People fly with dogs on commercial flights all the time. You might not be aware of it but most flights crossing the Atlantic have animals on them, usually in the hold but also in the cabin where assistance dogs (such as those for the blind or for veterans suffering PTSD), or small dogs and cats who can fit in a carrier under the seat in front and weigh no more than 8kg. When my brother’s dog, Rocky, went to Califorina he travelled inside the hold so I know that even though it traumatic for the dog, they do make the journey. This wouldn’t be an option for Alfred as he is a seizure risk, also Alfred is a snub-nosed breed which most airlines will no longer carry as they suffer from breathing difficulties – add to that the stress of flying and it is a recipe for disaster. He had to fly in cabin. But at 9.2kg he does not fit the rules.
Renée found a decent pet carrier/bag he fitted in that was within the approved airline size dimensions and we started training him to go inside it using chicken as bait. The zipped sides expanded out so that once on board he would at least have a little more room to reposition himself. And we set about trying to find the shortest trans-Atlantic crossing – London Heathrow to New York John F. Kennedy. We hit a problem straight away, the UK’s Department of Transport (DoT) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) does not allow any pets to travel in cabin. Calls and emails to British Airways asking for special permission were fruitless. However, the European Union has different rules and does allow pets in cabin. Not really a big deal as we could drive to Amsterdam via a ferry across the English Channel and leave the car at the airport. A minor inconvenience.
Finding an airline to accept a 9.2kg dog in cabin, even with the special circumstances Alfred had, was difficult. British Airways? No. Air France? No. KLM? No. Lufthansa? No. All of them point blank despite phoning and emailing various departments. Delta seemed open to finding a way, or at least the people I spoke to were, and without going into too much detail suggested as long as he fits in the bag that goes under the seat, and has the paperwork to back his case up, he would fly. The two people I spoke to were super knowledgeable – they also knew this would not be the only hurdle. The UK’s exit from the European Union just weeks earlier combined with Covid-19 lockdown measures prevented us catching a ferry from the UK to the Netherlands and boarding a flight. Rapidly it was dawning on me we had a big issue. And time was not on our side.
The next step was to contact the Dutch Embassy. Was there a way around this? It has to be said, everyone I spoke to there, in particular Mayam who lost her own four-legged friend just a few months ago, listened to what I had to say and was sympathetic to Alfred’s situation, and they wanted him to catch a Delta flight from Schiphol Airport, but they explained there was a docking ban in place due to the pandemic and no passengers were currently allowed to travel via ferry. There simply was no ferry to board. So, with air travel from the UK to the Netherlands already ruled out we were left with one option; the train – either the Eurostar passenger train or the Eurotunnel where you drive onto the train. Both departing the UK and entering via France. This itself was good as legally UK nationals can board a flight in the Netherlands as long as they arrive via another EU country. Perfect! Delta flights were booked and I set about getting tickets from London on the Eurostar only to be told “no pets”. OK, not such a big deal as I knew pets were allowed on the Eurotunnel, we’d go by car instead. Eurotunnel told us we’d need special permission from France as their entry requirements different to the Netherlands (all the EU countries have slightly different variations on the theme which kind of makes you question what the point of Brussels is?). What a stark contrast the French Embassy is to the Dutch. Finding a telephone number to talk to someone next to impossible, and the response from emailing to the point; ‘Non!’. Our reason did not fit their interpretation of essential travel. Harsh, cold, insensitive. I was pissed off yet not unable to see why they were taking this hard-line position as they were trying to protect human lives by limiting the potential spread of Covid-19. I just didn’t like hearing it as it felt like a death sentence for Alfred, and the most frustrating situation – we had a solution to potentially save him, but no way of getting him there. I felt like a small, insignificant person with little freedom in a world where legislation and laws were being rapidly ushered in by governments. Getting this far had taken another two weeks and I was anxious Alfred’s time was running out.
For an hour or so after hearing the French would not allow our safe passage I was defeated. I felt hopeless, and useless to my good friend. I sat with him for a while (actually he was laying on me, no doubt sensing the emotion) and told him I was so sorry.