Pet Passports Make For Easy Travel, Avoid Fines

Pet PassportsHaving a pet passport can speed up and simplify traveling with animals between countries. A typical pet passport will have the microchip or tattoo number of the animal and a complete record of immunizations and vaccinations required for entrance into most countries. While airlines have inspected that document in the past, look for increased scrutiny going forward after one carrier received a hefty fine in a pet passport related incident.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has been fined £1,800 (about $2,800) by a UK court for carrying a cat found to be traveling on an invalid pet passport, reports Barry & District News. On top of that, KLM was ordered to pay costs of £3,000 and a victim surcharge of £120.

A pet passport is just one part of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), a system that enables animals to travel between member countries without undergoing quarantine. Started in the UK, the PETS program then rolled out to other European Union countries, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In the case of the KLM incident, the Mexican cat’s passport had discrepancies over its identification and, more importantly, its rabies vaccinations. “Without trading standards’ intervention, the possibility of a rabies outbreak could have been catastrophic,” said Principal trading standards officer Christina Roberts-Kinsey.While the PETS program is a step in the right direction, standardization between countries is still a work in progress. To fly, pets need a wellness exam, food in-transit and they, too, will have to go through security at the airport. Companies that specialize in transporting pets like PetRelocation.com have the most current and accurate information.

The PetRelocation.com approach designs a custom plan for each individual pet, satisfying or exceeding the entry requirements of countries around the world. Clients receive their pet‘s flight schedule the week before the flight detailing all of the flight numbers, departure and arrival airports along with the pet’s “Air Way Bill” (or ticket) number. These 24/7 flight tracking instructions keep pet owners informed.

Flying on United? A first-class lounge for pets recently opened at Chicago O’Hare.

Extreme Dog Grooming

Follies And Fixes In Long-Haul Travel

TheeErin via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It was not yet 6 a.m., but I had a bad feeling about how the day was going to go. The stone faced desk clerk had no interest in checking me in here in Vienna, not to mention through to my final destination, Seattle.

“No. Different booking.”

“But it’s with the same airlines…”

“Different booking. No.”

“So I’ll have to…”

“You’ll need to collect your bag in Amsterdam, and then check in again when you get there. Take your bag to the departures desk.”

“I don’t understand. These flights are on the same airlines. Can you check me in, at least, so I can drop my bag…”

“No. Different booking.”

I gave up. Priority club, my ass.I accepted the boarding pass for my flight from Vienna to Amsterdam and headed through security. I told myself to chill, my stop was six hours and I had a lounge pass tucked into my wallet. I’d recheck in Amsterdam and then spend the morning napping in the KLM lounge.

At the check-in desk in Amsterdam, I asked the clerk what the problem was, why I couldn’t check in, why I couldn’t get my bag through.

“It’s terrible,” she said, “but they’re responsible for your luggage. If they lose it, they have to pay to have it shipped. They don’t want to do that.”

“But it’s with the same airline, both of my flights are KLM/Delta.”

“I know,” she admitted. “It makes no sense.” She shook her head.

I felt somewhat placated. It wasn’t a huge annoyance, but I wanted someone to agree that it was ridiculous. Off I went to clear security again and to breathe the rarified air of the frequent flier lounge.

“No. This pass is no good here.”

“But it says on the website that …”

“Yes, but not for day passes. We don’t take the day pass here. Delta doesn’t pay for the use of the lounge, so we don’t take their passes.”

I thought I’d understood the rules; I’d read them before buying my pass. I couldn’t bring a guest, but I only wanted to bring… myself. Obviously I had not studied the small print with enough detail. And I’d made the mistake of asking the KLM Twitter account, not the Delta Twitter account, about access. What I don’t understand about airline partnerships could fill a book.

“You can buy a pass for 45 Euros.”

I’d spent 50 dollars to buy the lounge pass. It’s not so much money, but I was getting crankier and crankier. I was trying not to get angry. I was tired. I’d been up since 4:30 that morning. I knew I’d be tired; I rarely sleep well before a long flight.

