October 7, 2009

1 Airlines and Defra... like oil and water

It's been a while since I last posted, mostly because I've been quite busy, out of town, and using my new ipod for internet (and it's a lot harder to type long things on it). Now our main shipment of stuff is gone, we are camped out in our house, and the pets and I FINALLY have travel plans. That was a saga.

Up until Sunday we were planning to fly Delta over. There is a direct flight from JFK-Manchester, 7 hours, so we would drive to NYC and take that flight. I spoke with Delta on multiple occasions over the past month regarding flying the pets and was quoted $230 per pet and it didn't seem to be a problem.
Paul's work travel agent caused a slight problem when Paul went to see them to book our flights and they were only willing to put us on a 4 connection flight into Leeds (not a Defra authorized airport for the pets) or a United flight (not a Defra authorized carrier for the pets). They agreed to let us buy our own tickets and they would reimburse up to $701 each (the cost of the United flight). After waiting about a week to have this authorized Paul finally called Delta Sunday.
On the phone Delta quoted Paul $793 each for the JFK-MAN flight. Great start, we wouldn't have to pay too much for the tickets out of pocket. Then Paul asked about the pets. The lady came back with the answer "We don't fly pets into the United Kingdom." After much discussion and carefully toned argument, the answer was still no with the reasoning that "the quarantine is too risky" (our response: our pets should have airport release due to our already doing the paperwork and test) and "the fees are too high" without letting us know what those fees are. So, we stopped that reservation immediately.
We went back to Defra's website to check the authorized carriers into Manchester. Continental is the only other American carrier listed. I then called Continental's pet desk, and was quoted $500 for Mia, $1000 for Sloan, and $1500 for Max. WHOA! We then started trying to figure out money, obviously this was gonna cost a lot more.
Back to the Defra site to see if any other American carriers were authorized into Heathrow. On the site I clicked on the authorized routes by sea tab, just to see. Turns out Cunard cruiseline has a ship, the Queen Mary 2, that is an authorized carrier from NY to Southhampton (just south of London). Well, a boat sure sounds fun, and eliminates the scary of flying the babies. To Cunard's website I went. On the website the cheapest booking for a single was $1995 and for a double is $995 each. I'd be going by myself, as the sail date is Nov 5 and Paul has to be in England Oct 30. So either a single, or for the same price I talk a friend into going with me... I called customer service to ask about the pets. The dogs would each be $500 and Mia would be $300. They stay in cages for the 6 night trip, but are walked many times a day on a special part of the deck (not Mia, obviously) and we can visit them 4 different times each day. Not so bad...
On Monday Paul called Continental to ask about flight costs for us. The tickets would each be $650- less than our allotted $701, so no charge there. Paul then asked what the pet costs would be (hoping for a less expensive answer!) and was quoted the same as I got the day before, but he was told that didn't include tax, which would be $200 additional for each pet. There would also be a fee upon arrival (not Defra's fee of 270 pounds) of $300-$600 depending on our time of arrival. $300 would be during business hours, $500 for early/late, $600 for wee hours or Sundays. Our flight would get in at 6 AM- $500. I love when businesses add fees every time you talk to them...
I then called the cruiseline, as that would be cheaper than Continental and a lot more fun. They had one room available, a slightly higher price than online, at $2800, but the deciding factor: the kennels were booked. The next available cruise was in January.
I next tried Virgin Atlantic and British Air. If paying for my ticket plus the pets' came to less than $4100, it would be a better deal than Continental. Well, by this time both airlines' pet desks had closed as it was after 4 PM EST. The online quotes for my plane tickets would be (one-way) Virgin $805, BA $1021.
This morning, as the movers' were packing up our household goods for the second day (I joke that they could have done whatever they wanted Monday as we were on the phone or internet all day and barely payed any attention to what they were doing). I got right on the phone. I called Virgin first, as their ticket for me was cheaper. I spoke to a wonderful woman, Lecia, who quoted me $3114.50 for all three pets travel. No other fees, just the Defra 270 pounds. A concern popped up with Sloan being a boxer mix. Brachycephalic dogs (what I call smashed face dogs) have trouble flying. I told her Sloan has a normal nose, and she asked me to email her pictures of Sloan, one from the front and one of each side view of her head. She would send those to the London office and they would check with Defra to confirm Sloan would be safe to fly. I received an email back from her just an hour later with a "We have the OK".
I then called British Air and was quoted $3200. About the same cost for the pets.
While waiting on this I got back on the internet to see if I could find any sales for Virgin. Turns out they have a sale from Newark-Heathrow during this time... but it has to be round trip. The total cost would be $670. Lecia called me back and we started reserving the pets' booking. I asked her if it was legal to buy a round trip ticket and not use the return. Her answer (in a gorgeous English accent) was "Honey, you always buy round trip. Then you just don't turn up!" She also reassured me there'd be no fees for me to not use the return. She told me to book the VS002 out of Newark, and she took care of the pets' bookings. I got online and booked a flight for 11/11 (which gives my visa 4 weeks to get here) and was charged $643. Virgin Atlantic, I love you!

To follow a friend's grading of airlines:
Delta: F!!
Continental: C (they do fly them, but the fees that keep springing up? No thanks!)
British Air: B
Virgin Air: A! (and Lecia was definitely the most helpful agent I spoke with across the board!)

We are hoping to book our entire family's return in three years on the Queen Mary 2. Sounds like fun if you can get your reservation!

1 comment:

  1. Seriously how fun would the ship be?! What a ridiculous hassle though, damn....


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