The very first thing we did when we planned our aliyah was arrange for the animals to go with us. Two cats and a dog. Yes, I know--cats to Israel is like coals to Newcastle. Nonetheless, they are family and so they come, too.
We did all the paperwork and got the proper immunizations, the health certificates, the blood tests, and the letter from the Ministry of Agriculture giving us permission to bring in more than two animals. We called, at an Israeli friend's insistence, Delta Airlines. Best price, best flight, and "I have a great travel agent (also Israeli) who will work everything out for you!"
Famous last words.
Not the travel agent's fault, although she did mislead us as to other flights available and pricing; Delta changed its policy about pets between the making of our reservation and our showing up at Cargo today. Despite a number of calls to Delta in between the reservation-making and today's flight, no one saw fit to tell us that we can't fly a dog domestically to Atlanta and then transfer the dog to the international leg any more. NOW, even assuming we finally got this straight, one flies the dog domestically to Atlanta and does NOT kennel the animal but takes it from cargo as baggage, then waits four (or 24, according to another Delta employee) hours then checks the animal into the international flight.
Which in our case meant my husband would miss his nonrefundable flight to Israel. Let's not even talk about what a sole person loaded down with a suitcase, carry-on duffel bag, two footlockers and three pet kennels would do to find a cab or a hotel in which to stay....the complications were mind-boggling.
Do YOU suffer from spousal deafness? We do. Somehow the advice of one's friends always seems to carry more weight than the advice of one's spouse. I'm guilty of this. The Husband proved guilty of this in spades.
I didn't LIKE the hardsell of the Israeli travel agent and I didn't believe her when she told me that this was the ONLY flight she could find for The Husband unless we wanted to pay $3000 for a higher-priced ticket. (She also failed to tell us that Delta would charge us over $1800 for the pets.)
I suggested that The Husband call El Al. "But then we have to get the animals to LA!" he protested. Yes, well, as events proved, that at least will get them on one plane, no transfers, to Tel Aviv. Unlike Delta.
Delta told us to bring the pets to Cargo no later than 0800. We did so. Then the problems began and despite my calls to customer service, Cargo's calls to Cargo Atlanta, and The Husband's multiple calls to the Pet Center and everyone else we could reach, all we got was "I-don't-have-the-authority-to-do-that-let-me-transfer-you-to (someone else)" For hours. Not only did we miss the pet flight but it soon became apparent that The Husband was going to miss his flight also (pets have to fly in earlier so they have at least a 4 hour layover).
I called El Al on my cell phone. "Hi, we've just been #@$% by Delta and my husband has to get himself and three pets to Israel tomorrow. Do you have room on tomorrow's flight?"
"Yes, we do. What are the pets and their weights?"
I recite the appropriate breeds, sizes, weights and add we have all their paperwork.
"We need a health certificate not more than 5 days old."
(Ours is ten days old--good enough for Delta) I tell the reservationist we can get a new health certificate--quick call to the vet to arrange a late afternoon appointment for an exam.
"No problem. We have him booked tomorrow on our 12:20 flight. He should definitely check in by 9:00 so we have time to get the animals on board. Bring them to the ticket counter. We'll email you an e-ticket for your husband."
She quotes me a price. Higher for The Husband than Delta--but not by much. And WAY lower for the pets. The only glitch might be a dead body being transported to Israel--there isn't one yet, but if the plane gets one, the dog gets bumped.
"I understand, no problem--can my husband bump also?"
"Sure--it's an open ticket, no restrictions. He can take a later flight if the dog gets bumped."
She also offered the aliyah price until I told her that The Husband is a returning Israeli and doesn't get any olim rights. She sounded dubious and was prepared to offer him a deal, but I reiterated that the shaliach said he didn't qualify for any break on the ticket.
It was easy. It was painless. It was efficient. It was user-friendly. It was everything that Delta was not. The Husband is now on his way to LA with the pets and his new health certificates and e-ticket. Say a prayer for us that it will all go smoothly.
...and the moral of the story is: Listen to your wife. No, just joking--the real moral is that if you're making aliyah, ask better questions, check often and frequently, assume nothing --
--and don't fly Delta. Fly El Al. El Al knows how to do it right.