September 14, 2008
Ever since my one and only flight on Aeroflot in 2005 – when my suitcase vanished and was hidden from me in a giant warehouse in Moscow – I haven’t had any desire to fly via Aeroflot. After researching Turkish Air’s policies regarding pet transport, I figured I’d return to the US the reverse of the way I came: Bishkek-Istanbul-Chicago-Jacksonville via Turkish Air. I found a ticket online that would get me all the way to Jacksonville for $1600, although I wanted to actually book the flight at the Turkish Air office in order to book “reservations” for the four cats as well.
Unfortunately, when I went to the Turkish Airlines office on Monday morning, I learned that the planes servicing the Bishkek-Istanbul route do not have a cargo area for pets, and only two animals are allowed in the cabin. Assuming no one else had reserved space for their pets on the flight, I could only take two cats, plus it would cost me $320/cat. Additionally, they wanted to charge me $2300 (not including cats) for the exact same itinerary I’d found online for $1600. They said that if I wanted, I could purchase the tickets online and then come back to their office in order to reserve space for my two cats.
I left the Turkish Airlines office in a panic, and went to the nearest internet café to look up the address of the Bishkek Aeroflot office, as Aeroflot is the only other airline servicing Bishkek which allows pet transport. I got the address and set off to find it… and of course it turned out to be an address which did not exist. At that point I was feeling super stressed, and decided to go into the first travel agency I saw which offered tickets on Aeroflot. (For a country where few people travel, Bishkek is oddly full of travel agencies.) Within about thirty seconds of reaching that decision, I arrived at Chuy Prospekt 108, home of the Avia Travel Club, authorized ticket seller for Aeroflot, among others.
The staff at ATC were very helpful. They found a flight for me: Bishkek-Moscow-New York-Atlanta for $1500, and said that it should be no problem flying with four cats as long as Aeroflot and Delta (the operator of the NYC-ATL leg of the trip) approved it, and the cost would be $100/cat. They went ahead and made the reservation in my name, and submitted a request to Aeroflot and Delta for permission for the cats to travel. I was told approval for the cats might take several days, and that I wouldn’t have to pay for the tickets until then.
Then came the one problem I encountered at ATC: they don’t take credit cards! Now, obviously, on my salary, I don’t exactly have $1900 (ticket + cats) lying around anywhere. I also don’t have that much in the bank, and had been planning to pay for my ticket via credit card. I figured I could just go to the bank and use my credit card to get a cash advance for at least part of the sum. Now, the only time I’ve ever gotten a cash advance with my credit card was in 1995 (when I went to Costa Rica with Melissa and Brenda), and then I just went to the bank, they ran the card through the machine like it was a purchase, I signed the receipt, and they gave me my money. Apparently things have changed. Now one must have a PIN number, as with an ATM card. The first I knew of this was when the clerk asked me to enter my PIN number. I took a guess that it was the same PIN as my ATM card (as they were issued at the same time by the same bank), but apparently it wasn’t. After trying three different banks, I headed back to the internet café to call my bank. Well, it turns out I had never requested a PIN for my credit card, and as such didn’t have one. But, the only way they could give me a PIN over the phone was if I called from my home phone – the one registered to the account. They weren’t too phased by the “But I’m in Kyrgyzstan!” argument. They did say that they could send a PIN to my home address, which would take 3-5 days. My “home” address is actually my mom’s, so that wasn’t too big of a problem; I was waiting for approval from the airlines for my cats anyway.
By Wednesday I had yet to hear from ATC, so I walked up to their office. They told me that they had already received approval from Aeroflot for the four cats, and were just waiting to hear from Delta. Woohoo! And there was much rejoicing! (Who would’ve expected that Aeroflot would reply before Delta?)
On Friday I called ATC, and learned that “my” agent was off until “после завтра” (the day after tomorrow), which one would assume to be Sunday, except that I just called them and didn’t get any answer. Not that any of this is surprising or anything… I am in Kyrgyzstan, after all. I’m hoping that everything will coordinate such that by the time my mom receives (and emails me) my PIN number, ATC will have confirmation that the four furballs and I will be flying into ATL on November 2nd.
And just today I learned that an Aeroflot flight crashed in Russia, killing all aboard. NO PHYSICAL HARM. Sigh.