Flying might not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price.
– Amelia Earhart
Say it with me, now: ahn – yong – hah – say – yo. Congratulations, you’ve just said your first Korean word. Hello!
Early morning from our living room window.
Greetings from our new digs in Ulsan! The view is gorgeous but the journey to get here was a little painful. It was quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done to put my dear furkids on a plane for 16 hours, but they survived with no lingering emotional or physical damage (as of yet, anyhow). They still go in their travel crates to sleep, so it must have been an okay ride.
Getting to the airport was quite the adventure, given all of the rules we were trying to follow at once: be at the airport well in advance of your flight, pets must be given food and water within 2 hours of the flight, pets must be crated, luggage must be a maximum of 70 pounds.
Making a scene at check in while unloading all of our stuff.
Due to the space restrictions (read: tons of crap we packed) in our vehicle, we could not transport the dogs’ crates to the airport without taking them apart and rebuilding them on the sidewalk in the passenger drop-off area. With lots of nuts and bolts and anxiety-fueled adrenaline, the dogs crates came together. Oh, and rule number two meant we had also had to feed the dogs outside on the sidewalk no earlier than 8:30 am. By 8:45, all of this was completed, dogs ushered into the crates, and then we had a sky-cap guy come over and wheel them inside on a big cart. We took them to the check-in desk, and after a lot of stickers, logistical grief, and about an hour of waiting, we finally had them cleared to go to the drop-off point.
Sweet furkids nervous about their first flight.
There was only one problem: I had stayed to check everything in while J took the rental car back to its drop-off point. The bus back to the terminal from the rental car area seemed to take forever, but finally, I saw J running full speed ahead through the check-in area, looking for us to get going. A Korean Air representative went with us to the TSA check-in area for “oversized bags” (and pets). A nice TSA agent, Jim, swabbed the crates for who-knows-what security threat, and then loaded the babies on the elevator to take them to the cargo hold. At this point, it was 10:00 and our flight was to depart at 10:30. If you know anything about flying internationally, this meant the gate would close at any second! Luckily, we had our kind check-in attendant, Yvonne, escort us through security and I am willing to bet we were the last to board the plane. In our rush, I was thankful that the dogs didn’t have to spend any extra time waiting to be loaded, and that we would be on our way shortly.
We made it!
Let’s talk for a moment, though, about our airline experience. If you come to visit, I highly, highly recommend Korean Air. Part of it is that I had the amazing experience of flying business class for the first time in my life. Part of it was that they handled the dogs so well. Overall, though, the service was impeccable, from the moment we sat down and were handed a fresh glass of orange juice and our choice of newspaper, to the flight attendants’ gracious smiles and thank-yous as we departed the plane.
In flight, we had fantastic food. We had a menu to choose from a collection of Western style as well as Korean meals. I went with the beef tenderloin (essentially a steak and potatoes dinner) and a bowl of beef noodle soup, both excellent choices. And can I also mention that the red wine was AMAZING? Like, $100 dinner fancy, at least to my taste.
Enjoying my reclining seat and leg room, my salad with fresh mozzarella, and beef noodle soup.
Then there was the leg room. On what ended up as a 15 hour plane ride, my reclining seat allowed me a couple of naps that each lasted a few hours. The only drawback was the so-so movie selection, but let’s be honest: I am officially plane-spoiled.
Perhaps the best part of the flying experience was some much needed comfort that the dogs were okay. In all my researching about how to prepare the furkids for travel, I came across an idea to write a nice note to the pilot, letting him or her know that animals were on board and request that the cargo hold be monitored appropriately. J helped me put together a short, polite note including a picture of Minnie and Murray to amp up the “I’m so cute, please take care of me” subliminal messaging. We were flustered getting on the plane, cutting it so close, but the flight attendant for our section was so kind to take the note up to the pilot, and returned saying that it was very cute letter. About half way through the flight, we received the note back with a lovely response written by the captain:
Kindest note from Captain Min that the dogs were doing alright.
I counted down the minutes to landing, playing endless Candy Crush in the last couple of hours to channel my nerves. (Well, I played Candy Crush until I was out of lives and then listened to music. I officially hate level 23 and refuse to pay for advancement!) We finally landed in Seoul, and I was ready to tear through the flight attendant to get off of the plane and find the dogs. With a little – okay, too much – patience, we quietly exited the aircraft and took the longest possible walking route to customs. I swear our gate was at least a mile from the customs entrance. Once we cleared immigration, it was time to find the dogs! Our bags came out of carousel 21, so we headed that way to see where they might be. All of our luggage came out very quickly, and I began to load it onto a couple of dolly carts while J went to search for Minnie and Murray.
While he was wandering around, I lost my passport. Yes, Mom, I know you’re laughing because you’re not surprised, but honest to God, I had it in my pocket one moment and the next I was finding my customs declaration form on the ground with no passport enfolding it. I was reminded of my favorite parody of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” mantra: “NOW PANIC AND FREAK OUT”. How does someone lose their passport between customs and baggage claim? Well, if it would be someone, I guess it would be me. J and I finally reunited, and greeted the dogs on the outside of some double doors where they deliver oversized baggage. I was so incredibly relieved to see my furkids panting and whining, but I was panting and whining myself without my passport!
The next logical step would be to find an airport lost and found desk, which magically appeared about 500 feet from where I was standing. A nice airport rep well-versed in English told me, however, that this is not where I would find a lost passport. Hmmm, interesting. He pointed me over to the customs declaration line where they x-ray everyone’s luggage, but virtually no one over there understood my question. Rather, they all just tried to take my declaration form from me. 20 minutes of panic later, we found the stupid thing lodged in the handle of one of the suitcases.
On to quarantine we went. The process for “quarantine” was quick and painless – a check of the documentation, a few copies made, check the microchips and we were good to go. That was, until Minnie’s microchip was “missing”. A quarantine staff member used a detector device, waving it all over Minnie’s neck, but there was no “beep” to be heard. After struggling for about 10 minutes to locate the microchip, I was about maxed out on stress, when, to my delight, the other quarantine staffer came in with another device, reached his hand about halfway down her back, pushed a button, and “BEEP!”. Funny how these things happen.
Comically, after all the run-around, an airport service guy escorted us and the dogs straight through the customs declaration area and out to the rental-car area. I think he could tell how stressed-out we were and knew we probably weren’t carrying anything dangerous. The next adventure was finding and getting in our rental car – stay tuned, you don’t want to miss the next installment of our travels: driving from Seoul to Ulsan!