Flying Time with Leia!

Airlines have gotten a pretty bad rep lately.  Everyday my newsfeed is filled of accounts of airlines mistreating animals, attendants arguing with disgruntled passengers, and overall lousy customer service.  Are these accounts warranted?  Sure.  However, I believe for every miserable airline interaction, there are at least 20 instances where flight crews go above and beyond to make flights enjoyable.  Fortunately, we experienced one of those instances of fantastic customer service during our move to Mexico.

Since we were moving in warm temperatures and there was no pressurized pet compartment on our planes, our dachshund Leia was going to fly with us in the cabin.  We followed the experts’ advice by buying an airline approved soft sided carrier, letting Leia play in the bag long before moving day, and over treating her to ensure we would have a smooth flight.  I wanted no drama for our two flights.  You know what they say about best made plans.

Leia LOVES playing in her carrier. She associates the bag with adventures and treats!

Come travel day, Leia was thrilled to be going on an adventure in her travel bag.  At 4 am she jumped in and was great for the hour-long car ride to the airport.  She hopped out of her travel bag and went through airport security with no problems (thank heavens for TSA precheck), and waited patiently to board the plane inside her carrier.

She was so relaxed in the airport, especially when she was being carried around. 

We knew getting Leia settled under the seats in front of us could be a hassle, so United let us pre-board with the families with small children and helped us slide her carrier under the seat.  Leia was calm, cool and ready to fly.  I couldn’t help but think about how the flight would be a breeze!  Her easy demeanor lasted about 10 minutes.

As soon as the engine started, our little Houdini freaked out and scratched a gaping hole in her Sherpa Deluxe carrier.  As soon as we were up in the air, her carrier went on my lap, and her head poked out of the top zipper escape. Seeing that we were having carrier issues, our amazing flight attendants turned their head and allowed us to take her out of the bag for a few snuggles to calm her down.  They also gave us a blanket for the carrier, a little cup of water for her, and treated her like a little princess.  Thank goodness she didn’t bark. (Knowing my dog, that is a miracle) She had quite a large time for the remainder of the flight, and landed calmly (thanks to a few more turned heads).

Thank goodness for Daddy pets.  They make life much safer!

I don't know how she could squeeze out of that tiny hole.
In the meantime, I was panicking about how we were going to board the next plane since the carrier had a gaping hole in the front.  Luckily, some incredibly kind United customer service agents gave us a roll of packing tape, and Chris patched up the carrier.  By this time, I knew the only way we would make it to Queretaro with the dog is if we wore her out. 

Chris did a great job of repairing the carrier with the United packing tape. 
Fortunately, we had a two-hour layover in Houston, so Chris and I tagged teamed taking Leia to the pet relief area outside security, eating lunch, and taking long walks up and down the concourse.  I didn’t care if busting Leia out was breaking airport rules, our little girl needed some stress relief.   Right before we boarded our flight to Queretaro, we had one happy, exhausted puppy.

Leia was much happier after a long walk through the airport.
Seeing that we were a tad overwhelmed with the prospect of getting Leia back in the carrier and juggling our carryon items, the amazing gate agent easily agreed to letting us be the first folks on the plane.  She asked us our names, immediately printed our boarding passes, and checked our passports way before boarding time  so we wouldn’t have to dig for papers or phones.   After easily sliding the carrier under the seats, we were up and away on our final flight of the day.  This time Leia stayed under the seats in front of us, but she kept her head outside the carrier.  She was still and silent the entire time!  So many fellow passengers were talking about how good she was on the flight.  Little did they know what we had experienced earlier in the day!   

When the boarding door opened, Leia gave her first (and only) bark of the entire trip!  She was ready to deplane and head through the pet importation area.  Luckily dogs don’t need to be quarantined in Mexico so we headed to our new temporary home as a complete family.

All I have to say is thank goodness for the amazing people at United.  They went above and beyond to make what could be an extremely stressful flying experience a smooth move. 

For people who are wondering how to smoothly import their dogs into Mexico, here’s the process. (Plus a few helpful hints)
  1. Get an airline approved carrier.  If the pet is riding in the cabin with you, get a soft sided carrier.  I recommend soft sided carriers because they are more flexible with seat configurations.
  2. At least one month out, have your dog play in the carrier so he or she can make it his or her own.  You may want to throw in a favorite blanket or t-shirt so they can be calmed by your smell.
  3. Call your airline prior to booking your tickets.  Some airlines only allow a certain number of pets on the plane.  Make sure there is availability, book your tickets, then call the airline to book your pet’s ticket.
  4. Make sure your dog has had his or her rabies shot between 30 days to 1 year before the flight.  I also recommend having your dog get a checkup around a month before flying to ensure they can handle the ride safely.
  5. No earlier than 10 days before the trip, have your vet do a well dog checkup and complete the paperwork for the USDA international health certificate.  Also pick up a copy of your pet’s vaccination records.  Click here to find this paperwork.
  6. After getting the health check paperwork from the vet, make a copy and send the original to the designated USDA office.  We chose to overnight the paperwork with an overnight return envelope so we were certain we would have the certificate in time for our flight.  For more info on where to send your paperwork click here.
  7. Fortunately, we didn’t have to feed our dogs during the flights, but in case of emergency or delays I packed a couple servings of food in Ziplocs to put in our carry ons.  The Sherpa carrier had a little pouch at the opposite end, so stashed food, treats, a collapsible water bowl, paper towels, and poop bags with the dog.
  8. When going through airport security, take the dog out of the carrier and walk through the metal detector with the dogs in your arms.  BTW, if you have the option to get TSA precheck via your airlines, DO IT!  It was very nice not to have to remove shoes, quart sized Ziploc bags or laptops when holding the dog.
  9. After you arrive in Mexico, go through the pet importation area with your pet.  They will do a very quick check, then process your paperwork.  They will need your passport, a copy of your dog’s vaccine record, and health certificate.

I am happy to report that Leia is happy, healthy and loving her new homeland!

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¡Viva México!