“But you’re partners,” I said. “You give me partner status everywhere else.”

“Let me see what I can do,” said the desk clerk, who then called a supervisor, a cool woman in uniform who offered to sell me a pass for 45 Euros. I looked at the KLM agent, angry at her and at myself for not making sure I’d understood the small print.

I told myself to chill. Again. Schiphol is a nice airport. There are worse places to spend a few hours drinking coffee and people watching and dozing in lounge chairs. There’s good food, and Wi-Fi that’s not great, but is fast enough for complaining on Twitter about how you’re angry at your airlines.

“Get more coffee,” I thought. “You’re just tired. This isn’t a big deal.”

I got coffee and juice and a sandwich on good brown bread with very fresh mozzarella. I opened my laptop and complained. I drank my juice. I drank my coffee. I hammered away on my keyboard, the picture of a crabby, tired traveler on a stopover.

This business with my lounge pass was the last act in a comedy of errors in my travels to Europe and back. Thanks to a cargo problem on my outbound flight two weeks earlier, my connection in Schiphol to Frankfurt was airtight. I was the last passenger to board the plane – my luggage would not make it. I was not particularly worried. I’d seen a series of flights to Frankfurt following mine. Worst case? My bag would show up while I was sleeping. I could chill.

I went to report the missing luggage at the Delta counter in Frankfurt.

“You need KLM,” said the man at the desk.

“But I checked in on Delta… and there’s nobody there.”

“There HAS to be somebody there,” he said, clearly exasperated, and then, walked me back to the KLM desk. There was nobody there. I walked out into arrivals and asked at the information desk, and then, was directed back into the baggage hall.

The clerk had materialized, removed the “Closed” sign, and was taking missing baggage reports from two impatient Israelis who’d boarded just before I did. It was my turn.

“Here’s your claim number and the website where you can find out when your bags will arrive.”

I stowed the printout with my documents and headed to the hotel. It took me 15 minutes to get there. My luggage was reported on the ground and ready for delivery not long after I’d had lunch. At about 12 hours, I asked for help in calling the number given to me by the clerk at the baggage desk.

“Oh, lord, don’t call that number! They’ll charge you by the minute!”

“Wait, I have to pay them to tell me where my stuff is? That’s crazy.”

I checked with customer service online. “Your luggage is on the ground and ready for delivery,” they said.

“Well, I KNOW that,” I replied. “I’ve know that for 24 hours now.” My bag did finally appear, nearly 36 hours after I’d arrived.

“We’re sorry for the delay,” said the note from KLM. “We hope you understand.”

I’d had it with ground services by the time I returned to Schiphol two weeks later. Any one of these events in isolation I’d have written off as bad luck, a bad day, or general travel mishaps. But the aggregation was making me irritable. The Delta KLM partnership began to feel like a an embittered marriage, kept together for the sake of the kids. I imagined them bickering after the little airplanes had gone to bed. “You said you would…”

I gazed past the plastic chairs and iPad-using Germans and families of bleary Americans in sweatshirts, breakfasting in various states of disconnection with their surroundings. Just on the edge there was the pale purple glow of the Yotel, a pod hotel that offers hourly cabins with showers. I looked at my crumpled, useless lounge pass, at my overpriced juice, at my angry typing on the weak Wi-Fi and then, I checked in for three and a half hours of attitude adjustment.

It cost me 46 Euros for the stay. For that, I got a tiny, clean, super efficient cabin with a comfortable single bunk, a shower and toilet, a TV (which I did not turn on), a powerful Wi-Fi connection, unlimited non-alcoholic drinks (which I did not take sufficient advantage of) and some much needed private space in which to reset my state of mind.

It was money well spent. When I checked out of my cabin after a short nap and some silent lethargy, I felt human again.

Airline partner terms are unclear, delays happen, the mystery of why you can check in here and not there – these things are all part of the process. The follies of transit are a critical part of travel and often, they are unavoidable. As a seasoned traveler, it’s rare that I let this stuff get under my skin.

