It is annoying when one has taken the trouble to check, recheck, research, make further enquiries and finally go in person to make the necessary bookings, to have everything go bad right at the last moment. But, that is exactly what happened to us as we tried to board our flight to London for the wedding of Alli and Jim. The problem? Harry was suddenly NOT allowed to accompany us, he must instead be carried on a cargo flight, booked and processed by the only DEFRA "approved" agent - and, of course, this could not be done in less than 48 hours.
That left us standing at the check-in desk, just hours away from Alli's wedding, with an already distressed pup. all the "correct" paperwork notwithstanding, and DEFRA's little bombshell - which is NOT on their website and which was NOT communicated to us by any of the "experts" we took the trouble to check with - and unable to take our flight to the UK. To put it politely, the Monk went spare. Not only had he and Mausi taken considerable trouble to find out everything we could before booking our flights and then planning our holiday, but we were going to the UK for the very important purpose of attending Alli's wedding. Now it appeared that everything was in ruins. You can't just dump a dog at an airport, and you certainly can't just walk into an animal centre and dump one for three weeks. As we'd used a taxi to get to the airport, our car was in our garage 60 km away, and returning home, and then driving 800km wasn't going to work either. After all, we were expected to dinner at 18:30 in Orpington with other members of the family.
The Lufthansa staff set to work to find a solution, and there appeared, after considerable internet searching, to be one. Fly to Paris or Brussells and take the Eurostar through the Chunnel to St Pancras. According to the Lufthansa staff - after several telephone calls to various authorities - the DEFRA rule concerning dogs accompanying passengers applied only to flights. (I have in front of me the list of "authorised carriers" allowed to bring animlas to the UK - the Heathrow only - and Lufthansa is on it). These rules did not, we were informed, apply to the trains. Harry could go by train and they very helpfully switched our tickets to take us to Brussells and a connection with the Eurostar.
The flight to Brussells was bumpy to say the least, and Harry didn't enjoy being carried in the baggage hold. At Brussells he was dumped in the Excess Baggage collection point while we went in search of the counter we had been instructed to find him at. By the time we found him he was terrified and in shock. But worse was to follow. We were now in Brussells, and went to collect our tickets for the Eurostar. Ah, mais non. Le chien cannot travel to London. New rule!
What are our options now then? We are now stranded in Brussells. We have no car available, we cannot travel by Eurostar as we had been advised, and we still cannot reach London. The Monk set off to try and hire a car. You've guessed. No car hire available for cross-channel hires. The car must be left in a Belgian depot. This left us with the option to go to Ostend (no ferries available from there) or Zeebrugge, but the car would have to be left in Ghent or in Brugge. Even the companies I have regularly used in the past could not help. The car may not leave the continent. By now desperate the Monk phoned his son and explained the dilemma (No internet access now so the Monk was unable to access the Ferry operators and find ways to get a ferry passage) and Nick was magnificent. He found the ferry company, ascertained that we could travel with a car and the dog, but not as foot passengers with a dog. Right, back to square one, we can't hire a car to go across the channel (One company offered a hire to Calais, and then a new hire from Dover, but the car must be handed in in France and a new one collected in Dover), so the "travel with car" is not going to work either.
With options now exhausted and the Monk's patience stretched beyond all limits, Nick came to the rescue and volunteered to drive to Dover, take the ferry, collect us, and then get the ferry back to the UK. We, in the meantime, had managed to catch a train to Lille where we would change to a train to Calais, with the final thought that if all else failed, the Monk would take the ferry while Mausi and Harry remained in a hotel in Calais to await his return on Saturday or Sunday. That plan could now be shelved. Nick collected us in the Foch Place at the War Memorial at 23:50, loaded us and took us straight back aboard the ferry. Harry's documents were checked at the Terminal and passed "in order" as we knew they were (Remember? We'd planned and prepared for this!) and the crossing went smoothly. Despite our labels at Dover, there were no further checks to our plans, so we attended the wedding after a brief rest at the superb Selsdon Park Hotel.
It has take us and Harry three days to recover, though, as you may imagine, the "adventure" had repercussions. Not only was the pre-wedding dinner we were supposed to attend disrupted, but the Monk's family and their plans, preparations and comfort have been disrupted as well. Nick had even less sleep than we did, because, having delivered us (at 03:30) to the hotel, he had to drive to his flat 40 minutes away to snatch a few hours rest. After all the careful planning and the preparations this major family event was almost totally ruined by the totally pointless, stupidly obstructive and frankly, profiteering, regulations DEFRA impose on animals arriving by air into the UK. The very fact that the airline and their sources failed to spot the key "rule" concerning "inward bound" animals, speaks loudly of how DEFRA have managed to slip this in cunningly. One can only wonder which lobbyist and which civil servant are reaping the rewards. This rule applies ONLY to the airports, the train companies apply a ban which is alongside that of the ferry companies and "foot passengers", but none of this is explained on the DEFRA website!
Harry has the full "Pet Passport" and the full set of innoculations DEFRA require. He has been tested, wormed, tested again, and finally, 48 hours before the entire debacle, dosed against tape worm even though the vet can provide proof he does not have one. All to be told we have to ship him as "freight" on a separate flight, through a single agent in London. Oh, and that must be arranged at least 48 hours in advance. To add insult to injury, the cost of this "privilege" is €1,500 as opposed to the normal fee for a pet accompanying a passenger of €100. Nice one DEFRA, but which of the Civil Servants responsible for it is getting a fat commission from it? That is something I'd like to know. THis is yet another example of UK Bureaucrats "gold plating" regulations for their own benefit. No wonder that all over Europe the authorities, the transport companies and the professionals are getting more and more exasperated with us.
Harry has had an adventure of the most unpleasant kind, but it has taught us an important lesson. If there is a "next time" we will not travel by air with him. Thankfully he has also recovered rather well, though we are now looking forward to getting down to Dorset and starting our planned holiday. Perhaps a few days of running on beaches, some treats and lots of "playtime" will make up for it. Oh, and just to show how stupid these "rules" are, taking him home again, is, we are assured by Heathrow, "no problem". There are NO restrictions on animals going from the UK to Frankfurt am Main.
Isn't it nice to have some sense?