Thursday, 26 September 2013

Getting to Cyprus... with your dog

For more specific information on cost, procedure and requirements for flying with your dog, see my earlier post:

The day before my journey back to Cyprus....

Until now, I have tried to write about the positive aspects of traveling with a dog to and around Cyprus. I decided not to write about the places that don't allow dogs, and instead just to focus on the places that do. I would like to encourage people to holiday with their pets, and to give advice on how to do this in the easiest, least stressful, most economical ways.

However, I also want to be honest about my experiences, and today I want to complain a little.

I booked flights for this summer with CyprusAirways, traveling from Cyprus to Crete with return. The journey out was relatively stress free. Staff in the airport were civil, the price was lower than for previous flights, there were no delays... fine.

Now the airline has changed my flight home. We have to fly from Crete to Thessaloniki (totally the wrong direction), wait for 40 minutes without leaving the plane, then on to Larnaca from there. It's a total of 4 hours for poor Sage, sitting in her cage in the belly of the plane.

I know animals do journeys like this, and longer, all the time. I'm just very anxious that there will be delays, or a sudden change of planes. That I won't be able to go to check on her if we are held up in Thessaloniki.

When they changed our flights, I checked every other option. There is nothing we can do. There are no ferries, at all, from Europe to Cyprus. The cheaper airlines, which do have direct flights (such as Ryanair from Chania to Paphos) don't carry animals at all. Every other flight would go via Athens or somewhere else, with long waits in the airport or multiple changes.

I really hope this is a temporary blip from CyprusAirways. We'll see how this journey goes...
Arriving at Larnaca airport after a 4 hour flight from Crete via Thessaloniki
The day after my journey back to Cyprus...

On the whole, everything went smoothly enough. The main problem I faced was my own fault. I arrived at Heraklion airport and was lucky enough to have a very kind and patient friend with me to help. If you are traveling without someone to help, I'd recommend having everything ready, and paying for a minivan to the airport, with the carrier cage already constructed, and the dog inside!

I tried to check my suitcase first, so that I would have less luggage to think about, to focus on my huge carrier cage and dog. Unfortunately, I had left the screws that attach the top of the cage to the bottom... inside my checked suitcase. I left Sage tied to a post in the shade, with the 2 halves of the cage, and my friend, and went running back inside. It was a bit of a pain to get my suitcase back, everyone tutting and looking annoyed, and finally I had to run round to Arrivals, grab the suitcase, back to Departures, and start over again. It was also a hot day, which made running with suitcases even more unpleasant. Luckily it is a small airport.

One extra complication was that you are not permitted to park outside the airport except to unload luggage, so my friend had to fend off officious security guards, at least 3 times, who were trying to get her to move her car.
We had got to the airport in plenty of time, but by the time I had fixed the cage, coaxed poor Sage inside with a biscuit or two, re-checked my suitcase, checked Sage in where they check 'special luggage', panicked that I'd left the wheels on her cage and caused a scene so that the security guard had to lift the whole thing so that I could remove the wheels...... I ran back to security just in time as my plane was boarding.

The staff of Cyprus Airways were wonderful. At the airport they were very helpful and efficient. On board, I asked an air steward where the compartment for animals was, in relation to where I was sitting, and she went to find out for me. Then the pilot (or co-pilot?) came over to tell me that Sage would be more or less under my seat, at the back of the plane. They were extremely nice and reassuring. After re-boarding the plane in Thessaloniki (luggage and Sage stayed on the plane in the meantime), the same guy (pilot/co-pilot) recognised me, and told me he'd checked on Sage and she was fine!! I was very touched that he'd made the effort to do this.

When she finally came out at the collection point for 'special luggage' at Larnaca Airport, I could see I wasn't going to get any help loading her, in her cage, onto a trolley already packed with suitcase and hand luggage. Staff there were not particularly willing. But after a long and stressful day of traveling I was at the end of my tether and demanded that the guy standing around 'working' help me lift the cage, with a kind of 'I'm not taking no for an answer' tone of voice. He helped.

And so we arrived, safe and sound. We were met at the gate, and found a quiet spot outside to dismantle the cage so as to fit in the car, and to let Sage have a breather and a long drink of water.

I still hope that they resume flights (for animals) between Crete and Cyprus, but all in all, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting.

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