But sometimes, when patience wears thin, you can throw a few bucks at a problem and not make it go away, but at least make it better. Upgrade your seat to Economy Plus, spring for a taxi and get an airport hotel the night before the early flight. Don’t buy the Day Pass, that way lies madness, but get yourself something nice. Travel is totally glam, but sometimes, it’s wearing and takes a toll. Give yourself a break. Book the pod for a few hours and make yourself human again.

Plus, you can use that refreshed energy for complaint letters to the airlines on the long flight home.

Claim Your Place In Space, Free

space

If being part of the first commercial space trip sounds like something only the ultra-wealthy might actually do, think again. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has a competition going on right now that will award a trip into space, billions not required.

Called the Claim Your Place In Space contest, KLM is giving us the chance to be in Curacao on January 1, 2014, when the first commercial space trip takes off.

First, on April 22, KLM goes to the Nevada desert to launch a special high altitude balloon that will carry cameras and GPS tracking equipment to monitor the mission. Your part in the deal: guess how high the balloon will get before it pops.

Get it right (or have the closest estimate) and win a flight for two to Curacao, stay at a luxury hotel then board the SXC Lynx spaceship for a free ride.”If you win, you win big,” says KLM on its dedicated Claim Your Place In Space website (takes a while to load but worth it). “An all-inclusive ticket to space aboard the SXC Lynx … will rocket you 103 km (64 miles) up into space at 4 G’s of thrust.”

Win the prize, worth $95,000, and “you will see the earth as you never have before and experience complete weightlessness.”



[Photo credit- Chris Owen]

Everything You Need To Know About Flying With An Infant Turning 2


flying with infant turning two

After flying with an infant to over a dozen countries and on nearly 50 flights in her 20 months, I figured I pretty much have baby travel down to a science, as much as you can call it “science” when dealing with a person who is often unpredictable and doesn’t respond to reason. While each flight gets more challenging, I’m relishing this travel time before she has opinions on where to go and what to do, and while our baggage allowance has grown, our travel style hasn’t changed much since having a baby. As her second birthday looms in July, I’m preparing for the biggest change to our travel style: having to pay full fare for her tickets as she “graduates” from infant fare. The FAA requires that all children over the age of 2 secure full fare and sit in their own seat, while babies under 2 can fly free domestically and at a fraction of the adult fare (usually 10%) internationally if they sit in a parent’s lap. So what happens if you take a trip to celebrate your child’s second birthday and they turn 2 before your return? Do you have to buy a ticket for the whole trip, just the return, or try to sneak under the wire (don’t do that)? We asked airlines for their policy on flying with a baby turning 2.

Note: These policies ONLY apply for the situation of flying with an infant under 24 months one-way and over 24 months on the return. Unless otherwise noted, a child age 2 or over for all legs of the trip will pay regular fare.Air New Zealand – Flying with the Kiwi carrier over a birthday will mean you will need to purchase a child fare (where available) for the entire journey, 75-80% of adult fare for economy tickets. Air New Zealand offers a variety of kid activities and meals, and we think the Skycouch option is perfect for young families.

American Airlines – Here’s one policy we hope new partner US Airways will honor: children turning 2 on their trip will get a free ride home with American Airlines. You will generally pay taxes and/or a portion of the adult fare for international trips, call reservations for details.

British Airways – One of the few airlines that make their policies clear on the website (they also tell you what to do when you are booking for a child who isn’t yet born!), British Airways will offer a free return for a child turning 2. More reasons to fly British: discounted child fares, families board early, you can “pool” all of your frequent flier miles on a household account, and special meals, entertainment and activity packs (ages 3 and up) are available on board for children.

Cathay Pacific – If your baby turns 2 in Hong Kong or another Cathay destination, you’ll pay a discounted child’s fare for the return only. Note that some flights might require a provided safety seat instead of your own car seat, but all flights provide infant and child meals, and “Junior VIPs” age three-six get a special activity pack.

DeltaDelta (along with partners Air France and KLM) requires you to purchase a ticket for the entire trip if your infant will turn 2 at any time before return. The good news is that on certain international routes, discounted children’s fares may be available, call reservations for details.

