Taking KLM flights with your Dog in Cabin!
I was totally stoked to fly KLM. I had heard good things about pet travel with the airline so was looking forward to living the KLM experience myself. I wanted to report back to you Dear Reader on Taking KLM flights with your Dog in Cabin.
It started off very well on the Canadian side. There is a bus connecting Ottawa to Montreal, which is included in your ticket price if flying with KLM. That is really handy, I assure you. When you book your flight, you are issued a boarding pass, which is also your bus ticket.
(Note: This bus is a KLM bus, not a Greyhound bus. Greyhound buses leave from their own large bus terminal in Ottawa, not the train station.)
Now, that said, I have to mention that although service animals, including ESAs, are allowed on the bus, pets are not.
Please note that it is not possible to take this bus if you are travelling with a wheelchair, with a pet (unless it is an assistance animal), or as an unaccompanied minor.
This mystifies me since you can take your pets on a KLM flight and the bus is to get you to the airport so you can board your flight. This is an odd disconnect. (And the bus isn’t handicapped friendly either.)
But as an ESA, I was able to take the bus. (To learn more about ESAs, please go here. My friend Gigi did a great job of explaining it all.) No one even really noticed me or cared that I was there.
The bus arrived at the Ottawa train station 10 minutes before departure time. That’s a good start! Since things were uneventful, I decided to start my nap right then and there.
Once at the airport, we found the KLM counter and, armed with our paperwork, we waited in line.
KLM has a pretty comprehensive website for pet travel. For pets travelling in cabin like me, this is what their site said at the time of our trip in the fall of 2014:
Pets in the cabin
A small cat or dog can be taken into the Economy Class cabin of most KLM flights, and in Business Class on most KLM flights within Europe:
In a suitable pet travel bag with max. dimensions 46 (length) x 28 (width) x 24 (height) cm, or in a hard kennel with max. dimensions 46 (length) x 28 (width) x 20 (height) cm. Your pet must be able to stand up and lay down comfortably.
Total weight of pet + travel bag or kennel may be max. 8 kg (18 lbs).
The kennel must be put under the seat in front of you. It is not allowed to take your pet out of the travel bag or kennel.
Always make a reservation by telephone or through My Trip at least 48 hours in advance. Please note that we have room for a limited number of kennels in the cabin. It is not possible to reserve a seat in the Economy Comfort zone when travelling with your pet in the cabin. Unfortunately it is also not possible to bring a pet in the cabin in Business Class on intercontinental KLM flights, because there is no space for your pet under the seat in front of you.
As you can see, there are some restrictions regarding seat allocation. Make sure you get all that straight before you book so you don’t have a nasty surprise. This is especially so if you are booking your flight online rather than through a travel agent.
Also, since you telephone to inform them that you will have a pet with you, I recommend you get any telephone conversation confirmed by email, and print the email and bring it with you.
(Note: There’s extra information on KLM’s website regarding travelling with big dogs. Be sure to read that if your pup is, well … not quite puppy size!)
Sadly, KLM’s website fails to adequately explain the service dog policy clearly. The website mentions that service dogs can travel (we assume in cabin) and that they are not counted toward the maximum number of pets per flight, but the website doesn’t say anything else. Based on that, we assumed that KLM did not recognize the ESA designation and that a pet fee would apply. But, our travel agent always calls to ask and surprise, surprise, KLM does recognize the ESA designation! So we sent KLM the proof they required. KLM needed the documents at least 72 hours prior to departure, but we were prompt and sent it in three months before our flight!
For proof, you need:
- Letter by a professional mental health care professional (no family doctors) stating that the patient (in this case, Mom) is under their care and that they have seen this patient in the last 6 months at least once if not more frequently. The letter must also state, in very specific language and wording, why the ESA is required for the patient. Must include the licensing number of the mental health practitioner as well. They will check that it is legit.
- As annex A, include a copy of the ESA registration confirmation with ID number and the service animal registration database.
- As Annex B, a copy of an international health certificate.
