Flying with pets can be tricky, depending on the countries you’re flying between, which airline you use, and how you want to transport them. This is how we took our two inmates from Vietnam to Germany.
The first step was to get them sorted out medically. Obviously these things can change, but for “untrusted” countries like Vietnam, the EU currently requires:
- the pets need to be microchipped, so that they can be identified. This is easily done: the only thing to watch out for is that there seem to be different types of microchips. 15 digit chips seem to be the standard, while for lesser-known types you might need to bring your own scanner with the animal.
- AFTER the chip is implanted (no particular period seems to be required), the animals need to be vaccinated against rabies.
- At least 30 days after the vaccination, the pets need to have their blood tested for rabies. This is the most expensive part of the process, as the test can only be conducted by certain labs. The most cost-effective option for us was to have the blood samples sent from Vietnam to England, at a cost of about $350 each. You will need to find a vet who knows how to handle the transfer of the sample to an appropriate lab. The samples took about a month to process in our case.
- Within the ten days before your travel date, the pets need a medical check, mainly to ensure that they show no signs of rabies. Again you need a vet who knows the right kind of certificate to produce.
- At least three calendar months after the blood sample is taken, the animal can fly.
Starting from scratch, therefore, you need four months between beginning the process and travelling. Microchipping and vaccinating pets is a good idea anyway, so if they’re already done, the three-month wait after the blood test is the only part that should take time.
Additionally, exporting the animals may require some paperwork from the local authorities: again, a vet who knows the procedures is essential here.
We had all of this taken care of by Dr Ngia of the Saigon Pet Clinic in Ho Chi Minh City, who was very helpful throughout.
The big decision to make is whether to take the animals in the cabin, or put them in the hold. Some countries and airlines don’t allow pets to be transported in the cabin anyway (Emirates wins the prize for most bizarre policy, allowing only guide dogs and “falcons between Dubai and certain destinations in Pakistan”). We initially planned to take ours in the cabin with us: it’s obviously a big advantage to know that your animals are with you and safe, and to be able to calm them. In the end, however, we decided to put them in the hold for several reasons:
- We were travelling with Lufthansa, who required that the pet carrier in the cabin be within their normal carry-on luggage dimensions (55 cm x 40 cm x 23 cm). Our flight was fifteen hours, which would be a long time in a small container. Putting them in the hold allowed them a bit more space.
- Security procedures were unclear. American airports seem to require animals to be taken out of their carriers at security checks, which didn’t sound like a fun thing to do with our easily-spooked pair. Our flight involved a stop in Bangkok, where we had to get off the plane and go through another security check before re-boarding, and we had no way of finding out what the procedure would be at security checks in Vietnam and Thailand (and even if there were official procedures, no guarantee that the particular operatives there that day would know them).
- People. On such a long flight, we were worried that the cats would disturb our neighbours, or vice versa. In the hold there is presumably less going on, so they just had to sit and wait, which they’re quite good at. As it happened, there didn’t seem to be any other animals on this flight, so there was nothing around to irritate them.
We used the ordinary pet carriers which they were already familiar with from their trips to the vet: inside they were lined with “pet pee pads”, which turned out to be a good idea (in Floh’s case, as something to burrow under), and bits of an old sheet which they liked to lie on. We attached water bottles and bowls to the door, which they didn’t seem to use at all, but at least they could have if they’d been desperate for water. If we go for the cabin option another time, then I like the look of this one. It squishes up to fit the cabin baggage size, but can then be extended once you’re up in the air.
Procedures at the airport itself were more free jazz than well-oiled machine. The check-in staff were very pleased to see the cats, but slightly surprised to see two of them. Although we had told Lufthansa’s call centre in Europe that there would be two, that part of the message hadn’t got through, so another set of labels had to be found, and it took the staff a while to work out how to add another cat to the computer system. Labelling of the carriers was done at check-in, but the labels (slight design flaw) were not very sticky, so sellotape had to be found to stick them on with. The check-in staff were also unsure about how security checks would work: the first idea was that they would have to be X-rayed; then that we would have to take them out of the carriers (and presumably hold on tight); fortunately the vet had come to the airport with us and all was resolved eventually, but it was a bit nerve-wracking.
Nerve-wracking in fact sums up the whole experience–we hopefully won’t have to take them on such a long flight again. Still, everything did eventualy work out: on arrival at Frankfurt, the cats appeared well, if not actually happy, on the belt in the ‘bulky luggage’ area. There was no check-up of animals or documents, and we were allowed to take them straight through and into their new world. 🙂