Thursday, February 2, 2012

Traveling From Korea With Pets: My Logistical Booking Nightmare

As you know, Charlie, Mochi, and I will be leaving Korea for the US on March 10th. This isn't my first time flying internationally with an animal - this isn't even my first time flying from Korea with an animal. However, while previous trips were arranged with minimum difficulty, this was a horrific logistical nightmare that had me reduced to tears several times, and that makes me  unwilling to fly Delta ever again. (However as both Aeroflot and Korean Air are partners with Delta, it seems pretty unlikely that I'll be able to boycott them, considering that Korea and the former Soviet Union are my most common destinations!)

The madness started about a month ago. This was before Mochi came into my life. I called Delta (foolishly thinking it would be easier to avoid the language barrier and to speak to the carrier that would be covering the second leg of my trip), and reserved a flight for me and Charlie. The woman I spoke with was very friendly and promised me that everything was taken care of, and that Charlie and I were booked to travel on 3/10, and that Charlie was approved to travel in the cabin with me. (I gave this woman all the information on Charlie's species, breed, carrier size, and weight.)

On 1/19, when I decided that Mochi was coming home with us, I called Delta. Again, I spoke with a Delta representative who was very friendly, and who promised me that everything was taken care of, and that Charlie, Mochi, and I were booked to travel on 3/10. In addition to Charlie in the cabin, Mochi would be in the cargo hold. (I gave this woman all the information on Mochi's species, breed, carrier size, and weight.) She then told me that she was unable to tell me how much it would cost to travel with Mochi, and that I should call Korean Air to confirm this.

I called Korean Air. The KA rep was very polite, but I was told that KA had no record of a request to travel with Charlie, and that they were missing about half of the information needed to book Mochi.

I called Delta. Yet another polite representative, but one who kept having to put me on hold while she verified various things. She was probably new. Her conclusion was that everything had been submitted to Korean Air, and that perhaps the KA representative had made a mistake because "this is very confusing."

I called Korean Air. Another KA rep told me exactly what the previous one had told me. I asked what specific information was needed from Delta. Some of the information I was able to provide to KA (Mochi's species, breed, carrier size, weight), but the main things that KA required were A) the fact that I was traveling with Charlie (because it was ticketed through Delta, I was told that Delta had to be the one to add the cat... even though I had been told the cat was booked when I bought my ticket at the beginning of January!) and B) confirmation from Delta that the animals were booked for the second leg of my trip. I was told that they couldn't finalize the confirmation until they received that information, and that the animals couldn't get on the first plane unless KA had confirmation that they were booked for the second one.

At this point, I was starting to get upset, although I was mostly angry-upset, not crying-upset. Also, this had taken about two and a half hours by this point. I had naively thought that I could add Mochi to my ticket before dinner, so I was doing it all on an empty stomach.

I called Delta. This time, I got a Really Bitchy Woman. For starters, she kept cutting me off while I was trying to explain the situation. Finally, she snaps, "Look, we've submitted two dogs in checked baggage twice. Korean Air has this information." OMFG. Two dogs? Both in cargo? WTF? When I (without profanity, amazingly) responded, "No! One cat in the cabin, one dog in cargo!" She said, 'Please hold,' and left me on hold for about 15 minutes.

When she returned, she was just as bitchy, although she then stated that they had the record for the dog and the cat, and that Korean Air did, too. At this point, I brought up topic 2 - Korean Air needed confirmation that the animals were booked on the second (Delta operated) leg of the flight. The Delta agent got even bitchier. She literally said, "That is none of their business! That flight is operated by Delta, and Korean Air does not need to have any information regarding it." I patiently explained several times that Korean Air would not let my animals on the plane unless they had approval from their SkyTeam Partner, Delta, that the animals were confirmed for the second leg of the trip. Each time I said this, the woman grew bitchier.

Finally she said, "I think you need to call the Consulate to determine what the problem is. Let me give you their number." At this point, I lost it. Any American who has traveled extensively knows that the Consulate can do very little of anything to help you when you're overseas. If you need documents, or you need to register a birth, death, or marriage - they're great. If you need anything else - that's not their problem. This woman was seriously telling me to call the Consulate????

I said (or tried to say, I started crying hysterically in the middle of what would have otherwise been a fairly scathing utterance), "I will go to a Korean Air office here in Seoul tomorrow morning. If they do not have the necessary information to allow me and my animals to fly, I will have no choice but to cancel this ticket and fly with a different carrier."

I don't know if it was my hysterical sobbing or the threat to fly another carrier, but at this point, the woman turned from Really Bitchy Woman into Super Sugary Sweet Nice & Helpful Woman. (Note to Delta: your representatives should be friendly and helpful even when your customers aren't crying hysterically and threatening to take their business elsewhere.) The suddenly nice representative uttered a bunch of pointless soothing things then said, 'Let me call Korean Air right now and find out what's going on.' Wow, what a brilliant idea. That would have been a far better thing to say compared to 'it's none of Korean Air's business' and 'you should call the Consulate.' Sheesh.

Again, I was on hold for about 15 minutes. When the rep came back online she told me that she had just spoken with a Korean Air rep, and that everything was confirmed, the animals were booked on both Delta and Korean Air. I asked if there was any way we could have a three-way conversation so I could hear confirmation from KA, but was told no, I'd just have to take her word for it.


And the sad thing is, this doesn't conclude the story.

The days after this incident were the Seolnal Lunar New Year holiday. I figured I would delay contacting Korean Air again until after the holidays were over. And besides, I was stressed out to the point that I was literally sick. It was horrible.

Luckily, Sofia (the woman who arranged for me to get Mochi in the first place) introduced me to Maya Shin from - Maya (who can be reached at if you need her) was absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately, Maya had to deal with the exact same nonsense I had to deal with. Korean Air told her they didn't have all of the info they needed from Delta (including species, breed, carrier size, etc), and that they needed confirmation for the second leg of the trip. Thank the gods for Maya, because I really couldn't have dealt with it.

In the middle of the week and a half that Maya spent working on this, my mother called Delta - they told her that everything was confirmed on their end and on the Korean Air end, nothing to worry about. The next day, Korean Air told Maya they still hadn't received all of the information from Delta. Yeah.

Finally, as of today, both Korean Air and Delta have told both Maya and me that everything is confirmed. Whew. Unfortunately, they are unable (?!) to email confirmation of the animals' booking, so I don't have it in writing. I'm going to be stressing about this until we're all on board the plane.

If you are planning to travel from Korea with your pets, here's my advice:

1. Do NOT book with Delta.
2. Try very hard to only fly one carrier. It seems that 'partner airlines' don't exactly communicate very well. If I'd known what a nightmare this was going to be, I would have booked the first leg through Korean Air, then rented a car and driven home from there. It would have been simpler and far less stressful.
3. If you need ANY assistance, contact Maya from, because she is WONDERFUL.


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