Covid has ruined everything this summer, but as soon as a few air corridors opened up across Europe, we made a play for tickets to the south of France for some beach time. The catch? We wanted to bring our new lock-down acquired fur baby. Unfortunately travelling with a pet when either leg involves the UK isn’t as cut and dry as we’d hoped.

Every year my (now!) husband and I go to the south of France. Yes, we got married in lock-down by doing that whole Zoom wedding thing but will still have the big party next year. And because 2020 has been especially harsh, we knew we would not be replacing it with a local staycation to Cornwall or some other brisk, grey coastline.

Lock-down was the worst. Except for the fact that WFH has become mandatory for everyone (win) and we were able to get the puppy of (my/our dreams). Actually, it’s been pretty great albeit boring. As soon as we were able we booked our tickets to St Tropez via Nice but with a small fluffy pupper in tow it’s not been as easy as I was hoping.

To begin with, I’m Canadian. My last Pekingese happily lived between Toronto and Orlando with 0 problems jetting back and forth. He was small enough to fit into carry on that would sit under the seat in front of my mom or grandmother and loved flying.

While I knew the UK was strict when it came to flying with pets (especially into the country) no one ever told me it was damn near impossible but here we are.

I did my research in advance. Gov.uk lays out the guidance pretty clearly. To travel with pets back into the UK the pet must:

  1. Have a rabies vaccine that was administered no less than 21 days prior to the trip;
  2. Be microchipped;
  3. Have a tapeworm treatment less than 5 days, more than 24 hrs prior to returning.

The pet must also hold a vet issued “pet passport”. While I’m still waiting on the pet passport to arrive, I went ahead and started booking tickets for us to fly into Nice. First, I spoke to British Airways. Unfortunately BA does not allow pets in the cabin unless it’s a certified service dog, which fluffer definitely is not. They told me that I needed to speak to a “pet travel agent” to get him a ticket as cargo if I wish to fly BA. I followed their instruction, spoke to a service called PetAir and found out that because the puppy is a Pekingese, they wouldn’t accept him. They don’t accept “snubbed nose” pets including pugs, frenchies, Persian cats etc.

Then I spoke to another pet travel agent a friend of mine had used in the past. They quoted me £1,500 EACH WAY. Yeah, I love my dog but not a week’s plus salary’s worth. Also, having heard PetAir’s unwillingness to deal with a Pekingese I was wary.

Then I spoke to a number of pet taxis. I used a pet taxi to get the puppy from his breeder to our home in London. It was about £250 from Sheffield to SW3. Not terrible. The first pet taxi quoted me £2,500 each way. WHO CAN AFFORD THIS?

Then I thought about the Eurostar. That seemed to be a very fast and convenient way to travel so I looked to their pet policy. No pets allowed except service dogs. Okay, so that’s not an option either.

I decided to try AirFrance to find out what their pet policy is and (hooray!) they allow pets below a certain weight into the cabin exiting the UK, but not returning. According to AirFrance’s customer service, the UK has an embargo on pets entering by air. Preposterous! Why doesn’t it say this anywhere on the gov.uk page? Why must I call multiple airlines to find this information out? I spoke to Luftansa and they confirmed this policy to me as well.

Then I started researching forums and blogs to find out how people actually have travelled with pets. As it turns out, the only reasonable way to get into the UK with a pet (without the fear of it winding up dead in the hold of a plane), is driving. There’s a ferry that also accepts foot passengers at Calais, but this mode of transportation isn’t recommended as they make the pets sit in this awful kennel that looks worse than flying.

So, I enquired with a car service that would collect us from Paris CDG and drive us to SW3. NB: it’s even faster and more cost effective to fly into Lille, but because of Covid, very few flights from Nice are available to Lille, which is why my only option is Paris for this trip.

Once I booked my flight (with pet ticket) to Paris, I confirmed the car. The journey by car including a visit to pet immigration could be anywhere from 5 to 7 hours and it’s far more expensive than flying, but I figured what better thing do I have going on at the moment? My husband would stay on in St Tropez for a few days with some friends, so there was no rush to get back.

Here’s the breakdown of costs (versus going direct on BA):

  • AirFrance outbound flight (layover in CDG) £250
  • AirFrance inbound flight to CDG £150
  • Transfer to London by car £550 + £250 (Eurotunnel ticket) = £800 (yikes)

Just flying BA the cost would come out to circa the same as just the flights (likely less than £300, so it’s considerable). But my feeling is I may never do something like this again. So why not try it once. If it’s not for us, we won’t repeat it.

I’ll update on how all of this goes. I’m mentally prepared to encounter issues at any or all points of this journey, but I’m giving it my best shot!