“This is it…it’s really happening.” My thoughts Tuesday, September 13. It was the day…of the move.
A daunting adventure was upon me, but I was prepared. More than prepared, between my boyfriend and me our Ts had been double-crossed and our Is had been double-dotted with umlauts. We had been packed since May (when we moved from Phoenix). We had since unpacked and packed 2x over. Our suitcases were weighed (perfectly at 50 lbs each). Our tickets were booked, passports in hand. We even had gone to get international driving permits. All our paperwork, according to my boyfriend’s job offer, was prepared and ready for our departure.
Our major concern, our animals (2 cats, 2 dogs), had even been double-checked. We had even driven 6 hours roundtrip the previous day to have all their paperwork looked over and certified by the USDA. All the ticket confirmations were saved in email for each pet, just in case.
We were more than prepared (or so we thought).
We were set. The car was packed up, and with 3 hours until our flight we crated all the animals and headed off to the airport. We get in line, and check our bags. Yes! All bags check out at 50lbs! Now time to check the cats into cargo.
“The cat carriers are not flight regulation!”…“Flight regulation! What is that? Isn’t a carrier a carrier?” We were so busy verifying all the international paperwork for all of our animals we skipped over all the airline information about the specifics of carriers, food, etc.
We wait while the cargo attendant attempts to verify our crates. Nope, we need metal-bolted carriers, especially since international cargo will certainly be more strict. We send my boyfriends mother (who had just dropped us off) to Petco at 9 a.m. to retrieve new crates for each cat. Tick’ Tock. We wait hoping she makes it back in time. At 10 a.m. she arrives with everything necessary! That gives us 15 minutes to check-in the cats, because they need to be in an hour before our flight at 11:15. In the middle of the ticketing area we put together 2 new crates and resituate both cats.
10:45-30 minutes until our flight now! Gasp, the cats aren’t going to make it. The United cargo employee informs us our plane was delayed and has just arrived at the gate! Phew, we’re going to make it. Lucky us!
Well, what’s a huge trip without one blip (we think). At least it’s out of the way now in the small XNA airline where we have Caleb’s mother to assist us. We get through security quickly (no lines). And we make our plane just fine!
Next Stop: Chicago O’Hare for a 3-hour layover.
When we land the cats must be picked up from the cargo area (20 minute cab ride from the terminal). Then they have to be taken back to the terminal for our flight connection through Lufthansa and rechecked at the ticketing gate.
With us each having a carry-on, personal item, and a dog in a carrier, we decide to split up. Caleb will take the personal items and fetch the cats. I will take the rolly carry-ons and both dogs.
We go our separate ways. My mission: find someone to verify where we re-check the cats. We had been told two separate instructions: One being to re-check the cats in the cargo terminal through Lufthansa (a separate building from the United cargo terminal where Caleb will picked them up), the other being to re-check them back at the Lufthansa ticketing counter. I finally (2 terminals later) find a Lufthansa employee to verify the instructions! And now I wait for Caleb.
A $70 cab ride later, he has picked the cats up at United Cargo, driven back to the terminal, and rechecked the cats. But wait! All that paperwork that we had driven so far to verify and the carrier hullabaloo from XNA: completely unncesessary. The Lufthansa staff ripped off all their paperwork stating, “they’ll ask for it at customs if they need it” and didn’t even glance at the construction of their carriers (possibly because they were now regulation but most likely they didn’t even think to look). Caleb now has to go through security with each cat individually taking both cats out while the carriers are X-rayed (the process you go through when taking a pet in cabin, was also done for the cargo animals). If you own a cat, you know the nightmare of taking them in and out of a crate multiple times…they aren’t happy.
Finally the cats are checked. One hour to go until our flight!
Caleb gets to security. He must go through it again, only this time without the cats but with all his stuff (per usual). Of course though, there is a bomb threat and security at O’Hare is backed up with the K-9 unit going through the lines. Luckily the same guard, who had watched him struggle with the cats, had mercy and sent him through the TSA Pre-Check lane. He makes it to our gate with few precious moments to spare.
