… The One we worked so hard to get to, came and went. We departed Atlanta for Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) on flight AF681 exactly “on time”. Despite this being the most dreaded part of our family’s journey overseas, things went more smoothly than expected, and in retrospect robbed me completely of the opportunity for reflection and pause.
In the weeks leading up to departure, our stress level bordered the insane so much that in the end all we cared about was getting to the airport—naked and without suitcases if necessary, but with the pets. Friends and family came to the rescue in the end and we are so grateful for it! They also planned a stellar good-luck party and we are very humbled by all of their efforts. In addition to the people close to us from work and our immediate family, friends drove from Memphis (Tennessee) and Florence (Alabama), and flew from Virginia Beach to join us for a blazing bonfire, not in farewell we hope, but in fond au-revoir!
We were reluctant to fly Air France. One hears such bad things about them, and the CDG airport. We’d booked ourselves on Delta, our preferred carrier for many years, knowing we’d need help and choosing the path of most experience.
Within five minutes of booking our flight we found out that the aircraft we were booked on did not have a big enough cargo door to fit the giant pet carrier we needed for Maxximus. He does live up to his name! When I called them back to double check, Delta Customer Service got into action. After some research, they took us through a rundown of options. We chose Air France to ensure that we could all arrive together.
It sounds simpler than it was. France, the country, allows migration with up to 5 domestic pets. Whew! Air France does not allow 5 pets on one itinerary, nor 2 cats on one itinerary. [I can almost hear the look of puzzlement appear on your face.] The system was circumnavigated by splitting our itineraries. My husband had two pets to his name and I had three. We each had a cat. They even refunded half of the original payment to make two separate ones. It took around 3 hours on the phone, and Delta Airlines Customer Service gets a million kudos for getting our whole family on the same flight!
The Atlanta International Airport (unsurpassed in terms of the check-in!) also provided excellent customer service, to begin with the porter who stayed with us from the parking lot until we wheeled the dogs into Customs for their kennel checks. The Air France person had a deer-in-headlights–look in his eyes when he caught sight of the luggage-and-pet train approaching his check-in station, but with the assistance of two others, he gracefully shot into a mode of handling it. I’ve never experienced an agent who climbed out of his station to see passengers off. I guess my animals have that effect on people?
We were asked to be there 2.5 hours before departure and we needed every bit of that. By the time we took the dogs out of the kennels for security to check for explosives, got them back into their kennels and ourselves and the cats through security, our flight was on its final boarding call!
As we approached with our tell-tale cat carriers, the gate agents shouted a jolly “There you are! Your dogs have already made it on board!” our way, and we appreciated that more than we could begin to express. Again we felt cared for by the Air France employees!
The most difficult moment was when our dogs were wheeled into the elevator to be taken to the aircraft. It was cliché, really … the elevator doors sliding shut while five pairs of eyes melded together.
My heart could have been torn from my chest in that moment. There was an acute sense that things were beyond our control. What remained was for all seven of us to be in a mode of endurance until our arrival in Normandy, no matter what happened. The best path—not the easiest, but the best for us—was that of a passionate shutdown. Just do it. With the help of a little Xanax. It was just about the only way we could live through our cats’ crying, which they did almost the entire flight.
At Charles de Gaulle things worked so efficiently that by the time we went through Customs and got our luggage, the dogs were already waiting for us at Special Services. It all happened in a mum of time. At this point we could not help ourselves. When we noticed the kennels from a distance, we practically ran to make sure the dogs were okay. Again the look of pitiful in their eyes is not something I can ever forget. They didn’t smell too good and several people made a face as we stood in line waiting for an alarm over an abandoned suitcase to be cleared. We could have cared less. The flight was over, and we were all together, safe and sound! A porter offered to help and when I gave him what I thought was a generous E20 tip he said, “That’ll be E40, Madame!”
We’d rented the biggest van we could find and we barely fit into it with the kennels. It took an insane amount of time to disassemble them all (effing wing nuts!), and it was bloody cold and drafty in the parking lot. Poor Maggie was shivering, she was so miserable. Once we were all situated, we discovered that our GPS had lost all of its European memory (hindsight due to human error, not the technology—our Garmin has never let us down!) Fortunately, Stampson had had the foresight to download GPS maps to a tablet as a back-up.
By the time we arrived in Basse-Normandie, our dog Nyx had gotten himself trapped on the floorboard between the seat and the body of the van. When we arrived, my husband assessed that Nyxie’s breathing was hindered by his precarious entrapment and there was no way to get him out but to unscrew the bench from the van. So we did.
There’s more! The taxing journey was topped off by an hours-long search for Felix-the-Cat who promptly manifested the extent of his discontent by hiding somewhere in the kitchen. My husband was beside himself about it and eventually, I suggested we make a bed on the floor in front of a nice fire, giving everybody, including Mister Felix, an opportunity to cuddle, which because of allergies, they hardly ever get to do.
Before long, our sweet love pushed his tiny wet nose into my ear and curled his stinky body into the fold of my arms. Finally, we could heave the sigh of sighs: it’s really over!
Only then did it occur to me that the opportunity to reflect on 23 years of living and working in the U.S. had been imprisoned somewhere between 1mg of Xanax and going through the motions of enduring.
Oh, but IT’S OVER!!!
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