Importing a dog from Europe – part 3. Mistakes to avoid when traveling with dogs internationally.
Traveling with a dog might seem complicated, especially if you going or the first time. Below are a few mistakes I made when planning my first international trip from Poland back to California with a dog.
When searching for a suitable airline to travel with my dog I went online to read reviews. No matter which airline you choose – your dog will be locked in a small crate for many hours. What I was looking for is how accommodating the airline staff to our four-legged passengers and how much the doggy ticket cost.
KLM (allies – Air France, Delta) seemed to be the most reasonable in price and travelers reviews. I couldn’t book my tickets online – there is no option to indicate you’ll be traveling with a dog. I had to call KLM (actually it was Delta in the US) and booked my trip over the phone. The person on the phone suggested a shorter connection flights and said she made a note that I’ll be returning from Poland with a dog. She said there shouldn’t be any problems with my trip and I’m all set.
My first mistake was to accidentally book tickets with Air France (not KLM as I thought). The way air travel alliance works these days – it is difficult to say which airline you are flying. They cross-sell tickets. When I called KLM in the US it connected me to Delta. And Delta representative sold me an Air France tickets, though the flight number was still with KLM.
The huge difference in my case was the different pet policy between airlines of the same alliance group. Air France pet policy is that if you travel internationally with a pet you must claim ALL baggage and then re-check-in for the next flight. They require at least 3-4 hours between the flights.
KLM pet policy is that if your connection is longer than 2 hours you have to pay extra $$ for the dog transfer between airplanes. I wanted my trip with KLM and short connection to get my puppy out of the crate in California as soon as possible.
My second mistake was that I trusted the person on the phone (KLM/Delta representative). I assumed they know how to book tickets for passengers with pets. Big mistake. They don’t.
If you travel with a dog you must go to the airport 1-2 days before your flight to inquire with the check-in crew about their rules. I’ve learned that there are no set regulations for traveling with pets – what might work with one check-in crew, might not work with another. Show them your pet’s travel passport and medical records, inquire about your flight connections, let them check the crate, write down names of the crew members you talked to.
So, what happened with us – I got stuck in Warsaw for an extra day because I didn’t know I’m supposed to call or go to the airport at least a day before my trip with a pet.
I arrived to the airport 3 hours before my flight. They couldn’t check me in because my flight was with Air France and had a short connection in Paris – against the Air France pet policy. There were no other flights available that day from Poland. The “nice” lady at the ticket kiosk couldn’t care less. She suggested to call Delta in the US, where I originally order the tickets from. I spent an hour on the phone calling Delta in the US (cost me a fortune) trying to figure out how to get out of Poland. They booked me on a plane the next day and with a longer connection time to comply with Air France pet policy – long 6 hours between the flights in Paris airport.
My third mistake was to delay my trip till the one day before my puppy turned 3 months old. At 3 months old they become “quarantineable” for rabies (Note – the regulations have changed in 2017 – look up new US customs regulations). If you are importing a dog from Europe that is 3 months or older – the dog must have rabies shot. My new flight was booked at the day when my puppy turned 3 months. I talked to the check-in crew about this and wrote down names of the people I talked to. It did help the next day. As expected, the new crew didn’t want to take responsibility for a non-vaccinated 3 months old puppy being checked-in on a plane. Having the names of the previous crew and explaining the whole story actually helped.
My fourth mistake was the wrong crate. I read online crate requirements for international travels. One of the requirements was to have the crate securely closed. Well, apparently, what travel crate manufacturers consider “secure” is not good enough for some check-in crew members. I flew Air France from Warsaw to Paris with no crate issues. But in Paris, a person who was checking us in didn’t like my crate – it didn’t look secure enough. My connection in Paris was about 6 hours. At the end – I barely made it on the plane. I don’t want to say that Parisians are not helpful, but they sure do play on your nerves. After several hours freaking out that I might get stuck in Paris, they finally found a maintenance guy with a drill who punched a few holes in my crate and used cable ties to lock the door. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to open the crate immediately after I landed in San Francisco and my poor puppy had to spend an extra time in crate bursting for a pee.
So, what I’ve learned for my future flights with dogs:
– call to book your tickets, but make sure they book the flights your want;
– go to the airport a couple of days before the flight to confirm your dog’s paperwork and crate for the flight;
– have a plenty of time before veterinary travel documents expire (including all the shots);
– make sure you add extra screws to the crate, have a few extra cable ties just in case, and a lock you can easily open for the crate door.
The next article in this series is Airports and dogs.
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If you are from US – you might want to read about Should I spay/neuter my European Doberman?