Travelling with a pet during COVID19

Wow what an intense month! We have finally arrived in Athens, Greece after an extremely stressful and emotional journey. We decided to move here from the UK back in September so it’s been a mad few weeks preparing for the move, packing up the house and organising our travel. I brought my cat Teddy too as there was no way I could leave him behind so I had to make sure he had all the right vaccinations and paperwork to travel too. I knew it would be a challenge but I wasn’t prepared for what was to come.

Our saga began on Thursday morning… the courier was coming any time between 7 and 10am so transport our stuff to Greece and I was up before 6am because I had too many things on my mind. I let Teddy outside and he came in about 15 minutes later crying and scratching at the door. I let him in and he ran straight under the bed to hide. I didn’t think anything of it because he was a bit anxious with all the activity in the house so I just put some food out for him and shut him in the bedroom whilst we loaded the van. After the courier had left, I managed to coax Teddy out from under the bed and realised he was limping and had a swollen jaw. I couldn’t believe he had got hurt the day before we we due to travel after 6 months of no issues at all!

He seemed pretty stressed and not himself so I called the vet who said to bring him in. I had already handed back my company car so I had to take him in a taxi. Thankfully everything was ok the vet told me had been in a cat fight and been bitten on the leg but he gave him some painkillers and antibiotics and said he was fine to travel. The rest of the day was pretty relaxed until 7pm when I was checking whether I should feed Teddy before the flight in the morning when I realised I had packed his pet passport and vaccine certificates in the boxes to Greece which he needed to fly. Only one word – NOOOOO. I was in such a panic as the vets was already closed and I didn’t think I would have time to organise it in the morning. Luckily, I called the vet just in case and he was still there and told me to come at 9am to pick up a new one. Although I would have to pay full price (even more than a human passport!) I didn’t care at that point.

So on Friday it was another early start and taxi to the vet but we managed to get it sorted and then our journey began. We set off at 10am and travelled to London St Pancras by train from Nottingham which was fine although a bit uncomfortable with the masks and everything. Teddy didn’t like the noise too much or being stuck in his carrier but he was ok and settled down. I used a Pet Remedy, a calming essential oil spray for animals, on his carrier and blankets and it seemed to help. Things were going well, until Yannis realised we hadn’t completed the Passenger Locator Form for COVID19 travel and that it had to be filled in the day before travel . He was stressed I was pretty calm because I was sure they would help us at the airport and it would be fine.

We changed to the underground to travel from St Pancras to Heathrow Airport. That was pretty nasty, it was more full than the train and some people weren’t even wearing masks. Teddy hated it and started shaking but I covered his carrier with a blanket and he calmed down. We made it to the airport around 1pm and grabbed some lunch before heading to the bag drop. Straight away we saw the sign “No QR code – No travel” and my heart sank. We couldn’t get the QR code without completing the Passenger Locator Form and the system wouldn’t let us do it because it was too late. We asked the attendant from Swissport if there was any way around it and she said no exceptions, you have to change your flight.

At that point I just collapsed and started crying, somehow having Teddy with us made it feel like even more of a big deal but also I was just emotional after all the stresses of the previous weeks. Luckily Yannis was there to support me and after a lot of argument with Swissport he managed to book onto 4.30pm flights the next day which cost us £500 as the flight was full. There was a 12pm flight too which would have cost £700! We were so frustrated at the system, especially because it was only Greece that had the day before rule and Aegean Air had only mentioned it in tiny small print at the bottom of the check in reminder email. There were two other groups in the queue behind us who had the same issue and the cashier told us at least 20 people per day were making the same mistake. This just made us even more angry!

We found a cheap pet-friendly hotel nearby with rooms available. It was a 5 minute journey and the taxi driver said it would cost £25 – insanity! We were in serious money saving mode now so we went there on the free airport bus instead. We spent the night in the hotel room, I went out and bought a chippy tea and some beers for us and some cat litter and used a cardboard box with a bin liner as a make shift litter tray for Teddy. He seemed ok just a bit confused but we were totally exhausted. Yannis checked our tickets and realised that Swissport hadn’t booked the luggage or Teddy onto the flight even though we asked three times and they assured they had. We called Aegean to fix it and they told us there was no space on the flight now but Yannis persuaded them to let us onto the earlier flight which had space at no extra cost.

So the next morning we arrived back at Heathrow for round two. When we went to the bag drop off and asked where the pet area was the attendants looked at each other confused and said they hadn’t been expecting an animal and that there was no space in the hold – WHAAAAT?! They said we could change our flights again or he could come in the cabin with us but they said his carrier was too big as I had bought him a bigger dog one so he would be more comfortable. That was the last straw, we were so annoyed and after more arguments we were adamant that we were taking Teddy on the plane and I would put his carrier on my lap. After all of that stress and money spent there was no way we weren’t flying to Greece that day.

The next challenge was getting through security. I have never travelled with a pet so I had no idea what to expect. We had to pass security ourselves then take Teddy to a search room and take him out of the carrier so it could be passed through the scanner. Yannis had to hold him for 5 minutes as the security officer said “whatever you do do not let him onto the floor”. Anyone who has met our cat will know he does not like being picked up and he will fight to the death so Yannis had to hold him Simba style while he was kicking and scratching and then had to get him back into the carrier after. Not an easy feat. After that he seemed really stressed and I felt so awful. We found a spot to sit in the waiting room and I sprayed more of the calming spray and played classical music on my phone next to his carrier. It might sound crazy but it did help!

Now for the final stressful part of the journey, actually getting on the plane. We had to take Teddy to the back of the plane during take off for safety reasons but then I could have him on my lap for the rest of the flight. He absolutely hated it. He was crying so loudly and trying to escape the carrier during take off and then he was shaking uncontrollably and panting for the rest of the 4 hour flight. I was so upset and scared he would have a heart attack or something, even though I know shaking is a natural reaction for animals who get scared. I was seriously doubting whether this was a good idea at this point, I had genuinely been optimistic that he might be a bit nervous but then would fall asleep once we were in the air. At least it was better than him being in the hold because I could talk to him and put my hand inside the carrier.

I will fast forward the flight as it was just me holding my breath hoping that Teddy would be ok. I couldn’t focus on my book or podcast I just sat there wishing for it to be over. Once we were on the other side, the wait for the luggage seemed to last forever but finally we were in a taxi on our way to Filothei. We got to the house and I let Teddy out of his carrier in the bedroom. He hid under the bed for 5 minutes but after that he recovered and was exploring the room as if nothing happened. He calmed down and ate some food and I could finally relax. We were both so knackered after the journey, we ate and went to bed around 10pm. I feel like I am still recovering but feeling much better now and Teddy is settling too although he is still not fully himself. I read that it can take up to a week and he has had quite the ordeal.

So now it’s time to relax and explore Athens. I can laugh now and the whole journey can become a distant bad memory. It was definitely worth it but I doubt I will ever travel with an animal again in my life – definitely do not recommend!