That is a lot of paper but we had it all, so we prepared to fax it off. But, finding where to fax the papers turned out to be a mission in itself. I recommend calling KLM. In the end, the papers were faxed to somewhere in KLM’s headquarters in Amsterdam. We requested an email confirmation that, YES, I had been registered as an ESA, securing my spot on all of our flights. Pets’ bookings are not confirmed so getting the email from KLM made us feel a little more confident.
And this is where things with KLM went a little off track.
When we arrived at the KLM counter, there was NO record of me in the database. Luckily, there were no pets flying on the two flights (Montreal to Amsterdam and then Amsterdam to Nice), so the supervisor was called and she quickly fixed the issue. The bipeds asked at the same time that KLM make sure our return flights (Zurich to Amsterdam and then Amsterdam to Montreal) were up to snuff in the database.
It was annoying and slowed down our progress but we managed it all just fine. And so we enjoyed our trip to France and Switzerland.
Imagine our surprise, then, when on our return, we almost missed our flight from Zurich to Amsterdam and then to Montreal because … wait for it … I wasn’t registered in the system!
And to compound the problem, our flight was already booked with the maximum number of in-cabin pets. The quota had been met! The bipeds were told that we could not board. The system works on a first come, first served, which I find to be highly flawed. You can’t pre-book a pet and, apparently, KLM isn’t good about pre-booking ESAs either.
Now folks, I am an ESA for good reason. Mom has a terrible anxiety disorder. This situation was really, really, NOT making things easy on her. Her anxiety was going through the roof! As we waited and waited for the agent at the counter to speak to someone at headquarters—where they weren’t answering the phones—I started to worry not just about missing our flight but also about Mom. She wasn’t looking so good.
At that point, Dad lost it. He grabbed my ESA tag, the papers, and the email from KLM head office confirming I was registered on the flights, and did what we never ever have done before: He Threatened. (He was, after all, a lawyer for years.) To solve the problem, KLM registered me as a service animal—ESAs are NOT service animals—and got us on the flight. We boarded just as they were making the last call.
That was WAY too close for comfort, not to mention FAR too stressful, especially for Mom. She spent the flight between Zurich and Amsterdam trying desperately to keep an anxiety attack from taking hold. I sat quietly and calm in my carrier as she petted me—her hand snuck into my carrier where she had unzipped a corner—deriving the comfort she needed by my presence. By the time we arrived in Amsterdam for our four hour layover, she was better. Still on edge, but better. We then were able to discover just how awesome Schipol airport is.
As for the flights? The planes were great. The service good. Note that during take-off and landing, pets in their carriers MUST be under the seat in front of you. ESAs may be allowed to stay in their carrier on their biped’s lap at the crew’s discretion. Their decision is based on weather conditions and other safety issues.
On one of our four flights, a crew member insisted I be placed under the seat at Mom’s feet. When the supervisor found out, he came over and apologized, saying that the crew member “does not like dogs, but your dog is an ESA, yes?” Mom nodded and the supervisor insisted that I be allowed back on Mom’s lap, in my carrier. That’s an example of how “at the crew’s discretion” can be … interesting.
We flew on the MD 11 and we found the leg room and space to be pretty good on all planes. We liked that the food was prepared with some environmental considerations. Some of the food was organic and included items such as free roaming chicken that came in a little box explaining the ethical nature of the farm. We really liked this. The flights themselves were uneventful. And we got to where we needed to go. No luggage lost or any other major hiccups.
In review: KLM, we wanted so much to love you. But that mix up with the registration has left a bitter taste. Would we fly with you again? Possibly, BUT we would call the day before to confirm again that I am registered rather than wait until check-in to confirm. The fact that the response when we complained was basically a “sorry this happened, here is a voucher” did not help. A puny voucher (update: A voucher only valid for flights booked directly with KLM and thus not applicable to any wholesaler prices – REALLY?)we have to use within a year on YOUR airline is not an apology, nor does it tell us how you plan to fix the problem. And when we asked, “How do you plan on making sure this does not happen again?” we got … cyber crickets. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Zip. Zero. Not cool KLM. Not cool.