Fido Hits the Road or Fido Does Europe

My long flight from San Francisco to Paris was finally over. As the plane touched down at Charles de Gaulle, the bag underneath my seat began to shake. The woman next to me noticed the bag moving and was staring at it. As I picked up the bag, the barking started. My seatmate was amazed. She had sat next to me for 10 hours and hadn’t realized I had a dog under the seat.

Molly, my pug, is an experienced international traveler. I have taken her back and forth to Europe numerous times. Molly is not alone in being a canine jet setter. Over 2 million people travel internationally with their pets each year (Globetrotting Pets). The majority of American pet owners prefer not to leave their pets (mostly dogs) at home. According to the American Animal Hospital Association 2004 Pet Survey, 67% of the pet owners surveyed, travel with their pets. The numbers are even higher from the American Pet Product Manufacturing Association. They say that 15 million Americans travel with their pets annually. Traveling with Fido requires a lot of pre-planning (see Sidebar).

In recent years, airline regulations for humans flying is a constantly moving target. Pet travel is no different. You need to check well in advance of your flight as to what the latest airline policy is on pet travel. Domestically, the majority of airlines allow your small pet to travel in-cabin as long as their case fits comfortably underneath your seat. International travel is a whole different story. For example, on American Airlines you can travel in-cabin with a small pet, domestically, provided it and its carrying case fit underneath the seat. Internationally, American Airlines refuses to allow small pets in-cabin. Other airlines, like Air France, may have weight restrictions. Air France requires that the small pet and case do not exceed 5 kilos (about 11 pounds in weight). At check-in, they insist on weighing both the animal and the case. And like everything else in the airline industry, the rules are constantly changing.

I check with the airline on in-cabin pet travel rules, before I decide which airline I am booking a ticket with. As soon as I have my ticket, I call the airline to make a “reservation” for Molly. Airlines limit the number of pets that can fly in-cabin as well as in the “pet section” of cargo. One pet can fly in-cabin in First and Business class and two are allowed in Economy class. Cargo rules vary from airline to airline and many restrict pet cargo travel during cold or hot months.

Rules for the importation (or visiting) of animals can be different for each European country. The best place to check on what the requirements are is the web page of the respective country’s embassy. Printing out a copying the regulations and taking it to the airport with you is a good idea. If anything is vague, call the embassy and ask to speak to the Veterinary Officer. Once you have a clarification, ask them to send you a letter or e-mail confirming what they have told you.

On one of our first trips to France, the United Airlines agent informed us that for travel to France, dogs need to have had a rabies shot in the last twelve months. We tried to explain that most vets in the United States give rabies shots that are good for three years. The French Embassy was closed that day and United was refusing to let us board. Finally, United agreed to let us board after I signed a document saying that I was aware that my dog might be detained (and possibly destroyed) upon landing in France! For our next trip, I had a letter from the French Embassy stating that valid multi-year rabies shots were acceptable. For international travel, you are advised to get to the airport at least two hours in advance of your flight. If you are traveling with a pet, you need to allow a minimum of three hours. As frequently as Molly and I have traveled together on United Airlines from San Francisco to Paris, every time we check-in, I manage to get an agent that has never booked a pet for travel. Between determining what to charge you, and checking the pet requirements for the country that you are traveling to and making sure your case meets their requirements, you can find yourself spending at least an hour at the check-in desk. One time, an agent insisted that Molly stand up and turn around and sit down again in her case.

Once you have your boarding pass, there is security. Since 9/11, we all know to take off our shoes and put everything except the clothes on our back into those little trays. Rules are somewhat consistent. Security requirements for pets are very dependent on who is on duty. Sometimes you can just carry your pet through (minus collar and leash), other times it can be a bit more bizarre. One agent insisted that we take off Molly’s collar and leash and let her walk through by herself. After we finally caught her (little pugs can run very fast), the agent then patted her down. Fortunately I have a friendly dog.

Once you have arrived at your destination, things are pretty simple. If the landing card asks if you are transporting live animals make sure you check it off, even if you are just changing planes. I forgot to do that one time when transferring to another plane in Canada and ended up paying a fine. Sometimes the custom officials will examine the pet’s documentation, other times they won’t.

Traveling with Molly is a great conversation starter with people. Everyone wants to know what kind of dog she is and stops to pet her. In addition, I much prefer having her with me than back in California with a pet sitter or in a kennel.

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