Sweet baby Jesus, where to start.
Well, my gentle lambs, Big Mommaqueen Sparklemonkey (i just invented that title for myself) has been fighting a new battle. Not with the demons at USPS, but now with Virgin Cargo/ Virgin Atlantic Airlines/ the USDA/ and in a roundabout way, DEFRA (Britain’s equivalent of the USDA).
Let’s start at the beginning, because it’s easiest and i love easy things. (Heh heh.)
As many of you may know, back in October we began the process to allow our wee beasties to travel to the UK without having to go into quarantine. This process has to be followed very precisely, and it goes thusly:
-Pets must be microchipped with a specific brand of microchip (which means Guinne and Miau now have two microchips in their wee shoulderblades).
-After microchipping, pets must be given a rabies vaccine.
-One month after vaccination, pets must have a blood sample taken. After blood sample comes back from the lab, there is a 6 month waiting period before they are eligible for travel. This 6 months was over at the beginning of May.
-24-48 hours before travel, pets must receive flea/tick/tapeworm treatments from a USDA approved vet.
Sounds simple enough, right? (And expensive as hell, but never mind that.)
Totally worth all the trouble though...
So. We began this process at the Lower Keys Animal Clinic, aided by a nice woman named Heidi. When we informed her that we would be flying out of California, she told us to find a USDA vet there, give them the paperwork from her clinic, and the California vet would be able to finish the process.
When i received my visa last week, i made some last minute flight arrangements- the pets would be flying on June 1st, and i would be flying on June 2nd. As Virgin Cargo only takes one family of pets per flight, i unfortunately wasn’t able to get us on the same flight. However, by some miraculous stroke of luck, i was able to use my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles to purchase my ticket, which saved us about $1600. (I say miraculous because when i’d checked previously, the website said that you couldn’t use these Club miles from June to November- damn blackout dates- so i was delighted to find that via some sort of witchcraft or last minute changes, i’d be able to use the miles after all.)
Heh heh. I get to ride a Virgin. Sorry. Had to get that out of my system.
So far, so good.
I make an appointment with the Valencia Veterinary Center, about an hour’s drive from Lancaster, to do the final stuff for the pets. We have to go to Valencia because apparently, there aren’t any USDA approved vets here in the Antelope Valley. Wednesday morning, we gather the pets in their newly-purchased kennels -which i’m also nervous about, as i’m not sure that they’re the proper size for travel. Just in case, i get directions to a PetSmart within ten minutes from LAX, so i can buy proper sized kennels if these don’t work out. We get to the vet, and i start feeling a bit apprehensive, as these people don’t seem to have the same level of expertise regarding international pet travel as Heidi in Key West did. However, they administer the necessary flea & etc treatments, as well as some other random vaccines they need, and charge me almost $550 for the process. Lovely. We load the pets back into the car and head off for Virgin Cargo, right next to LAX. Upon arrival, we’re directed back through some sort of warehouse full of forklifts and boxes of various import/export goods and dragon eggs, and reach the Virgin Cargo desk, tucked away in the back.
The Virgin Cargo desk is just behind The Eye...
At this point, i feel it’s necessary to mention that Virgin Cargo and Virgin Atlantic are apparently two different companies, despite the fact that both cargo and passengers go on the same damn plane. I had to call England to book the pets, and could only do so at squirrely hours of the day.
We pop the pets up on the counter, hand over the paperwork to the girl behind the desk, and cross our fingers that the kennels are big enough.
Then the girl behind the counter asks where the rest of the paperwork is.
Turns out, there is a very important piece of documentation missing. To make a very long story short, after the very helpful girl makes multiple phone calls between the Lower Keys Animal Clinic and the Valencia Veterinary Center, the end result is that the pets won’t be going anywhere that day. Both vet clinics are saying that the other are at fault. The girl behind the desk (Diana) gives us the necessary documentation that needs to be filled out. Oh and by the way, turns out that once said paperwork is completed, we also have to go down the street to the USDA office and have it officially endorsed. However, we do find out that the pet kennels are indeed the proper size. So there’s one good thing.
In a state of fury, panic, and shock, we load the pets back into the car and head back to Lancaster. I make repeated phone calls to both vet clinics, and finally we settle on a course of action. The Lower Keys Clinic will overnight the original copies of the vaccination record to my mom’s house, which we will then take down to Valencia so that the vet there can fill out the missing documentation. Only now, this means that i will not be flying anywhere the next day, as i can’t go anywhere until i’m certain that the pets are safely off on their journey. In my previous experience with rebooking flights, i had no luck- they basically made me pay for a brand new ticket. This means that i would be losing all my Flying Club miles, and have to fork out $1600 for a ticket for me- money i don’t have to spare. We’re still hoping to get the pets sorted out in time for all of us to make the flight the next day- Diana had told us that they shouldn’t have a problem booking the pets on my flight, as apparently they’d had a cancellation or something in the Cargo department. However- remember when i said Virgin Cargo was in England and kept squirrely hours? This means that i won’t know anything until the next day at 6am- the same day i’m supposed to be flying out.
