My first few attempts at this were 5x longer. Even with only one flight experience I learned a lot. Read more about our adventure here.
In the past I had said I would absolutely never fly a large dog – it was probably too dangerous and stressful. Now I’ve done it, and I would probably do it again – but not with most dogs.When I started considering this trip I would get very stressed driving past the airport on my way home from work – before I even had a ticket! This was something I was taking very seriously.
Training: I’ll admit that I didn’t do any specific training with Griffin. Part of the reason I even considered taking him is because of who he is. I expected him to do well – and he did even better. He’s been crated in very busy show environments. He’s comfortable around noisy equipment. He’s not bothered by moving surfaces. He’s comfortable in his crate. If he had to be taken out of his crate – he would be safe – and he would go back in for someone else. One of the scariest and most comforting moments of the flight was at the first airport when I had him out of the crate while a person checked the crate and looked him over. After that check I asked Griffin to crate, he jumped on the cart and into his crate and waited for me to close the door. The guy made a comment “That’s unusual – that was easy,” – implying that most dogs are not willing to get back in.
Ticket: I’m still not sure of the best way to get a ticket for a pet – no one would help me until I had a ticket for myself, but the ticket I originally bought was for planes that were not equipped to take pets as checked baggage (doors to small or other things). I ended up calling over 20 times, spending way too much time on hold, getting at least 4 flight changes. I only stopped calling when I got the same information 3 times in a row. No one I talked to seemed to know what to do – and I know the airlines transport quite a few pets.
Paperwork: By luck, the vet who gave Griffin his last rabies vaccination has done a lot of international travel paperwork. She called the USDA and APHIS and was able get the correct paperwork (the Swedish Department of Agriculture had sent me the wrong forms – twice). She knew how to fill it out in the right colors and the right orders. When we had given that last rabies we had first given Griffin a second microchip – a 15 digit one that would be read by international scanners. I had to take the paperwork to a state USDA vet for stamps and signatures -luckily we live close to that place. All our paperwork was in order – and when we arrived it was barely looked at. The person who checked it obviously hadn’t seen that form very much, she didn’t immediately know where the microchip number was on the form. To get home, we needed the same papers and another certificate for flight from a vet. This was way more simple.
The crate: There is a lot of information on airline websites on their travel requirements and on international travel requirements. It was possible Griffin was going to be too big for a 500 size crate – I would have had to go without him or pay 6-8x more and have him transported as ‘cargo.’ The crate had bowls, a mat, the proper metal screws, ventilation on all four sized. In addition to the airline’s forms, I put special labels on top that I created using a template in Susan Garrett’s ebook on preparing pets to fly. After the dog-out-of-crate-check I zip tied the door to the frame – the door is a weak point on many crates. I had nail clippers in my bag to remove the zip ties. On the way home I had forgotten that I put a pair of kid scissors in my pocket – they allowed those through and it made freeing Griffin much easier.
Safety: I went through airline records for pet accidents and fatalities. This was scary – but also showed that in most of the circumstances over the last few years there had been obvious problems. Seniors pets, pets with diagnosed health problems, pets in inappropriate carriers. Griffin had a heart exam a month before we left. We had the proper type of crate. He was in good health. I did get a second collar tag with a number for where we would be staying.
Misc: I was extra worried about all of this because I haven’t flown very much – and never this far. The last time I flew was with a group and someone else organized everything. I had to check on each flight to be sure my dog was on the plane. Delta wasn’t very good, I had to ask them multiple times and many of the employees were quite grumpy about it. They’re supposed to pull tags off his crate to ‘prove’ he was on the plane, but that never happened. Two parts of our flight were handled by KLM and they were -so- nice. The moment I asked they knew about him. Once they invited me up front to look out of the windshield and see him setting on a cart, waiting to be put on the plane. The pilot made some comments about “We’ll land so carefully he won’t even notice!”
Home: The final checking out process at the airport was a little difficult, I couldn’t get him out of the crate (Detroit threatens a $200 fine for pets out of the crate) and couldn’t get him on the cart with my luggage. In Sweden I had him out of his crate, put the crate on the cart, and filled the crate with our luggage – that worked way better. At the Detroit airport I almost got stopped for checking too many ‘yes’ boxes – yes we’ve been in pasture – yes I handled animals – yes I had an animal with me – yes I had food with me. But it ended up not being a problem. I had been worried about all of that – but also wasn’t going to lie – I had too many classes about agricultural biosecurity at school.
Here’s Griffin about 15 minutes after we got picked up in Michigan. It’s not good training – I was way too tired to be setting criteria – but I was so happy with how happy and comfortable he seemed.