On the 19th of November 2018, we were scheduled to fly home from the Seattle-Tacoma airport after sixteen months living a dream. Eka was to fly to Bilbao and I was to go back to the Dominican Republic with our beloved Tikla. A few weeks later, we were to be reunited again in Santo Domingo where we would settle for a bit.
Eka’s flight was around 6 o’clock in the afternoon and Meli’s was around 9 pm. Our dear friend Alex Smith had agreed to drop Eka off at the airport and wait with Tikla and Meli in a nearby dog park until it was time for them to go.
We both are fairly organized people… before this day we had researched every little thing about flying with dogs in order for everything to go as smoothly as possible for Tikla (and for us). We had been to a veterinary clinic that had been recommended by our friend Alex, Broadway Animal Hospital, where they helped us go through the whole process and got us ready to fly with our pup to the Dominican Republic.
- Country specific certificate completed and signed by the USDA accredited veterinarian in blue ink. This is a simple health certificate but apparently, the format of the health certificate changes depending on the country you are flying to. Our vet found the template for Tikla’s certificate on the USDA’s website, where you can choose the country you are flying to in a drop-down list to see all the requirements and download the certificate’s template.
- Rabies Vaccination Certificate listing the microchip number signed by the veterinarian in blue ink. The vaccine has to be given more than one month and less than one year prior to departure. In Tikla’s case, she had received her first rabies shot in La Paz, Mexico, back in June, which was ok, however, her rabies certificate from Mexico did not show a microchip number and therefore, we had to give her a booster vaccine in order for the veterinary clinic to emit a new rabies certificate on which the chip number is stated.
- Acclimation Statement. American Airlines does not allow pets to travel if temperatures are below 45ºF or above 85ºF at any location on the itinerary. However, an acclimation certificate can be used to allow airlines to fly pets when they cannot guarantee compliance with animal welfare regulations. This had to be done in our case because we were flying from a cold city, temperatures in Seattle were already between 32ºF and 59ºF, to a very hot and humid country where temperatures were between 73.4ºF and 89.6ºF. Tikla’s acclimation certificate specified that she seemed healthy for transport but that she needed to be maintained at a range of ambient temperatures to which she had been acclimated and she determined it to be no lower than 30ºF for 60 minutes and no higher than 85ºfor no longer than 90 minutes.
We also had to pay an endorsement fee of 38 dollars to the USDA. Nowadays, it is possible to have the health certificate endorsed electronically but at the time of our travels the documents were still required to show the signature in original ink. Since we didn’t have time to ship the documents and wait to receive them back, we booked an appointment with the USDA and drove down to Olympia (4hs round trip from Everett) to get the required signatures and pay the fee.
Once we had all the documents sorted out, we needed to get ready for the actual flight. We had called at the time of booking to be sure that the aircraft we wanted to board on was suited for pet travel – for example, with AA, checked pets cannot travel on certain type of aircrafts (A321, A321S, A321H, A320 and A319). Also, we wanted to be sure that they still had available space for Tikla’s kennel as we knew that the aircraft’s capacity was limited and they accept kennels on a first-come basis.
Once we had verified all of that, we booked our flight and checked the AA website for instructions. All of the airlines usually list their the guidelines for pet travel on their website. With American Airlines, It cost us $200 to check Tikla into the flight.
We got a kennel that responded to all the requirements. It was made of plastic, large enough for Tikla for stand, turn, sit and lie down in a natural position (without touching the sides or the top), it had a door made of metal, secured with bolts and cable ties, it had ventilation on the four sides and we had separate food and water dishes attached securely to the door. We highly recommend getting metal bowls instead of plastic, the day that we left, Tikla had chewed on them and destroyed them to pieces before we had even finished the check-in. I had to take a cab and run to a Petco near the airport to get her metal ones before going through security.
We had also taped a bottle of water and a zip-lock with food and snacks for the staff to give to her during the layover. We added a note where we wrote down her name, her age and our contact information just in case people wanted to calm her down or contact us in case of an emergency.
We had done our research and so, you can imagine our surprise when Alex dropped Meli off at the airport with Tikla to start the check-in process with AA and they told her that she was missing a document. This document, described as “rabies anti-body test showing a serum antibody level of at least 0.5IU/ml», was not listed on the AA website nor on the USDA website as a requirement to travel to the Dominican Republic, it was only listed on their internal -and private- system (TimaticWeb). They recognized that this information was missing and so agreed to change her flight for the next day, in order for her to call our vet, get this document in the morning and be ready to leave at night.
Little did she know, this document that they were asking for was a rabies antibody titer test, done in order to detect the presence of antibodies in Tikla’s blood. According to our vet, this is only required for pets that travel to rabies-free countries and the results would take months to be ready. The Dominican Republic was listed as a rabies high risk country and this requirement was also nowhere to be found on the DIGEGA’s (Department of Agriculture and Livestock of the Dominican Republic) website. We were convinced that Tikla did not need it to fly and enter the country but AA insisted that their internal system required us to provide that document in order for Tikla to fly.
During four days, Meli spent day and night on the phone and online, looking for alternatives: other airlines, cargo shipping or else. It was impossible to find another flight that went through cities where the temperatures were still okay for pet travel or that also used an appropriate aircraft. Sending Tikla through a pet shipping company would have simply been too expensive (some companies asked for around 5000-7000 USD!). American Airlines was our only choice if we wanted to go home.
Therefore, she contacted the USDA, the DIGEGA, and managed to get e-mails from high-positioned employees saying that she did not need that document to fly to the Dominican Republic with Tikla. She convinced a few of the AA employees over the phone that she had done everything right and that their system had a flaw, and they booked her another flight on the 25th of November for her to approach the airport staff once more. This time, they let her fly.
The manager, which was the same one she had seen on the 19th, appreciated that she did her homework and committed to contacting the company responsible for the information in their internal system in order to change it. Not only for the Dominican Republic, but they had to double check the information they had for other countries to avoid this from happening again.
As you can all see from this post, traveling with a pet is not easy, it takes time and preparation but if you follow the instructions and do your homework, everything should be just fine.