Featured photo is Arran in his carrier before we flew with him from Houston to Frankfurt in August 2014. Yes, we did take off his collar before the flight, as it was required by the airline.
This morning, I stumbled across yet another dog related horror story in the Washington Post. I’ve run out of gift articles for this month, but here’s the link and I’ll offer a quick and dirty recap. A family was moving from London to Nashville with their dog, Bluebell. They flew on British Airways, and somehow, the dog wound up going to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia instead of Nashville. Meanwhile, the dog meant to go to Riyadh wound up in Nashville.
When Bluebell finally got to Nashville, she was very upset after 63 hours in a crate. She’s had behavioral issues ever since her flight. The family is now trying to get compensated by IAG Cargo, the group that handles pet transportation for British Airways, as Bluebell has become destructive and very clingy. She was clearly traumatized by her international flying experience.
I don’t blame the family for wanting to be compensated for their terrible experience trying to fly their dog. It’s inexcusable that these two dogs ended up going to the wrong cities. Airline travel for pets is pretty awful, especially in the wake of the pandemic. It seems to have gotten more expensive in recent years, and we’re hearing more horror stories about dogs dying or being misrouted. However, the truth is, in spite of the horror stories and high costs of flying pets, the vast majority of pets who fly come through the experience with no issues whatsoever.
When we came to Germany the first time, back in 2007, we flew our beagles, Flea and MacGregor, on United Airlines as “excess baggage”. They were on the same flight with us, but in the hold of the plane. When we landed in Frankfurt eight hours later, they were waiting for us at the baggage claim. Flea was pitching a very noisy fit, but was otherwise just fine.
When we flew Delta Airlines out of Stuttgart in 2009, we had a couple of challenges. Flea had prostate cancer and, the day of our scheduled departure, a plane landed in Stuttgart without its landing gear. That shut down the runway, and our flight was delayed by a night while the mess was cleaned up. The next day, we flew to Atlanta with no problems. Once again, in spite of having cancer, Flea was pitching a huge, noisy fit… drawing admiration from southerners who like hunting dogs and drowning out the comments anyone had for us about flying with dogs.
But what was the alternative? Rehoming them in Germany? A lot of Germans already think Americans are shitty pet owners, precisely because some of them don’t take their pets with them when they move. Besides, Flea and MacGregor, both of whom are now at the Rainbow Bridge, were our babies. In those days, American carriers would fly pets as excess baggage. Now, they require people to use “cargo”, which as far as I can tell, just costs more and lands the animals in different parts of the airport.
When we moved back to Germany in 2014, we had Zane and Arran. We flew out of Houston on Lufthansa, which is probably the best airline for flying with pets. They flew as “excess baggage” again, but Lufthansa has holds that are light and temperature controlled. Again, no issues at all… They were waiting for us at baggage claim in Frankfurt. I don’t expect we’ll be flying with Arran again, since he has lymphoma and probably isn’t too much longer for the world. With Noyzi, we’ll probably need to hire a pet shipper, which will cost big bucks. But I fully expect he’ll survive the experience just fine. Thousands of animals travel with no issues whatsoever. The horror stories aren’t the norm, which is why they make the news.
Whenever there’s a news piece about an animal having a horrific experience on a plane, there are always a bunch of ignorant, emotionally rooted comments from people, most of whom have NEVER traveled internationally with a pet. They suggest doing things like rehoming the animal or hiring a private jet… or using a boat. To my knowledge, there is only ONE cruise ship that transports dogs and cats. That would be Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, which travels between New York and Southampton, England. So if your pet needs to go somewhere other than across the Atlantic Ocean, you’re out of luck if you want to use a cruise ship. You also have to book way ahead, because there are only 24 kennels, and the cost could be prohibitive, especially for larger dogs, who might need two kennels. And it takes time to cross the Atlantic on a ship.
Chartering a private jet is also very expensive and, obviously, is not a realistic or feasible option for most people. Nevertheless, I saw people writing that that’s would they would try to do if they had to move abroad with a pet. I think they’d come down a few thousand feet if they saw how expensive that option is. People of average means won’t be able to swing the cost. It’s also not exactly the most environmentally sound option.
