From Spain to the United States
Weary of endless travel restrictions and blocked from continuing our slow journey into Portugal, we made a spontaneous decision to travel back to the USA. It’s just a temporary trip. We have a return flight booked for September.
Our decision was easier because we had a place to land - Jamie’s sister and her husband welcomed us to stay with them in Pewaukee, Wisconsin and to enjoy their lake home in Northern Wisconsin. How tempting - after giving up on spending a few months in Portugal’s Algarve, the prospect of water sports on a lake surrounded by the national forest lands was a Siren call. Then there are the loons. Oh, and seeing our family after nearly four years, we should probably mention that too.
We’ve arrived safely, we’re vaccinated, and for the first time in the last couple of years, we understand absolutely everything that’s being said to us.
About our journey
Now that we have only Teej and Ricco, our two old cats, it worked to have them with us on the train and in the cabin of the airplane. We booked our train tickets on the newly updated RENFE website. The AVE train ride cost an extra €20.30 per cat.
We did our train ride on one day and our flight on the next just to split up our journey for the comfort of our cats. The train ride from Granada to Madrid was a breeze. Normal economy train seats were big enough for us and two carriers on the floor. Our carriage started with six passengers in Granada but ended up being about 1/3 full by the time we arrived in Madrid.
Even though there’s a shuttle bus from Madrid’s Atocha train station to the airport, we decided to take a taxi to our airport hotel. We usually take public transportation whenever possible but we’re making exceptions during the pandemic and while traveling with our old cats.
The NH airport hotel (an incredibly small and uncomfortable room) charged us an additional €25.00 per cat.
Lufthansa airlines permits two pets per flight in under-seat soft-sided carriers. To ensure that all four segments of our outbound and return flights were available for pets, we choose the flights and called Lufthansa customer service to check availability of pet reservations. Our first choice was unavailable but we secured our second choice. Then, we returned to the Lufthansa website, booked our tickets, and called customer service back so they could add our cat reservations. They won’t make the pet reservation until the tickets are booked and paid. The Lufthansa flight cost an extra €100 per cat which we paid at check-in in Madrid.
But wait! There's more!
In a normal year, we could sit back and wait till the day of our flight with no worries. But, this year there were two additional steps.
We needed a Covid-19 antigen test within 48 hours of our transit through Munich and within 72 hours of arrival at our destination in Chicago.
We made a couple of mistakes regarding the Covid test.
- We passed up all the available testing services in Granada and the city of Madrid in order to take advantage of the “convenient” testing at the airport. Oops. It turns out the airport testing center is inconveniently located in Terminal T4 and our flight departed from Terminal T2, a 20 minute (and €20) taxi ride away. There is a shuttle bus that runs between the terminals (cost €2.50) but we had a complicating circumstance….
- We booked our appointments just two days before our flight and the only appointments left were early, early in the morning. So, we took our expensive taxis back and forth from our so-called airport hotel (to the tune of €45) at 4:30 a.m.
When boarding each segment of our flight we were asked to show our negative Covid test results. The US also requires a global passenger disclosure attestation form declaring that we’ve had a negative test or that we’ve recovered from Covid. We had these forms filled out but we were never asked for them.
We updated the rabies vaccine on one of our cats as soon as we planned the trip but fell five days short of the 21 day waiting period required in the EU for full vaccine effectiveness. It shouldn’t have mattered because the US doesn’t require animals to be vaccinated for entry but the EU does and we were transiting Munich. We figured that if we were turned away we would change our flight and wait out the five days in Madrid. We’re vagabonds. It doesn’t matter.
But, we weren’t turned away. The cats did need their pet passports to get on the flight but our agent said nothing about the vaccine date.
We also completed a form called “Confirmation for Transportation of an Animal in the Passenger Cabin.” The form lays out the conditions for the carrier size, leashes, halters, as well as comportment of the animal and our liability responsibilities. We showed the form at the security screening and at the gate along with the cat boarding passes.
Total Travel Time: About 22 Hours
All was smooth on the train. We spent about four hours in transit, including to and from the train stations.
We checked in about two hours before our flight from Madrid to Munich. Then headed outside to a grassy verge across from the arrivals area taxi stand. The cats had plenty of time to stretch their legs and wander at the ends of their leashes before we “crammed” them back into their carriers.
The first leg was easy - a 2 hr 30 min flight from Madrid to Munich and one hour layover.
We cleared EU passport control in Munich. There were only about a dozen of us in a proper socially distanced line. It was the first time we’d left the Schengen Zone since we entered in September of 2017. We learned that we should present both our Spanish TIE cards and passports when exiting the EU. They were very nice about our mistake.
Once we got to our gate, we let the boys out of their carriers for a brief break. Then, we boarded for the flight that must have seemed like an eternity to the cats. They got a little restless.
First, I have to say we didn’t disturb anyone because Jamie and Teej had a row of three seats and so did Ricco and I. However, in all that comfort, no one got any sleep.
About mid-way through the flight we began to see our old boys turn into Tasmanian Devils. The kennels were rocking and rolling as the boys tried to pound their way out. Our amusement turned into alarm when each one of those geriatric cats figured out how to push right through velcro and tiny latches on the top flap of their carriers.
Imagine our surprise when a supposedly confined cat poked his head and a paw up whilst attempting to scramble up to our lap. That sure put us on high alert.
We used leashes and straps to tie down the kennel tops. So the cats switched to trying to tear through the netting on the sides of their carriers. It didn’t get a single rip but if we hadn’t picked up the cats, carriers and all, and put them on our laps for comfort, I think those old boys would have selected their own seating arrangements. Fortunately, the plane was only about 1/4 full and no one saw our battles.
Jamie’s sister, Jill, picked us up at the airport and took us the remainder of our journey to her house in Pewaukee, about 1.5 hours away. With wait times and flight times, the boys spent up to 18 hours in their kennels. I’ll never complain about a long flight again.
Back in the 20th Century, Jamie carried one of the sweetest cats who ever walked this world home with him on a Lufthansa fight from Kenya. His experience and the overwhelmingly positive reviews Lufthansa continues to receive with regard to travelers with pets guided our choice of airlines.
We weren't disappointed. At every step of the way, from our initial call to customer service to our disembarkation in Chicago, Lufthansa staff were helpful and kind and understanding.
Lufthansa flights can often be a bit more expensive, but worth it. In our opinion, Lufthansa earned our repeat business.
Susan writes about the things that make life meaningful for her. This includes places we’ve been and what we’ve experienced as nomads these last several years. And now, includes finding a place to call home.
As we come closer to a “settled” life, Susan will begin to emphasize aging gracefully with a plant based diet, plenty of yoga, and physical activity. She is certified to teach Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin yoga. Adaptive and Senior yoga certification is coming soon.