The pandas had been getting acclimatised to eating and sleeping in the metal crates they’d be transported in prior to the journey, before they boarded a charter plane bound for Sichuan, China, on Monday (4 December).
Dave Field, the zoo’s chief executive, described the crates as “first-class bedroom accommodation”, and said Yang Guang and Tian Tian would likely sleep for the majority of the journey.
However, he did add that they would get the “odd bit of bamboo” to snack on.
“They are in comfortable, warm, low-level light surroundings and they are just going to sleep for most of the time as we all do in first class,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
The crates were specially built for the animals by Rab Clark, Edinburgh Zoo’s blacksmith, and feature sliding padlock doors, urine trays and removable screens to ensure minders can monitor the animals during the flight.
The pair of pandas was initially loaned to Edinburgh Zoo as part of a 10-year agreement between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the China Wildlife Conservation Association.
The loan was extended for two years in the hopes that Tian Tian might produce a cub, but attempts were unsuccessful.
Michael Livingstone, a senior Edinburgh zookeeper, was chosen to be part of the team accompanying the animals back to China.
He said of the pandas: “They’re very different to look after, as a team we have looked after many different species of bear and we were fairly confident we knew what kind of hurdles we might need to cross and jump over for looking after pandas, and when they arrived it was completely different to what we thought.
“They are a very sensitive, very specialised species so we very quickly learned all the different things we needed to do with them or around them.”