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"It must be nice to take your dog everywhere!" HA! If you only knew the hassle....

Normally things go relatively smoothly before a trip. Not so with this trip. We had to begin our prep way back in September, however, looking back, I probably should have started back in June or even as soon as I got back from my last trip. 

Last year I came to Japan without Hans. It was hard on me not to have him with me, but I think it was even harder on him not to be near me. He was happy when I got home but didn’t greet me with his usually butt wagging enthusiasm as usual. He was more sedate, more relieved than excited that I was home. Two days later I found out just exactly why his greeting wasn’t as enthuastic as usual. He was sick—sick with worry and stress. After seeing him go through that I vowed that I wouldn’t put him through that again.

In September I began quarantine procedures so that I could bring Hans to Japan with me on this trip. I knew it would take 180 days and that he’d need another rabies blood titer drawn. I also knew that he’d need a new microchip since the one he had received in 2002 can’t be read with international chip readers. If I would have known that the stupid chip was going to be an issue I would have had it implanted a year ago.

I probably spent a good two weeks emailing back and forth with Japanese Animal Quarantine about Hans. The first issue with him was that his new microchip was implanted on the same day the titer was drawn. I had to explain to them that he had to get an ISO chip because his first chip can’t be read with their reader, so I dug out the info from the first chip, scanned it, and attached it to the email along with some other paperwork they may want to see like rabies certificates and his titer from 2003. I figured as long as I have to scan and attach I may as well give them everything I have. Yeah, that didn’t help me.

Next comes a response back saying that Hans can’t come because he had an 18 day lapse in his rabies vaccine and to come he needs to have another booster shot, blood titer and wait another 180 days. I inform them that getting another rabies booster and a titer is no problem but I can’t wait another 180 days (6 months). I explain that he’s a service dog and that it’s medically necessary for me to have him with me at all times and ask if they can please make an exception since his titer is 5 times what they require. They refuse to budge but say that if I am SOFA (Standard of Forces Agreement aka Military) then I can bring him and quarantine him on base.

I forward Chad the copy of the latest email from Japan Quarantine and ask him to send me a copy of his orders so I can forward them and bring Hans. I also ask him to try to get a hold of the base vet so that we can talk to them about the procedures. If Hans is going to have to be kenneled on base I won’t bring him, it’s just not worth it.

After a frazzling weekend of waiting to hear from the base vet, Chad visits the office and is able to speak with someone there. He calls me so I can speak directly with one of the vet techs who tells me how to fill out the Notification of Import form, writing a note at the bottom saying that Hans belongs to a SOFA family and will be quarantined on base. She also tells me that I need to bring a ‘magic paper’—a military vet form that will make Japan Quarantine happy. She informs me that as far as the base vet is concerned we are living on base since we have a PSC address and that we can do whatever we choose with Hans as long as we have the ‘magic paper’ turned in. I thank her for all the information and I finally feel some relief over the situation. I scan and email the Notification form back to Japan Quarantine and a day later I get our Authorization form.   Hans can now officially come to Japan!

What an ordeal you might say! The truth is, that’s only half of the story. While dealing with Quarantine I was also dealing with Orbitz and Japan Airlines (JAL) over my return trip. When I booked the tickets with Jennie it was a Thursday evening. I called Alaska who we’re flying on for our connecting flights and to get a bulkhead seat assignment. Alaska gave me no problems and assigned our seats without question. JAL’s US office was closed so I called them as soon as I got up Friday morning. I gave them my itinerary and told them I’d be flying with a service dog and I would like to sit in the bulkhead seat. They said they’d forward the request onto their home office in Tokyo and would get back to me. Tuesday I get a call saying that I have to change my return trip because JAL doesn’t have an agreement with Canada to allow service dogs to fly in the cabin from NRT (Narita, Japan) and YVR (Vancouver). I must change my return trip so that I fly through SFO or LAX, but they can’t do it for me since I booked my ticket through Orbitz.

