Traveling With a Big Dog... Is Not Easy / With Tips and Links

Before we could start our adventure as digital nomads, Tomy and I came to the conclusion that it would be much too expensive, complicated, and stressful to take our precious and most beloved creature, Ruby, along with us. Luckily, my mom was willing to take care of the Bean for a few months... what's the catch? My mom lives in California. We live in Prague. That's 9365.27 km (or 5819.47 miles).

Ruby had been on a plane once before, back in 2013 when she made the voyage from San Francisco to Prague. There was a lot of paperwork to be done, and when I say a lot I mean way too much. There's the form specific to the country you are importing to (in this case, Czech Republic, which is part of the EU), the papers which the USDA needs to approve, the specifically timed vaccinations with veterinary signature and stamp, and the papers from the airline. What's surprising is that on the way back to the US, there was much less paperwork, thanks to the Eu Pet Passport (see checklist below).

The plan was to take Ruby as a check-in baggage (significantly cheaper than sending her with a freight company), the way we'd taken her from San Francisco to Prague. There are not many airlines who still allow this, so beware (see links below)! Upon purchasing flight tickets direct from Lufthansa.com, we had no idea that the connecting flight from Frankfurt to SFO would be taken on by a sister airline, in this case United Airlines. As the Lufthansa website suggested, I called the hotline after purchasing the ticket online. As it turns out, United Airlines only takes animals in cargo as check-in luggage if you are military personnel or as part of a freight company. What?! I was furious. In the end I had made about 12 phone calls, most of them transferring me several times, just to find out that I needed to re-book my flight from PRG to SFO so that I'd be flying with Lufthansa exclusively. In total, instead of costing $1600, my 10-day return ticket to SFO cost us $2,200. Talk about a bummer. The lesson here? Book your pet-travel flights over the phone!

*Tip: Begin crate-training your dog or cat before travel. Casually lock them inside for a few hours at a time, even when you're home. Keep them close by for the first few times, and gradually move away from the crate, until they are comfortable with you being away completely. It's advisable to leave a bowl with water inside.

 

On September 18th, we got in the mini van cab we pre-ordered to transport Ruby's crate to the airport. She sat with us in the backseat, not knowing where she was headed. On her first flight I chose to have her sedated but since the pills were now expired and there are no such pills available in the Czech Republic (they don't use the ones that put the animal to sleep, but rather make them drowsy), this time she was going without any meds.

*Tip: if your animal tends to get anxious or aggressive, talk to a Veterinary specialist about sedative options before travel. We recommend that you test the product on your animal prior to travel, to ensure that they will not have an allergic reaction during transit. Be aware the possibility of hypothermia when traveling by air.

Most airline regulations state that the animal must fit in the crate with its neck extended, must be able to turn around, and sit inside. A container with water must be attached, and toys or bedding are optional for comfort. Here's what Lufthansa's checklist (surprisingly NOT available online) looks like:

And so, Ruby and I went on our grand adventure to California. The flight was about 14 hours with a two hour break in Frankfurt. I've read on a few forums that this animal holding center is safe, with climate control and lights. I also managed to get a quick view of the guy who was handling Ruby's journey from one plane to the next. Just look for the little blue and cream crate on the car.

My flight experience was nerve-wracking with every bump and turbulence, but thankfully the landing was smooth and without delay. The photos below document just a fraction of the emotions that were whizzing through me as I went to pick up my precious pup. For about 30 minutes, the only animal at the Animal Center Pick-Up, which is unguarded, was an orange tabby cat. Every few minutes a man would deliver another animal. Most of them were cats, with just one small schnauzer whining between them. Finally I made eye contact with the animal transportation guy and he asked if I was waiting for a big dog. About 5 minutes passed before he and a colleague exited the narrow doorway with two dogs stacked on top of each other (below).

Ruby was panting like crazy (sign of anxiety) and leaning to the back of her cage. Her water had spilled all over her bed! The two men almost got away from me before I could ask them to help me move her crate on to the cart. They did so horizontally. Now I had to try and push two carts to the line for scanning suitcases. Damn! It was so difficult. I mean, I'm not exactly an athlete and I'm definitely not tall enough to even properly reach the two carts at once. It was a struggle. As I was turning to enter the line, an idiot man tried to cut ahead of me. I yelled, "I'm turning here!" but he didn't listen and his cart his Ruby's crate. It toppled completely upside down. Now I was angry and scared. Thankfully she had not been hurt. Finally, a man from airport personnel took the initiative to help me transport her to the pick up line. I gave him $5 and finally Ruby was free to exit her cage. Sure, she peed in the only carpeted area of the airport, but nobody saw so that was lucky. Not sure what the fines are for that one.

Plan on traveling with your pet? Here's a few websites you might find useful: