Flying with our dog

Of course when we made the decision that we would move out of the United States we knew this meant our little dog, Marley, would be coming with us.

We flew Continental from LAX to Managua, Nicaragua with a layover in Houston. This was the most direct route for us to take and limited the amount of time Marley would be in his kennel.

When we booked out tickets we immediately talked with Continental to figure out the protocol for traveling with a pet. Our 18 pound dog needed to be able to stand erect, sit with head erect, and make a full spin all with 2″ clearance to be able to fly in the cabin. And although he did fit in the maximum size doggy bag allowed for carry-on, he did not technically meet those 2″ clearance guidelines. And since we didn’t know how much of a stickler Continental would be, we had no option but to do the “pet safe” program. I should note that we later found out from numerous people that the airlines do not check that the dog makes the 2″ clearance.

In a nutshell that program is a joke! We arrived on the day of travel 4 hours early to check in Marley at the United/Continental Cargo facility at LAX. They had lost Marley’s reservation for the flight, but not to worry they said as they started to create a new reservation and I popped another Xanax (aka happy) pill. After about an hour to create a new reservation and take all of the original veterinarian documents, they took Marley and we headed over to the regular terminal to check in.

I watched Marley get loaded on both flights, each time popping another “happy” pill and counting down the time until we would be reunited again. Once we got to Nicaragua, we made record time getting our bags and clearing customers. And off we headed to the unmarked offsite non-air-conditioned cargo area with a Nicaraguan “fixer” to get Marley.

I see my baby in his kennel, but we cannot cut the zip cords to open the kennel until all the paperwork is checked out. And here comes BIG problem número dos…some time during transit United/Continental took Marley’s original vet documents out of the pack stuck to the top of his kennel. Nicaragua is very strict with paperwork and will not accept copies, which we had made prior to leaving the states. And the contract employee for United/Continental is not able to provide us any help.

5 hours later, a couple more Xanax, and one hour to the time Cargo closes I am at my wit’s end and start to cry. Apparently this softened up the machismo douche bags in Cargo, as well as the contract employee for the airlines who now all of a sudden can speak English and they finally come up with a solution. United/Continental would vouch for they documents and our vet in the United States would overnight a letter with copies of the original documents explaining that the information on the copies was the same as that on the originals which were lost in transit. Then United/Continental would get the documents to the Nicaraguan government. Sweet, so now can we have our dog please!?! Nope!

Now we start what would be the first of many such trips during our time in Central America of waiting in line to talk with someone at a desk for a stamp, not having something copied for them to then get out of line to pay to make a copy, and to then start back at the end of said line. We went from one desk to another and yet another and then back again to the first. All for different stamps and signatures.

Literally a minute to closing time we have everything needed, and run back to the cargo facility. Everything finally checks out and we swoop up our dog in the kennel to get the heck out of there! Once out we find someone with a knife to free Marley and let him go to the bathroom after close to 20 hours in his kennel.

We should mention during this 6 hour ordeal that 1) the contract employee for United/Continental told us that the documents get lost all the time in transit and 2) one of the Nicaraguans sitting at a desk we needed a stamp from told us we were lucky the dog was actually still alive. What the BLEEP???

The only thing United/Continental could “do” for us after numerous emails I sent with most receiving no response was issue us a voucher to use within one year for $200 towards a flight. Mind you the cost of sending Marley in the Pet Safe program and having our vet overnight documents was closer to $400.

So anyone considering to use the United/Continental Pet Safe program, just remember our story.

For dog lovers out there…after about two weeks Marley started to sleep again in his kennel and is now a much happier dog walking off leash with no human behind him hovering to pick up his poop. Myself, on the other hand, was super sick for 3 days following the ordeal detoxing from the Xanax.

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Stories from a couple expats living in Central America