Some people think dogs should be allowed to fly in the cabin with people. They do things like claim their pets as support animals. The airlines in the United States have now pretty much banned emotional support animals on planes, because people were abusing the privilege and bringing untrained animals onboard, or they were bringing inappropriate animals, like peacocks and pigs. Dogs and mini horses are commonly used as assistance animals, and they can be specially and highly trained to do those jobs and behave appropriately in public spaces. Some people were trying to pass off their untrained pets as support animals, which does a huge disservice to actual support animals and the people who depend on them.
If your dog or cat is small enough, they can fly in a kennel under the seat in front of you. But they have to be really small to be able to do that. Most animals won’t qualify. So that’s why people find themselves flying with their pets as “excess baggage” or in cargo.
Flying with pets can be extremely stressful and expensive. Sometimes, there are true horror stories caused by negligence on the part of the airlines or cargo staff, or due to the owners’ own idiocy. For instance, there was a very sad story a couple of years ago about people who flew their dog from Korea to Germany. They took their dog out of her carrier in an unsecure location. She got away from them and was killed by a car.
We had our own nightmarish pet transportation story, when we tried to adopt a dog just as COVID-19 was striking. The pet taxi driver who brought him to us took him out of his box before putting a leash on him, and he got away from her and found his way to the Autobahn. People blamed us, as we publicized the situation in an attempt to get him back to us safely, which sadly wasn’t to be. It was pure negligence on the pet taxi driver’s part, and she ended up being sued by the rescue who hired her to bring the dog to us. Yet, even though that happened to us with ground transportation, it’s still not the norm.
The vast majority of pet transportation outfits will get your pet from point A to point B without a problem. That’s true with any form of transportation. Airlines have been transporting pets for many years. But, when these kinds of horror stories are publicized, people are naturally outraged, and assume that flying with pets is inherently unsafe. The outrage then causes well meaning, but highly restrictive laws to be passed, which makes it much more difficult to travel with pets. While it may seem like common sense to tell people they shouldn’t have pets if they plan to move abroad, consider what that might mean for the many animals who are waiting for a home.
A whole lot of people who travel with pets are people who are in the military or work for the government. If all of those people quit adopting animals because they might have to move abroad, that would mean more pets in shelters and rescues, waiting for families. That will mean even more healthy pets being euthanized due to overcrowding in shelters. The people screaming about how “cruel” air travel is for pets never seem to think about that, do they?
Automatically telling people to simply rehome their pets if they have to move abroad is also a crappy and insensitive idea. Sometimes, that is actually the best solution, but I think it should be a last resort. Pets are family. Our dog, Arran, is very bonded to Bill, and he was passed around a lot when he was a puppy. I think he’d be heartbroken if we left him in Germany. We’d be heartbroken to leave him here.
It seems to me that what needs to happen is airline reform to accommodate pets who need to travel. Think of the animals who have been rescued from meat markets in China, or horrific puppy mills in Virginia, where their fate was to be sold to laboratories for medical research. Our own Noyzi came to us from Kosovo, where he was a street dog. Isn’t it better that he has a loving family? And shouldn’t we insist on being able to get him home with us safely, if and when the time comes for us to move back to the United States?
When we’ve had to fly with our dogs, we’ve done all we could to make sure they traveled as safely and comfortably as possible. That means booking the shortest route with no layovers, and driving as much as we can. Last time we had to travel with animals, we had the luxury of using Lufthansa. People who are flying on the government’s dime typically have to fly on US carriers for as far as possible. Until recently (and perhaps even still) people got around that rule by booking code shared flights through US carriers. That is, they’d book a ticket on, say, United Airlines, but it would be a Lufthansa flight. That way, the animals could fly as “excess baggage”, on the same flight as their owners. It was a lot cheaper, too.
Anyway… we don’t know how much longer we’ll be in Germany. We’re not in a big hurry to leave here. One of the main reasons we don’t want to move is because of having to travel internationally with our dogs. It really is an expensive, stressful pain in the ass. And this is just one area where airlines need to do a lot better. It’s also too bad that people become such judgmental twats when tragedies happen. Some of the people who were commenting on Bluebell’s case were blaming the family for what happened to her. It’s not their fault. They should be raising holy hell with the cargo company that routed her to the wrong city. Sounds like they’re doing just that. I hope they get the money they deserve.