With our entry to the EU blocked, we scrambled to find another way. The Queen Mary cruise ship from Southampton to New York is suspended due to the pandemic so that was out. It turns out cargo ships allow some public passengers but these are also currently suspended for the same reason. Also these routes take two weeks, and I wasn’t confident Alfred had that long left.
Belgium’s rules on entry under exceptional circumstances differed with France in that they include allowing access for animals needing medical treatment. We had a letter from the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) stating we had permission to enter the US with Alfred, a letter from Dr Liz Pluhar of the University of Minnesota saying he was expected for treatment, and a letter from his UK neurologist, Dr Sarah Butterfield supporting his case. How to get there? It needed to be privately and under the radar; a boat or a light aircraft.
A friend of mine, a photographer called Philip Gatward, had shown me some photos once where he was up in some old war plane owned by a school friend called Bob. I remembered him telling me about Bob and asked him to reach out and see if we could make it happen. In true British spirit, a plan was formed to board a four seat light aircraft somewhere off the M4 and drop us in Belgium, where we would then run for the train station at Antwerp ,and onto Amsterdam. It was a risky plan in that weather would play a big part in our success, and the weather had been bad all week. Also we would be at the mercy of an official at an airfield in Belgium and their interpretation of the rules. It looked like our best option. And one I was thankful to Philip and Bob for.
Later that evening, just as we were finalising our excursion across enemy lines, my phone rang. On the end of the line was deep, gravelly voice of a man called Mark Zaiger, the boss of a jet company called A-Charter. I’d emailed him earlier in the day looking for a private plane or helicopter to take us to Belgium. Mark being an ex-Paratrooper loved our covert plan, but also said one of his jets would be a safer option as weather would not be an issue, and that his contacts would see us safely into the Netherlands, possibly direct as we could get ‘in-transit’ status. We agreed to talk again the next morning and explore options.
It’s a shame you can’t travel on Wednesday, I have an empty leg to New York and could do you a deal on it…
“It’s a shame you can’t travel on Wednesday, I have an empty leg to New York and could do you a deal on it”. Wednesday was a day-and-a-half away. Flying private jet direct to the US would not only reduce any customs problems, but also get around any boarding issues with Alfred’s size. And it would be less stressful for the dog as he would have his own seat rather than be squashed in a bag under a seat for many hours. I was sold, we were going on a mission to save Alfred’s life, UK DoT and CAA rules could not stop us, EU post Brexit rules and pandemic precautions could not stop us. And the person we asked for help at the French embassy certainly couldn’t stop us. Bon Voyage!