I said on the morning of the flight that we would have no tears today. If we were going to cry over what was happening then there was no point in doing it. I got my bag packed and stuck LIVE ANIMAL stickers to Tyson's crate. I tested all the bolts that hold it together, I fitted a food and water bowl to the door, I fluffed up his bed and I carried all our worldly goods to the car.
Sarah drove us to her parent's house for a last farewell and then we hit the road. I've never been to JFK before. I saw the Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty for maybe the last time, and I marvelled at the amount of traffic on a Sunday afternoon. I gave Tyson his anti-anxiety meds before we left and he seemed less anxious than I, but that was to be expected. I was losing Sarah and now I hoped that I wouldn't lose Tyson too. I've been dreading the trip with him and now the airport was in sight.
Sarah pulled up, dropped us off then went to find parking. It was a cold day and she did that as fast as she could. We got a trolley, put the boy in his crate then went in to start the whole ball rolling. It was 2pm -- 3 hours before take-off. I wanted to make sure that Tyson got a spot on the plane if Alitalia had a first come first served policy for animals. The girl from whom I bought the ticket said that she had done everything she could to make sure he was on board, but my experience so far had taught me to be only mildly optimistic. On the trip to the airport I said to Sarah that I had to have a contingency plan in case this went wrong. I would return with her, buy a car and go live in Montana. She had nodded.
I went to the Alitalia desk and told her I was here with my dog and just wanted to make sure that everything was ok. "Dog?" she said, typing and looking confused. "I have you, but nothing at all about a dog."
The world began to spin. Sarah was somewhere stage left and didn't know what was happening but my body language clearly told her something was wrong.
"This is actually a flight operated by Delta," she said. "Go see if they can fit your dog on the plane."
Months of worry and planning and fear that I was going to be the unwitting cause of harm to Tyson made it hard to breathe. I went to talk to two girls from Delta who knew nothing about my dog, and then proved that they knew nothing about pets in general. One girl started typing and making phone calls while the other girl told her that she was doing everything wrong and she should cancel the entries she'd made. Some time later they asked me the weight of the dog and said "Oh, so it would have to go in the hold..." and began erasing everything again. I began rapidly back-pedalling, not wanting to put Tyson's fate in the hands of these two people. I called Sarah over and told her what was happening and she sat down on the floor, if sat is the right word. She sank to the floor and began to cry. "I can't say goodbye again," she said, rocking to and fro. It was the most awful moment.
I stood up and returned to the two women who now said that no animals could travel today because there was an embargo. "What?" I asked, not knowing if I was desperate at having to return with Sarah or relieved that I wouldn't be putting Tyson into the hands of these two people.
"It's too cold," they said.
I shook my head and I felt helpless. Sarah was done with the whole situation and her resolve had left her, and my beloved dog was in his crate and relying on me to get this right.
And then the first woman, the Alitalia woman came over. She was older, she was Italian, she had a maternal confidence and there was something about her that I trusted. She spoke to the girls from Delta and then turned to me.
"We will take you on our flight. It leaves at 8:20. It will be ok."
She took my e-ticket to her desk and spoke to a group of Alitalia people around her. They got on phones and spoke rapidly in Italian. I didn't know what they were saying but I knew that these people had swung into action in a way that the Delta girls didn't. I sat with Sarah, and the woman said her colleague was talking to someone. A few minutes later, after talking and typing, she looked at me and said, "It's done."
"Tyson is on the plane?" I asked, and I sounded like a child.
"Yes, you are both on the plane."
Sarah and I walked around the airport waiting to check in for a flight that left 3 hours later than planned. After a performance worthy of a West End farce we managed to inform my brother of the change of flight, and then wandered around, knowing that we should say goodbye but not really able to. Eventually we found a quiet place and held each other. We promised that this wasn't the end, that nobody was dying here, it was just a thing that was happening. She's always wanted to see Italy, and I said I'd see her there next year. And then she left, bearing the guilt of being the one who instigated this. It was the hardest thing to watch.
Tyson and I spent a few hours waiting for him to be collected and I watched him go too. Now all my planning was at an end and it was up to someone else.
I went back to the Alitalia woman and I thanked her for her help. Sometimes you need someone who knows what they are doing to step in and help, and I could not have been more grateful to her. I hope she could tell.
The flight was as perfect as any trans-Atlantic could be. I cannot praise Alitalia enough.
When we landed in Milan at 10:30am I had my fingers crossed that Tyson would be ok. He's a nervous dog and it was bumpy at times. He's 12 and you may have noticed, but I worry about him. Malpensa airport isn't very big and it took no time at all to go through passport control and into the baggage claim area. I walked around looking for him but couldn't find him. The bags appeared and I still couldn't find him. I asked and was told he would be at the "Bulky Baggage" area and if not, try lost and found. I didn't like that idea much so I managed to hang around the Bulky Baggage area and the baggage carousel simultaneously by using the simple technique of running really quickly around the airport. People stared at me. I didn't care. Where's my dog?
My bag arrived and I went to the Bulky Baggage area to see various items of Bulky Baggage, but none of them Tyson. Panic began to rise in me again, thinking that he was still in JFK or had been sent to Borneo, when suddenly I saw his crate being wheeled toward me. And then I saw one of his floppy ears, flopping. He was ok. He had survived. God was in his Heaven and all was right with the World.
Clutching my $350 of Tyson-related USDA approved paperwork in 2 languages, I set off for the exit sign. That's all it was. An exit sign and a door. I could have tried all day to find someone to check his paperwork and would have failed. I walked straight out into the waiting arms of my brother.
[ps...Have you tried the Armchair Detective Challenge yet?]
Slovenia, writing, other things