Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Traveling with pets

One of the biggest challenges of all these international assignments has been traveling with pets. If you don't have pets, you'll probably think this is crazy - not just the cost, but also the added stress - but if you've ever opened your heart to a furry four-legged friend, you'll understand why we've willingly jumped through all these hoops - and not only once!!

Snowy was such a big part of our lives from the minute we brought her home, that when Ajey came home with the offer to go to France, the biggest consideration before we accepted was if we could take Snowy with us!! We were lucky enough to find an awesome vet, who helped us through the process - the first thing was to get Snowy micro-chipped - yes, that means exactly what it sounds like - a tiny microchip with a number was inserted between her shoulder blades - and the number along with along her vaccination records was entered in a national pet registry.

When we finally got done with the paperwork, I had a file about an inch thick - I had any and all documents that Snowy might need to clear immigration. Then we heard that the Paris airport was really hard to pets flying in, so we changed our travel plans - to fly into Zurich, and then drive to Grenoble! And the microchip - well, apparently these are not standardized - and the European microchip readers would not be able to read Snowy's chip. Obviously, where there's a problem, there's an online solution - and we were able to rent an US microchip reader for a month to take with us!!

The rules have changed now - but 10 years ago, we were able to wheel Snowy's crate right to the check-in counter at O'Hare, like other checked baggage. Our hearts were in our mouths watching her crate being taken away, and before we boarded the flight, we had a flight attendant check at least 3 times that she had been loaded onto the plane. And it wasn't until we landed and saw her crate by the baggage claim, that Ajey and I were able to relax!! And Zurich airport was a breeze - a porter got us a trolley for the crate, and we walked out - not a single person looked at my impressive array of documents!!!

And stressed as we were, Snowy must have been scared out of her wits!! Outside the airport, we found a bench - imagine the scene - we had 6 large bags, a baby car seat and stroller (Manasi was only 10 months when we moved), and Snowy's crate. The minute we let Snowy out, she jumped on my lap - all 60 pounds of her - and sat there trembling like a leaf, while I tried to comfort her! Poor baby!! Anyway, we were soon on our way to the French border - we were sure we would be stopped for a document check at the border control - but here, too, we were waved in - no, really, the guards were actually waving at us as we drove past the security control!!! And there it was, our little puppy's first international flight!!!

Moving to India, we took the easy way out - we hired an agent to help us fly Snowy into Chennai!! Our agent helped us get an import authorization - but this was valid only for a particular day and a particular flight. As luck would have it, we missed our Paris-Chennai flight - yes, we have actually missed an international flight - considering the amount we travel, I'm surprised it has happened only once!! New flight meant getting new papers for Snowy - and despite half of Chennai being shut down because of the tsunami that year - our agent managed to get us new papers in time - and we all managed to get to Chennai safe and sound!!!

The next move - back to Peoria - an added complication, we were now flying 2 pets instead of 1 - we now had both Snowy and Sunny!! Sunny had to go through the whole micro-chipping process, and I spent half a day at the Department of Agriculture to get the export authorization. A lot of money, and many hours later I had all the necessary documentation!! And this time would be the first time that our pets would have to transfer in Europe - Chennai-Frankfurt-Chicago - with a layover of 6 hours in Frankfurt. More anxiety!!!

But Lufthansa did such a wonderful job!! Both Sunny and Snowy were clean, their crates lined with fresh new paper - and we found out later that not only had Snowy been walked in Frankfurt, but even Sunny had been let out into a cat room to stretch his legs!! A wonderful, wonderful experience!! Once again, at Chicago airport - the customs officer let us leave with only a cursory look at our pets and their papers. His actual words were - "Well, they don't look too rabid, I'll let them in!!" Um, thank you??!

Flying to China, we no longer had our beloved Snowy - and rather than deal with United's new PetSafe policy, I chose to bring Sunny into the cabin with me. Not only was it cheaper, but I could keep my eye on him through the flight!! He has always been a nervous traveller - he doesn't even like riding in the car - so it was no surprise that he meowed for 14 hours straight!!! And now, we're getting ready to fly back with him!! Poor little guy, he has no idea about the ordeal he's about to face!! Like India, we need export authorization to leave with him - and thanks to JM, I have a vet who will take care of the paperwork - so that's one thing off my list!!

Yes, flying with pets is incredibly stressful - both for them and us - but then, what other option do we have?? And things do really work out - as long as you spend the time getting all the paperwork in order!! So no regrets, absolutely none!!

Our well-travelled pets!!

1 comment:

  1. Gauri, this is quite interesting to read. Though I had known a few things during our talks, reading full details makes it very absorbing. Hope Sunny will have smooth flight to and into USA / Peoria.