Pets and the Army

The treatment of pets in relation to the military travel is unacceptable. I didn’t understand fully just how difficult it was to travel with pets until the travel agency didn’t include them on our first itinerary. Something needs to change.

Six weeks ago, my husband (sponsor) made travel arrangements through SatoTravel to get our infant, our two cats and myself back to Louisville. I received plane tickets for myself and for our baby to fly on United Airlines from Frankfurt to Chicago and then on to Louisville. To confirm that we were in compliance with German travel regulations, I called the airline to ask about kennel sizes for my two cats and whether I could take them in the cabin or check them. The representative on the phone said I could take them on the first flight but on the last leg of my flight I couldn’t take either of them. I asked for options, she said there were none. I was willing to get off the plane in Chicago and take a rental car at my own expense, but due to my husband’s orders, my final destination had to match what is on his orders. In essence, I was hearing that I could make it to Louisville, but my cats couldn’t.

At this point, I started looking into pet shipping companies. Not only would I have to pick them up from another airport at least 3 hours drive away from where I would be landing, but I would have to hire a customs broker to clear the cats through customs. Total bill: $1000, not including travel time to pick them up and overnight kennel stays if I couldn’t pick them up the same day. This is a conservative estimate after comparing rates of multiple companies.

Next, my husband headed back to the travel agency to discuss the situation. He explained the issue of our pets not having been factored into our travel. The agent didn’t have a record of the pets needing to fly, but luckily a rebooking was all that needed to happen.

  • My husband asked to move the flight a day before or after the original requested date. Unfortunately, no available flights could accomodate our pets.
  • Next, he asked if the cats and I could fly to a different hub. No luck.
  • He asked about using another airline. The agent informed us that Delta is the only other airline that accomodates pets, but we wouldn’t get ticket confirmation for 3 days after the request is submitted (my flight was on Friday, today is Monday…. too close a call).
  • He asked about flying to another location. The agent informed us that I must fly to the airport nearest to the next station on my husband’s orders. The irony of this is that, when I was living in Louisville three years ago, the cats and I flew from Nashville to Frankfurt without incident at government expense. In theory, it seems we should be able to do this once more.
  • When my husband asked if I could get a rental car and drive from Chicago, the agent said they could not approve a rental car because the funds could not be approved, since it was cheaper to fly from Frankfurt to Chicago to Louisville rather than fly to Chicago and drive to Louisville.

As she searched, the only solutions available were that I could only take one pet or change travel arrangements and fly on a different date. This has become an inconvenience to our family, since TMO will be picking up our furniture before the new flight date, and we will have no beds for ourselves or for our baby. Also, the family members who rearranged work schedules to meet us at the airport on the original travel date now have to rearrange schedules again. 

Finally, the agent was able to find flights for all of us on the following Sunday. We’re still going to have to pay extra to have them on the flight, but at least the whole family will make it home together.

There is a recent AFN advertising campaign that addresses a related problem: you hear a baby crying, and a mother and father are talking about leaving the baby; it will be ok, because someone else is bound to take care of them. The announcer then says something to the effect of, “you wouldn’t do this to your baby, so why would you do this to your pet?”

There is an epidemic concerning abandoned pets in the American military communities in Europe, so out of control that German pet stores will not sell pets to Americans. There is a solution to be found, and it starts with reconsidering how travel is handled for pets. Though the military travel agency assists with pet travel, it wasn’t done correctly in this instance. The first ticketing agent we encountered neglected to include our pets in our travel itinerary. There is not an adequate resource guide given to pet owners overseas and procedures they must follow when traveling. Had I not called today to inquire about kennel size, I would have had no idea that the cats could not make the entire flight, which we were assured of six weeks ago when we made our original travel plans.

I would like to end by saying that the SatoTravel agent did a wonderful job helping us today. Though this was a problem for us, it in no way was a reflection on her performance. I realize she was only relaying the military’s procedures concerning pets and travel.


UPDATE:

  • Upon arriving at the airport, the German UA representative would not let us use the kennel that was re-approved by the German veterinarian at the vet clinic on base. We had to buy a brand-new kennel while at the airport, which cost us 90 Euros.
  • The representative asked Mat to tell the cat to stand up and turn around.

I’m not sure which is more ridiculous, the price of the kennel or the representative’s request.

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