When it comes to international travel Chiclet and I recently learned never underestimate the importance of paperwork.
To back up a bit, this year my tiny traveling buddy and I were invited to spend Thanksgiving in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood with our good friends Julie and her tiny chihuahua Lil Bean.
Neither one of us had ever been to Chicago — or, if Chiclet has, she’s not talking about it — so we immediately got to work looking for the best deal on flights which turned out to be out of the Quebec City airport.
No strangers to international travel, Chiclet and I left Maine and headed to Canada with our bags packed and US Passport (mine) and necessary health certificates (Chiclet’s) safely stowed therein.
More about our time in dog-friendly Chicago in future posts, other than to say it was incredible and we had a blast.
But, all good things must end. So it was we boarded a plane in Chicago for our return trip to Quebec City, by way of Montreal.
And that’s where things quickly went awry.
I’ve flown through Montreal numerous times, albeit never with a tiny dog, but was fairly confident I knew how to navigate my way through customs and on to my next gate.
Ahhh… traveler’s hubris.
After walking what felt like miles, customs’ declaration card clutched in my sweaty hand, Chiclet and I arrived at the familiar Canadian Customs and Border Protection area and headed toward one of the lines leading to an agent.
Before we could get in line, a CBP agent directed us down a corridor leading away from the custom’s area and into a smaller CBP room. As we waited in that line — after being assured this was where we had to be in order to get to our connecting flight — I scoped out the agents on duty and sent up a silent prayer we would not get the only one looking like he was having the worst day ever.
Of course that is exactly who we ended up in front of. I handed over my declaration card and passport. He looked the documents over, looked at me, glowered and asked, “why did you check ‘no’ on your declaration about bringing in animals?’
I was stumped. Animals? I wasn’t bringing in any animals, and politely said so.
He looked at me, looked at my documents and asked, “It says here you are traveling with a dog.”
Oh! Chiclet! “But, she’s not an animal,” I said. “She’s my pet.”
Honest to God, I thought the agent was going to pass out he started laughing so hard. All grumpiness gone, he literally wiped his eyes, looked at me and said, “You are not leaving here until you explain to me how a dog is not an animal.”
Okay, he had me there. But in my defense, when I had checked that box I honestly thought it referred to livestock, not domestic pets. Certainly, had one of the Rusty Metal Farm chickens been along, I would have indicated that.
Still laughing, the agent scribbled something on my card in red, handed it back to me and pointed me down another corridor. I could hear him laughing as I walked away.
At the end of that corridor was a set of three uncomfortably looking long lines of people leading to three different agents. Joining one of the queues, I did notice it was going fairly quickly as people handed over their declaration forms and were sent on their way to their gates.
We had about an hour left until our next flight, so I was feeling pretty good about things until our turn came and the agent took my card, looked at it and pointed toward the doors that read, “Secondary Inspection Area.”
In we went and were met by CBP Agent Bouchard who took us to her station, asked for the declaration card and my passport and requested to see Chiclet’s paperwork which included her vaccination records and health certificate.
No problem. I opened my carry-on bag, reached for the documents I always keep there and… nothing. Laughing a bit self-consciously, I opened the bag wider, dug deeper and still came up empty. Maybe I had tucked it in Chiclet’s travel case? Nope.
And then it hit me. The previous evening, while packing, the folder that contained my travel receipts and other paperwork from the trip had gone into my checked bag, whereabouts at that exact moment, unknown. In that folder — and thus also in the checked bag — were all of Chiclet’s records.
Panic would not be overstating my state of mind at that precise moment.
Agent Bouchard, who, by the way could not have been nicer, said all I had to do was go get my suitcase, retrieve the documents and all would be well.
“But it’s on the way to Quebec City,” I said. “It’s checked all the way through.”
Agent Bouchard consulted her computer and told me that no, the bag was not checked through that I had to claim it, take it through customs and then re-check it. I was now very confused as I had been assured in Chicago that would not be necessary.
Nevertheless, Agent Bouchard escorted me through several “official entry only” doors to the baggage claim area. Chiclet, meanwhile, was left in the secondary inspection area no doubt wondering if I was being arrested for an international incident and who she should call for bail money.
At the baggage claim my luggage was nowhere to be seen. While I was searching, I asked Agent Bouchard, worst-case scenario if I could not find it, what would happen.
After reassuring me for what must have been the 100th time that A) I still had plenty of time to catch my flight and B) it would all work out as the forms could be faxed from my veterinarian, we headed back empty-handed to the inspection area, where I asked if there was a phone I could use to call my vet, as I had no cell service in Quebec and I knew the vet’s office was closing in like 10 minutes.
She told me to hang tight and stay put and off she went, returning about 10 minutes later with my suitcase which had ended up in the wrong luggage area.
At that point it was a quick matter to snag the folder from my bag, locate Chiclet’s records, hand them over and while Agent Bouchard looked them over, pick up all the receipts and other papers that had fallen onto the floor.
Within minutes we were on our way to recheck my bag and pass through one, final level of airport security and to our gate with about 15 minutes to spare.
I don’t think Dante had it as tough navigating the rings of hell.
Chiclet travel tip: Per a brilliant suggestion from our good friend Kim — a pretty savvy traveler herself — all of Chiclet’s travel documents are going to be re-scanned & printed to passport size and tucked in with my US passport. From that point on, they will always be packed together!