But now we must verify check-in and payment for the dogs. For all his anal tendencies with money and receipts, Caleb can’t find the confirmation for our two dogs to travel in cabin. So now we will have to repay. We go to the counter and pay for the dogs, as we watch our boarding group begin to enter the plane. This counter receipt printer isn’t working; so we wait for someone from the Lufthansa ticket counter to hand deliver the receipt. Everyone boards the plane, and we are still waiting. Finally the receipt comes, and we can board.
As with any international travel, they always ask you a few questions:
“Where are you traveling to?” Bochum. Check.
“Why are you traveling?” For work. Check.
“Do you have a return flight?” Yes. Check.
“When?” In 6 months. Stop.
In Europe, you can only stay 90 days without a visa or residential permit. But Caleb’s job had sent instructions for this stating we should book flights for 6 months out (since that is the maximum time frame allowed through airlines). Per their instructions, we had taken the earliest appointment with the Bochum City Bureau on September 26 to start the process to get our residential permit. We relay this information to the flight staff. No. This does not suffice. We need a letter or a work visa (this is not what we had been told to do from his work). Now we must stand at the gate and wait for them to call Germany to see if his letter of invitation from the university will work.
As we wait, we realize that we had booked return flights in November (luckily Caleb has a work conference the weekend before Thanksgiving). We give them this flight information and are on our way!
Whew we made it! It was a tad bit tumultuous, but we’re on our way now.
We get on the flight and our regulation size dog carriers won’t fit under the seat because of the life vest box under. We inform our flight attendant, and since there is an empty seat next to us she tells us to just buckle them in there. But the lady on the other side has taken up this seat with all of her belongings. I kindly get her attention and inform her that we will need the seat for our dogs. Her response, “You’re joking right?” Why no I am not. They don’t fit below. Caleb asks her, “Did you pay for that seat?,” thinking maybe she had paid to have the extra space. “No, did you?” I inform her that while we did not purchase this seat, we did pay for the animals to be on the plane with us and that the seats on the aircraft do not allow space for them to be underneath. With dismay and a roll of the eye she removes her items, and I buckle-up our babies.
(The lady later apologized saying she was just enthused by the extra space, but we encouraged her to still use the seat, its pockets, etc. Our tiny dogs only took up half the space.)
We land in Frankfurt. First thing: customs. We strolled right on through. Not a word. What about all that paperwork we drove 6 hours to get verified? Nope. Not a question asked or any animals examined.
Now we must figure out how to collect our cats. We start heading for baggage claim, knowing someone around there will be able to instruct us. We’re almost to our baggage carousel, when randomly we see out of the corner of our eyes 2 animal carriers, just sitting there. Our cats! We found them! Random, but now we have them.
We grab two luggage carts (that’s all we can push, even though we need 3 for all the luggage and animal carriers we have). We go to our baggage carousel and only 2 of our bags are there…Luckily the other 2 had just been loaded on the wrong carousel. We go and collect the rest.
We now need to find our way downstairs to the car rental area. There are no elevators though. How do you get the luggage carts down stairs? Then we see a sign instructing us to take the carts on the escalator and a diagram informing us how. Seems sketchy, right? It was. I get on and not even two seconds in I can see a cat crate beginning to slide downward. Caleb is in front of me. I yell to him to grab the crate. Too late. My baby cat has now tumbled once over down onto the escalator.
I get off the escalator and immediately take him out of the crate to cuddle him and make sure he is unharmed. Mind you I am sitting in the middle of the airport, just holding my cat fighting back tears (I’m a terrible mom is the only thought in my head). Meanwhile, people are walking by speaking to us in German, (I’m sure saying something about all the cat food thrown everywhere from the crate), but we have no clue.
I calm down, we gather our things and head off…on our way to our apartment in Bochum.