Photos he posted on Facebook showed the nearly four-year-old kitty perched on Galin's lap. Picture: YouTube.com

Mikhail Galin was distraught when Russian airline Aeroflot told him his cat, Viktor, was too heavy to fly in the cabin.

The gray-and-black feline was already sick from an earlier flight from Riga, Latvia, to Moscow that he had been allowed to take, Galin wrote in a Nov 6 Facebook post, and he couldn't bear the idea of putting him in cargo for eight hours. Aeroflot allows pets in the cabin if they and their container max out at 17.6 pounds (about 7.9kg), but Viktor weighed in at 22.

"I was very worried that during the duration of an eight-hour flight, something would happen to him in the cargo and he wouldn't survive the trip," Galin, 34, told The Washington Post. After his pleading failed to change any minds, he refused to fly.

Then he came up with what seemed like the perfect solution: a "mini-Viktor" body double. With the help of friends and the power of social media, he found a "miniature kitty" named Phoebe to present for inspection. Galin was able to use airline miles to book a flight on business class two days after the original flight.

"After spending another night in the capital, we went to the airport with a cat, a cat double and his owners," Galin wrote, according to a translation of his Facebook page. The switcheroo was a success: Phoebe was deemed an acceptable weight, but Galin ultimately brought his pudgier buddy onboard.

Photos he posted on Facebook showed the nearly four-year-old kitty perched on Galin's lap, peering out a window and gazing at a glass of Champagne from his carrier.

"He liked business class a lot better than economy class, because he considered himself superior," Galin says.

But the story didn't end there. Aeroflot told several news outlets that it had kicked Galin out of its loyalty programme and stripped him of his airline miles for breaking the rules.

"This information was confirmed by recording from video surveillance cameras," the airline said in a statement, according to CNN. "During the preflight inspection procedure, the passenger took out a large-sized cat that looks like a photograph of the cat he posted."

NBC News reported that Aeroflot was taking action against Galin for both sneaking an overweight cat onto the plane and taking him out of the carrier, as shown in the photos. Aeroflot did not immediately respond to emails and calls from The Washington Post. The airline also didn't get in touch with Galin, who said he had 370,000 miles; he said he found out about the punishment through media reports.

"I did break their rules," Galin says. "Because of that, their internal program decided to hand down a punishment, and I can only agree with it."

The Washington Post