JetBlue – I’ve found JetBlue to be one of the most baby-friendly airlines, thanks to the free first checked bag, liberal stroller gate-check policy and early boarding for families with young children. Of course, the live TV and snacks don’t hurt either (my daughter likes the animal crackers, while I get the blue potato chips). Kids celebrating a second birthday before flying home on JetBlue will pay a one-way fare. You can book the one-way online, but should call reservations to make sure the reservation is linked to the whole family.

Lufthansa – A child fare (about 75% of adult fare) is applicable for the entire trip. The German airline is especially kid-friendly: the main website has a lot of useful information about flying with children, including how to pass time at the airport and ideas for games to play on board, and a special JetFriends kid’s club website for children and teens. On the plane, they provide baby food, snacks, and toys, a chef-designed children’s menu and special amenity kits in premium class. A nice additional extra for a parent traveling alone with a kid: Lufthansa has a family guide service to help navigate the airports in Frankfurt and Munich.

Qantas – For flights to and around down under, the child’s age at departure is used to calculate the fare, so the infant fare is honored on the return. Qantas offers meals for all young passengers, limited baby supplies and entertainment and kits on board for kids over three. On the website, kids can also download some fun activities and learn about planes.

Singapore Airlines – Good news for families flying on one of the world’s best airlines: if your child turns 2 during the journey, Singapore will provide a seat without charge. Once they graduate from infant fare, they pay 75% of adult fare. Singapore also offers a limited selection of “baby amenities,” such as diapers and bottles, and children flying on business class or higher tickets can choose from special kids’ meals.

United – A United rep declined to clarify their policy for this specific case, only emphasizing that any child 2 or older is required to purchase a seat. Assume you will pay at least one-way full-fare.

Virgin Atlantic – Virgin charges an infant fare for the whole journey, but the new 2-year-old will have their own special seat on the return. One of the world’s coolest airlines is also pretty cool for the small set, with free backpacks full of diversions (on flights from the UK), dedicated entertainment and meals.

With all the airlines above, Junior can start accruing frequent flier miles when he turns 2. Hoping to book the whole trip with miles? In general, you’ll spend the same number of miles for your child as your own seat, while lap infants traveling on miles will pay taxes and/or a fraction of the full-adult fare (this can get pretty pricey if you are flying in premium class).

Now where to plan that birthday trip?

For tips on getting through the actual flights, check out our guides to flying with a baby, winter and holiday travel with a baby, traveling abroad, and more in the Knocked Up Abroad series.

[Photo credit: Instagram KnockedUpAbroad/Meg Nesterov]

Airline Booking Agent Tells All In Online Q&A

delta planeThere are entire websites and forums dedicated to maximizing your travel miles and getting the best bang for your buck when it comes to purchasing airline tickets. But rarely do we hear from those behind the reservations desk … until now.

Over on Reddit there’s an ongoing Q & A with “TravelAuthority,” a reservations agent for airlines like Delta, Air France and KLM. We’re sharing some of our favorite questions and answers from the thread. He shares that his Twitter handle is @Jackson_Dai and identifies himself there as the “world’s best Delta Skymiles booking agent.” He says he flies 200,000+ miles per year.

“Ask me anything about working for an airline, the flight benefits, using miles, earning miles, avoiding stupid airline fees, low fares, partner airlines, Skyteam vs Oneworld vs Star Alliance or anything really,” he challenged readers. So far, the thread has more than 1,300 comments.

Note, quotes are taken verbatim.

Q. Any general advice? Like the best time to shop for a fare, the best agency or website, how far in advance to book…
A. Best website: Bing.com/travel - the fare predictor is pure genius. Not even Delta agents have access to that information. A close second would be Skyscanner. In general you want to book 6 weeks to 12 weeks in advance. Any earlier and the flights won’t be on sale, any later and the others will have already snapped up all the low fares. Award tickets are another animal though.

