Now that the movers are packing our boxes, I’ve turned my attention to getting our doggies back to the U.S. safely. I’ve researched the issue in depth and have come to the conclusion that the most economical as well as safest way is via KLM. Beginning in May of this year, KLM started Lusaka-Amsterdam direct flights three days a week (before that, the only Lusaka-Europe direct flights were British Air, to London). Someone I met in obedience class just used KLM and said her dog had a wonderful experience with them and arrived safe and happy. Here’s the lowdown on bringing dogs back to the U.S. from Lusaka.
It’s best if the animals can fly on the same flight as you (cheaper), otherwise they have to go as cargo which requires you find a shipping agent.
If your dog is small enough (usually 15 lbs or smaller), you can bring them on the plane with you on KLM only (Kenya, South African, and British Air do not allow non-service animals in the cabin). I thought about doing this with Buddy, but know from experience (when we lived in Italy) that it’s actually quite stressful for them to be hauled around airports, shoved under seats, go through security, etc. I actually think that it’s less stressful in a nice roomy crate where they’re kept in a quiet, heated place in the hold (and I’m one of those obnoxious travelers who asks to speak to the pilot before taking off to make sure they know there’s a live animal in the hold). It may be stressful to them not to see you during the layover but layovers I think are more stressful inside the airport with all the people wanting to pet your dog (‘sorry, he bites,’ and then they reach to pet him anyways) and all of the commotion and lack of places to do one’s business.
So, here is information for traveling with your pet in the hold.
Avoid South African Airways or any routings through Johannesburg. Your dog risks a 6 week quarantine and they are very strict about it.
Our vet suggested Ethiopia Air, but having spent a good portion of my professional work life in Ethiopia and knowing the airport, I wasn’t as confident with their ability to handle dogs for the layover in Addis. Also, Europeans dote on their dogs and Ethiopians not so much, so I thought the handlers on a European layover would be better for the dogs.
The two safest airlines for international travel for your pet, in my opinion, are KLM and British Air. The problem with British Air is that they charge cargo rates for all pets (which for our small Westie was over $1000 alone; our large dog would have been about $3600) whereas KLM charges a flat fee of $200 plus a fee of $200 if you have a layover of 2 hours or more, which means the dogs get to go to their doggie hotel (given our flight from Lusaka to Amsterdam is 10.5 hours, I’m glad for once to have a long-ish layover so the dogs could be exercised and have a chance to relieve themselves). So, for two dogs we’re paying $800, compared to well over that for just one small dog when we used British Air for our flight from the states into Lusaka. Both British Air and KLM have award-winning doggie hotels so your dogs will be well cared for during a layover in either place.
Now, the problem using British Air and KLM is the Europe-U.S. leg. If you want the cheapest, smoothest, safest flight for your pets, you’ll need to stick with BA and KLM operated aircraft. If you have a BA or KLM flight but have to switch to a partner-operated flight, then the hassle factor and cost skyrocket in some cases. In the case of KLM, Delta has strict rules banning any pet travel from May 15 – September 15 each year. Also, Delta does NOT do what they call “interline” transfers (i.e., switching airlines), even if it’s their #1, lovey-dovey, super-duper, BFF code sharing partner (like KLM has been for decades). They require you to contract with a handler, like Zoo Logistics (www.zoologistics.com), which makes your price and length of stay in Europe increase exponentially. I’m not sure about BA and interline transfers as even though we were on an American Airlines coded flight all the way out here, we traveled on BA-operated flights. However, I do know that United and Continental (BA’s partners), have very restrictive travel clauses over the summer too, so if you do have to switch from BA-operated to United or Continental-operated, you could have problems.
What this means is you need to check who operates your flight and not go by which airline the flight is coded to. Because of this, I have to fly into Chicago, and not Detroit, because KLM does not operate any aircraft to Detroit.
Here’s a state dept site giving links for information on international travel by airlines (this site makes it sound like United Airlines and Continental, the ones who connect with British Air, are difficult to work with).
Once you’ve chosen your airline, you have to make sure that the craft they use accepts your crate. If you’re using a size 500 crate or smaller you’ll be fine. Some aircraft do not take size 700 crates (the size Coco is in) but KLM and BA do.
If possible, buy your crate in the U.S. on your next trip back and bring it with you as luggage. It’ll cost you half in the U.S. what it would cost you here. Further, if you have a large dog, you can’t even get size 700 crates here. Here’s KLM’s site describing approved airline carriers (hard plastic) with associated required bowls (see this).
In terms of paperwork, various state department, CDC and airline websites say all you’ll need for travel to the U.S. is a health certificate no more than ten days in advance of the trip from your vet (for the airlines), proof of rabies vaccination more than 30 days prior to the flight, and deworming within 5 days of departure. In the U.S. they also require your pet to be microchipped, which is probably a good idea anyways. Best I can tell you don’t need any special import papers (beyond the rabies and health certificates) and indeed, this was my experience in bringing Buddy back and forth from the U.S. and Italy (see this and this).
There appears to be a whole raft of paperwork for export from Zambia but if you go to our favorite miracle vet, Dr. Liza Oparaocha at the showgrounds, she has it down to a science and her staff will complete it all for you, she’ll examine your pets and do what needs to be done to them (for our dogs she de-wormed them, gave them Frontline, & micro-chipped Coco [Buddy's already chipped]), and then a few days later before departure you go back and pick up your documents.
Well, I think that about covers doggie travel from Zambia to the U.S. Dr. Liza said travel to the U.S. is the easiest, travel to Japan is the most difficult, and Europe is somewhere in between in terms of the hassle factor. She’s a pet export expert so you can rely on her to steer you right.
Yesterday I prepared the doggie crates for travel. They have their airline approved bowls for food and water (oh, and Liza said to freeze their water in their dish the night before so they don’t lose it all on take-off) and if you look carefully in the back of Coco’s crate, you’ll see the holes I had to drill (the airline websites state there must be breathing holes on all four sides; fortunately, we have a drill here and after having one of the movers change to bit to the 1/2 inch size I drilled away!). I’ve labeled their crates in markers and in three days I’ll put treats and their leashes/collars in zip-lock bags and tape them to the top of the crate. Oh, and I also wrote a little note from each dog to the airline handlers (giving their names and saying they’d like to be placed next to each other on the airplane and in the kennel). I’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief when I see them Wednesday afternoon, in the U.S.