On the bright side, i do find out from Virgin Atlantic that i can indeed rebook my flight, for a mere $50 change fee. Therefore, the plan now will be to try to get me and the pets on a flight within the next few days, as clearly no one will be going anywhere on the morrow.
After aimlessly walking around the house in circles, drinking a margarita, and eating some cheese (my standard crisis-handling procedure) i set my alarm for 6am and go to sleep.
The solution to all problems.
6am the next day- i call Virgin Cargo, and they change the pets flight to Friday. This is fine, as we’ll be able to complete the paperwork as soon as the overnight FedEx comes from the Keys and we can get down to Valencia. After i hang up with them, i call Virgin Atlantic and rebook my flight for Saturday, as unfortunately they can’t get me on the Friday flight. Ok, fine. All sorted.
A few minutes after that, Virgin Cargo calls me back. Whoopsie, turns out they already had pets booked for Friday so we’ll have to change their flight again. I ask if they can do Saturday, on my flight, but it turns out that this is the one day of the week that they do not take pets. So, we rebook the pets for Sunday. Which means, you guessed it, i have to call back Virgin Atlantic and change my flight again. And guess what? No available flights for me on Sunday. So, i book myself for Monday. At another fee of $50.
Have i mentioned that i haven’t even had so much as one measly cup of coffee at this point?
What i look like before i have coffee.
After this is all settled, i call Jack to inform him of the latest changes. While i’m on the skype phone with him, my cell rings. It’s Virgin Cargo. They tell me “we’re soooooooo sorry, but it appears we’ve made another mistake.” Turns out that they’re shipping dry ice in the cargo area of the plane on Sunday, which means they can’t take any pets, as apparently dry ice sucks all the oxygen out of the compartment. And they already have pets booked for Monday. But Tuesday would be fine. Which means, oh goody, i have to call back Virgin Atlantic and change my flight. Again. I tell Virgin Cargo to double and triple check that Tuesday will indeed be a suitable day to ship my pets. As they’re checking, i call Virgin Atlantic.
At this point, i’ve got my Virgin Atlantic on my cell phone on my right ear, and Virgin Cargo on the skype phone on my left ear. I look like a bad cartoon character. And still haven’t had any coffee.
I ask Virgin Atlantic if there’s any way they can waive the flight change fees, as Virgin Cargo is to blame for the whole mess, but nope, they cannot, as i’m apparently dealing with two separate entities. Again, two entities booking for the SAME GODDAMN AIRPLANE!!!!!
This is what my notes look like at this point.
Finally. FINALLY. Finally i get everything sorted. The pets and i will both be on Virgin Atlantic Flight #VS008, departing LAX at 17:35 on June 7th, arriving at London Heathrow at 12:05 on June 8th. (Hooray for overnight flights.) I hang up both phones, call Jack back, and inform him of the latest developments. He’s not happy, and insists i call up Virgin to make a complaint. I check their website- and guess what? No complaint hotline. But there’s an email form to fill out, which i do. I get an automated response that says “someone will contact you within 28 days.” I immediately think of the movie 28 Days Later, and wonder if there’s some sort of connection.
The complaint department at Virgin Atlantic.
I call Jack back, and tell him i did my best to be a bitchy American complaint-maker. At this point, the whole situation starts to be hilarious, so all we can do is say “well, fuck it” and deal with it in the proper British way- stiff upper lip and all that.
After i’ve hung up the phone with Jack, i sit at the computer, staring at both of my phones, hoping to goddess that neither of them rings with Virgin’s number on the call ID.
I swear by all that is holy, if either of you makes one peep, you'll regret it....
Eventually, i get up and go about my day. The FedEx package arrives, and we take the paperwork down to the Valencia vet. It takes about an hour and a half to fill out the paperwork, and i have to pick it up on Monday. Never mind why, it’s not important. We figure that we’ll pick the paperwork up on Monday, head down to the USDA office to have it endorsed, take it down the street to Virgin Cargo, and have them look it over to make sure it’s all in order. Hopefully, all will be well and we can all fly out on Tuesday. On a whim, i call the USDA to double check their hours- Virgin had told us that they’re open from 7:30am to 3:30pm every day. Thank goddess i called. Turns out that their pet-endorsement department closes at 11am. Which means hauling ass from Valencia to the USDA on Monday- fortunately, my mom is a proper California driver, excellent at hauling ass in her sporty yellow SUV.
LE SIGH. So, my little sparklemonkies, there you have it. The latest news in the transatlantic relocation saga. Hopefully all will go well, and my next blog will be from across the pond!
Here’s something that strikes me as amusing though-
DEFRA (the aforementioned British equivalent of the USDA) requires all this paperwork to ensure that the pets aren’t carrying any sort of diseases.
But what about me?
I didn’t have to show any sort of inoculation records, vaccinations, etc when i got my visa.
For all they know, i could have rabies, tuberculosis, the plague, tourette’s, nymphomania, herpes, e coli,…or i could have been recently bitten by a zombie…
...which means i can get a job in the Virgin Atlantic Complaint Department!
Anywho. Wish me luck, my darlings…