Q. What is the fastest way to rack up miles? Credit Cards? Special promos or secret deals?
A. Credit Cards are the best. Some people run their businesses off their credit cards and rack up millions of miles pretty easily. Suntrust Bank also has a checking account with a Skymiles debit card. That account is nice because the electronic bill pay also earns miles. So you can pay your rent/mortgage via bill pay and get miles for it. And if the person or org you’re paying doesn’t accept electronic payments it mails them a check.

Q. I’m 6’6″. I’m flying back from Shanghai to DTW in a few weeks. Can you help me figure out the best way to get a seat with legroom? In general I arrive at the gate early to see if I can find my way into a better seat. Is there anything else I could do?
A. Go with Economy Comfort or Exit Row. That may cost you a bit though. Also take a look on Seatguru.com to determine witch seats have the most legroom. Unethically, you could call the reservations agents and say you have a medical disability that requires a bulkhead seat (you don’t have to state exactly what it is and Delta agents are forbidden to ask).

Q. … any tips on how to get any freebies/upgrades/benefits?
A. Yes, after your flight you should call or email (preferably the later) and let them know about every single thing you didn’t enjoy about your flight (food, movie selection, rude flight attendant, tray table didn’t work, Wi-Fi didn’t work etc.). The airlines have a specific department to deal with complaints and they’ll give you tens of thousands of miles, free business lounge passes, travel vouchers, drink tickets, etc.Q. … any special “tips” for international flights and getting the lowest fare? Does it even help if you book super far in advance? (+6 months)
A. Unless you’re booking business/first class, booking super far in advance is always a bad move. Airlines charge higher fares for those reservations. It’s just like in the tech world where the early adopters pay more. What kind of “tips”? Ethical or Unethical? I have lots of both. There are lots of unethical ones like booking child fares for adults to get 10-20% off or using bereavement/medical exemptions to get cheaper last minute fares or to get agents to waive change fees. Delta/AirFrance/KLM require a bit of info such as a hospital name, address, and phone number for a medical fare but they NEVER call to check up on it so I’m surprised more people don’t just lie about it.

Q. What qualifications do you need to be a reservation agent?
A. They prefer 2 years of sales or call center experience. Nothing other than that. Well, you do have to pass an incredibly thorough FBI background check but that’s all.

Q. Would this be a viable career for someone with a family?
A. Yes, definitely. The average age of the reservations agents and flight attendants in pre-merger Northwest cities (Minneapolis, Detroit, Seattle etc.) is probably 45 or higher so most of them have families. The hours are super flexible, the health benefits are decent, the pay is solid, and your spouse, parents, and kids fly free.

Q. Wow, everyone flies free? That is such a great deal. I need to look in to this. What airline is the best employer?
A. If you’re in the US it’s Southwest Airlines. No Question. Highest pay, best benefits, best management. Delta or United/Continental will offer better flight benefits because of their larger network but that’s about it.

Q. Is it possible to work for Star Alliance in general and then get flights all over their network? Is that what happens when you work with United or continental?
A. Flights on other airlines are heavily discounted (75-90%+) but not free. Actually, most airlines extend those heavily discounted travel tickets to employees of competing airlines too. For instance, Delta employees get 90% off tickets on United, British Airlines, Finnair, JetBlue, US Air, Alaska, Hawaiian, Japan Airlines, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Korean Airlines etc.

Q. I have a United Mileage plus rewards program. How would you rate it?
A. United’s program is really good for award redemption, much better than Delta actually. Delta’s program is better for complimentary upgrades and accruing miles.
Q. Another question, about how to send in complaints.

A. Did you use the comment/complaint form on Delta.com? Or did you mail in a letter? If you send in an email it should have the words “Platinum” or “Diamond” in the text somewhere (e.g. “I’m not yet a Diamond Medallion but…”). The system will flag your email and give it higher priority because it tries to pick out the complaints from “high value” customers and move them to the front of the queue. It’s unethical but it helps. If you call again make sure you talk to a supervisor. Updated: Better yet. Call the customer care dept. 404-773-0305 At the first prompt use option 1 if you have a Skymiles account and option 2 if you don’t. At the second prompt use option #7 to get to an agent.

[Flickr via simon_sees]