Friday, January 02, 2015

Traveling Internationally with Pets

Traveling internationally with pets and ensuring that everything is in order can be really stressful, because who wants to be told hours before their flight to another continent that Fido can't get on the plane? Every country and airline has different rules, which means that the game is different every time you play. This round, we're taking a dog and cat from the US to Saudi Arabia by way of Germany. Seems straightforward, right? Ha. 

If you're looking for the details on how to get your own pets safely abroad, click here to skip down to the pet travel links. But I hope you read our story on how we got there (at least once).

Ok, so first a little more background on the flight regulations & rules we have to follow:
Rules & Restrictions to be aware of:
1) The "Fly America Act" requires government employees (military and foreign service) to fly on a US flagged carrier departing from the US on official business (TDY & PCS), mostly due to savings on contracted airfare & change fees. Savvy travels will see that this is usually easy to get around by finding a code-shared flight (the printed number on the ticket says United 8826), even if the flight is operated by a Lufthansa flight crew (the plane is actually LH419, and everything aboard is in Lufthansa livery). While they also put their lives in harm's way in the service of their country, Foreign Service personnel do not always get the same courtesies extended to them that the active duty military gets (but that's a story for another time). 

2) Just because airlines might code-share with their alliance partners, these same airlines do not always practice interlining (also known as "interline ticketing") effectively. Interlining is a voluntary commercial agreement between individual airlines to handle passengers traveling on itineraries that require multiple airlines. More on this point later.

3) Some airlines have awesome pet policies, like how Lufthansa only charges ~$200 per flight segment. Their Star Alliance, US-code share partner, United, charges around ~$1,000 for the same service, same route. That's an origin-to-destination price, but since we are "switching" airlines in FRA, we'd still have to pay Lufthansa's fees for the connecting flight from FRA to JED.

While there is a clause in the travel regulations that would allow us to book different flights (say, a pure Lufthansa flight) in order to accommodate the pets and pay the difference, there seems something inherently wrong with United charging 500% more than Lufthansa for the pets to fly on the exact same aircraft or else pay significantly higher airfare (for the entire family) simply because Fly America prevents us from booking on a foreign carrier departing the US. Not to mention that the cost differential to fly on that particular Lufthansa flight is about double the United fare. They know they've got you.

It should also be noted that Saudi Airlines has a direct flight from DC to Jeddah for half of the government contracted airfare but Fly America makes it virtually impossible to use that option. Sure, there is a waiver you can file, but for the effort required, we weren't confident that the Saudis would care for our dog nearly as well as Lufthansa would. That's why we didn't pursue the direct-flight option (which is usually easiest on the animals).

How we got from D.C. to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with our dog & cat
So this is our scenario. Because of the Fly America act, we have to be on a US flagged carrier departing the US, even though it's technically operated by a German Airline. Now, we want our dog (and cat) to come along, so United is telling us that we have to pay them $1000 for the dog (and $500 for the cat) to fly on Lufthansa's plane...but when we get to Frankfurt, Lufthansa will require us to claim the dog when we arrive because our ticket was issued by United. So the dog would then need to have all of his papers in order for Germany and Saudi Arabia in order to board another Lufthansa flight? Really?

So, Greg called someone familiar with these sort of issues who then referred him to a specific travel agent who knows folks at Lufthansa, and after trying to get on the wait list for a different flight, it turned out that the best possible solution was to cancel everything and rebook under a different itinerary. Of course, we set up a new confirmation first (don't jump before you know where you'll land!), but yeah, I think we owe the travel agent a Christmas present.

Ok, so now that we've got the reservations for the pets, we still need to get the pet visas. Saudi Arabia is not keen on having dogs come in to the country, so they add a few more steps than most other countries. Check the national laws of the countries you are flying to as well as the ones you are transiting. Case in point: Frankfurt is in German federal state of Hessen, which has restrictions on some dog breeds, so Lufthansa requires "fighting dogs" travel in IATA compliant CR82 crates. The breeds considered to be aggressive are American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Pitbull Terrier, Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino, Rottweiler, Caucasian Owtscharka, and Karabash. We had friends in Germany that had to use one, and they look like they are built to hold a tiger. Fortunately, our dog is a mutt and doesn't require this level of fortification, just one you can get from Pet Smart (but international regulations usually mean you have to get the next larger size than you might expect).
CR82 compliant Crate
On the actual day of the flight, we arrived at Dulles something like three to four hours early because there was no need to add stres by feeling rushed. We checked in, and sure enough, because we had our trip identified as solely Lufthansa from origin to destination, we only ended up paying the LH rates for IAD-FRA and FRA-JED legs for the dog and cat at Lufthansa rates...saving us about $1,200 than if part of the flight had been on a code-shared United flight. Win.

We could actually hear our dog barking as he was loaded and unloaded at each location, and it was particularly nice to hear him when we arrived in Jeddah because we then knew that he wouldn't be left on board as the flight continued to Addis Ababa. That would have been bad. While not quite as bad, both pets came into the terminal on the conveyor belt. You know, the kind that goes up then the bags slide down and bump into the railing before getting routed around the carousel. Well, we heard the cat come out first and Greg ran around the carousel to catch the cat before his crate slammed into the railing, moments before the dog's crate came sliding down behind it. Greg was just barely able to get the cat's crate placed on the ground and turn himself around before he had to brace the dog's crate from doing the exact same thing. Fortunately, there was another expat nearby that helped lift the crate off the carousel. I waited with our pets and kids, who were actively engaged in telling the expat's kids about the animals while Greg collected the rest of the luggage on something like four different carts. When our caravan finally made it through the customs official, he looked at the paperwork for that stamp from the Saudi Embassy and waved us through. And that's how we did it.

Here's a thorough compilation of links for international travel with pets at PetTravel.com that includes:
  • Quarantine and Entry Requirements 
  • USDA / APHIS Certification of Health Certificate (US Travelers) 
  • CFIA Certification of Health Certificate (Canadian Travelers) 
  • International Health Certificate 
  • Airline Pet Policies: American / US Airways / 
  • Transiting a Country 
  • Microchip Your Pet 
  • Pet Cargo Crate Requirements 
  • Keeping Your Pet Safe When Traveling in the Cargo Hold 
  • Airline Pet Carriers 
  • Preparing Your Pet for Travel 
  • Pet Transporters 
  • Service Animals 
  • Comfort & Therapy Animals 
  • Military Personnel 
  • Other Information on Flying with Your Pet
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