage’, ‘Victor, fly’; (bottom left) Aircat Russian Airlines; (bottom right) two kilograms of cat is not a crime
Once he had checked in he swapped the cats and 22lb Victor travelled with him in comfort from Moscow to Vladivostok.
The flyer confessed to the ploy on social media but Aeroflot failed to see the funny side of it and took revenge by stripping him of almost 370,000 air miles and annulling him from their frequent flier programme.
But this move has gone down badly with Russians who seem united in a campaign backing Victor and portraying him as an aviation hero.
Mikhail can be seen with his cat Victor. The two of them are the best of friends and go everywhere together
Twitter and Instagram are awash with memes mocking the airline and trending hashtags like ‘FlyVictor’, ‘I/We are fat cat’, and ‘Bro is not luggage’.
‘Today Aeroflot is after the fat cat, tomorrow it might be after you’, travellers were warned.
A cartoon by Elkin for Svoboda showed an Aeroflot plane as a dog angrily chases Victor the cat down the runway.
This meme shows a cat dressed as an early 20th century aviator with a silhouette of a glider in the background. The writing reads (from top to bottom): Welcome! Glad to see absolutely all cats since 1926. Lufthansa. And Lufthansa’s logo is changed: Instead of crane there is a chubby cat
This image, circulating on Russian social media, shows a simplified logo of Aeroflot with a cat silhouette incorporated in it
One meme showed the airline’s Soviet-style sickle logo converted into a chubby cat.
Others rekindled old Aeroflot advertisements and used Victor to attack the airline.
Victor was seen in a mug shot with the sign Aeroflot Bonus, the airline’s air miles programme.
Rival airlines are depicted as far more cat-friendly.
As the story catapulted into the headlines, an exasperated Dmitry Peskov – spokesman for President Vladimir Putin – found himself under pressure to judge the behaviour of the state-owned airline.
‘I don’t think that the Kremlin can and must in any way comment the situation with the cat and the plane,’ he said.
This image shows a mugshot of a chubby cat holding a poster with ‘Aeroflot bonus’, the airline’s air miles programme, written on it. This image and many others are circulating on social media, causing a public relations nightmare for state-run aviation company, Aeroflot
The cat who got the cream: Victor the moggy travels business class with his owner Victor after using a lighter body double to get through check-in and flout the strict pet weight regulations
Aeroflot is seen to have overreacted to the cat being two kilograms over its weight limit.
‘The airline could have had a PR triumph if they had forgiven Victor’s owner and offered the cat free membership at a pet gym,’ said one comment.
MPs joined the tirade demanding a rule change and pointing out Galin had offered to pay extra for Victor to fly with him.
Mikhail Galin posted a photo of happy Victor sitting on the plane with a glass of bubbly, becoming an instant hero for Russia’s cat lovers
The owner of the Moscow Cat Theatre – which has entertained generations of Russian children – said Aeroflot’s action was a ‘violation of animal rights’.
‘When (cats) feel that the owner is nearby they feel calm even during the takeoff and landing,’ he said, demanding the rules are revamped.
Companies are seeking to use famous Victor to promote their own taxi and banking services.
Sheremetyevo airport, pictured, is the busiest airport in Russia outside Moscow
Galin – who feared Victor would die in the hold on such a long flight – admitted he was punished by the airline – but said he had broken the rules which do not allow pets over 8kg or 17 lbs in the cabin.
‘I am wrong in this situation,’ he said. ‘The law is harsh, but it’s the law.
‘I broke the rules, and the airline has the right to take measures in response.’
He said on Moskva24: ‘The transport company decides for itself how to punish a passenger in this situation.
‘This is the step they chose and let it be so. I can’t have any claims here.’
In future he would fly an airline ‘that is convenient for me’, he said.
Meanwhile he denied overfeeding Victor, saying the pet’s weight was ‘genetic’.
The airline said: ‘Aeroflot has taken the decision to take this passenger out of its frequent flier programme.
‘All of the miles collected during his time in the program will be annulled.’