I call Orbitz and explain the situation to the agent. I want to keep the return trip on the same day, April 29th, just connect change my connection. She looks up the fights and tells me that there’s a flight that will land in SFO at 11:30am and then depart to SEA at 1:05pm. I ask her where I’m going to go through customs and immigration at, SFO or SEA. She tells me SFO and I ask her if she really thinks that an hour and a half is enough time to disembark the plane, clear customs, go back through security, and make it to the gate for my connecting flight. She agrees that’s not enough time and puts me on the 5pm flight. I agree that that’s a better solution even though I’m not happy about having to sit around the airport for 5.5 hours but what can I do. She’s about to book the flight when she tells me that the fare difference between my original flight and this one is $540 plus a $100 reissue fee. I’ve already paid $1030 for this ticket and cannot afford to pay another $600+ so we go about looking at other days for my return that won’t cost as much. After two hours on the phone with her we finally decide on a flight for April 22nd, a week earlier than what I had wanted. Just as she was about to confirm that’s the flight I wanted the line went dead. I’m already annoyed at the fact that I have to change my return and this just elevates my annoyance to a whole other level.

I wait a few minutes to see if she calls back since I know she has my number but the call never comes. I call Orbitz back and ask to speak with a supervisor because I’m not explaining everything to another agent. When the supervisor comes on I give her a brief rundown of what’s happened and tell her that the flight didn’t get booked because we got disconnected. She looks up the flight and confirms with me it’s the one we agreed on. She then says that she has to contact JAL to ok it with them and places me on hold. I look at the time and see that it’s just after 6pm. I know she won’t get a hold of anyone since they closed just a few minutes ago. Sure enough, she comes back on to tell me that she can’t book the ticket until she speaks to someone at the airline and that she’ll have to do it tomorrow. At this point I’m pissed. I’ve wasted over 3 hours of my day on the phone dealing with this only to not have it solved. I let the supervisor know just how angry I am. She assures me that she’ll call them as soon as she comes on shit tomorrow and that she’ll call me by 11:30 am my time (she doesn’t go on shift until 11am). I inform her that if I don’t hear from her by 1pm I’m calling back and raising holy hell.

True to her word she calls just after 11:30 to tell me that she’s on hold with JAL and will be calling me as soon as she’s spoken with them. A little while later she calls back to say that the ticket is ok and we proceed to book it. She informs me that this return trip is $166 less than the original ticket so I ask if I can get that refined. She says that I have to contact JAL because they’re the ones who actually charged me for the ticket, and Orbitz is just a tool the airlines use to increase sales. She then also tells me that she can’t book the ticket unless I pay the $100 reissue fee. Again, I’m pissed and I tell her so. I shouldn’t have to pay to change the ticket because JAL should have told me when I first contacted them on Friday that I couldn’t fly through YVR with Hans. Since I have to book the ticket I just agree to pay the stupid fee.

After the ticket is booked I call JAL and speak with the customer care agent who’s been handling my reservation. I inform him that I’m not happy about having to pay the reissue fee when it was their fault for not informing me of the conflict when I first called. If I would have known on Friday I could have changed the ticket with Orbitz for no charge. He says there’s nothing he can do about it other than contact the head office and ask for a refund. I also ask him about refunding the $166 fare difference but he says that since the ticket was purchased through Orbitz I have to contact them (even though JAL was the one who charged my card). I informed him that I’m not very happy with JAL at the moment—I’m getting screwed over three ways: making me pay $100 reissue fee, not refunding the $166 fare difference, and I have to come home a week earlier than I wanted.   After his apology, I hang up and call Orbitz yet again.

This time when I call I immediately ask to speak to a supervisor, not even explaining anything to the agent who answers. He finally transfers me to a wonderful woman named Gretchen who takes the time to listen to the whole saga and apologize for my inconvenience. She then places me on hold while she contacts JAL about the situation. When she comes back on the line she says that JAL won’t budge on the reissue fee and that she can’t do anything about the fare difference because that’s JAL’s responsibility. She then tells me that Orbitz will refund the $100 reissue fee that I had to pay as a show of good faith and apology for all the shit I’ve gone through. She also gives me her direct email so that I can contact her if the refund doesn’t show up in my account. I thank her immensely for all that she’s done.

 I decide that I don’t want to go round and round again with JAL over the $166 so I just let it go. At least I do not have to pay more than I already have on this stupid ticket. I’ve already spent over 5 hours on the phone over the last two days dealing with all this. I’ve wasted enough time. All of this shit just makes me not want to go on this trip. I’m sick of the trip and I haven’t even left yet. Hopefully I don’t have any issues once I get there.

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