Considering travel with Thai Airways?
To offer a little background, my wife and I lived in Thailand for over 3 years and 2 of that we spent involved with a local dog rescue that is trying to help deal with the street dog population in Thailand. The shelter also provides a safe environment for sick/injured dogs that have been brought in from the street. During our involvement we became very attached to a dog named Tam.
For those that are familiar with Chiang Mai, Tam was rescued from a drain in the moat by the Thai Military, along with her litter of puppies in 2014. You can see the story here http://www.carefordogs.org/mother-and-puppies-rescued-from-drain/. All of her puppies were quickly adopted, however Tam remained at the shelter. Care for Dogs is a wonderful organization, doing great things for Chiang Mai and surrounding communities, but a shelter is no place for a dog to spend years of their life in. In March of 2016 my wife and I adopted Tam and brought her home and she has been a wonderful addition to our lives since then. You can read a brief snippet about Tam’s adoption here http://www.carefordogs.org/tam-happy-ever-after/.
For a myriad of reasons, we decided that Thailand was not the place for us long term and we began researching what was required to bring Tam with us to Europe. While there are many pet relocation companies, we discovered that they charge outrageous prices to relocate pets (we’ve received quotes from $2,000 up to $7,000 USD) and transporting Tam as cargo would include several days of travel and kennel boarding for her. As the street dogs in Thailand are generally not treated very well, Tam can be temperamental with strangers. Being able to bring her with us on our flight(s) as excess baggage (AVIH) was absolutely critical in our decision-making process.
While the requirements vary slightly from the US and Europe, the process is not terribly complicated (microchip, updated rabies vaccination and current titer test, health check, and export license). In July, we started researching the various airline carrier policies to see who offered the ability to travel with a dog as excess baggage (AVIH). After speaking with the booking agent at the Thai Airways Corporate Offices in Chiang Mai, we decided to make our travel arrangements with them. One of the reasons we chose Thai Airways is that our connecting flight in Frankfurt was thru Lufthansa who also allows for dogs to be transported as excess baggage. Lufthansa’s policy on transporting dogs as excess baggage (AVIH) only requires that the crate for a large dog be within specific dimensions (which Tam’s crate was). https://www.lufthansa.com/online/portal/lh/th/infoservice/baggage?nodeid=305559505&l=en Frankfurt airport handles millions of animals a year and our connecting flight with Lufthansa would take us directly to Faro, Portugal. This was the most direct route (24 hours travel time) and would minimize the stress to Tam. The booking agent at the Thai Airways Corporate offices told us that a dog up to 40kg. (animal and crate) would be $750 USD to transport her as excess baggage to Europe (IATA TC2 and TC3 regions). The agent’s quote was consistent with the Thai Airways Pet Travel policy found here https://www.thaiairways.com/en_KR/plan_my_trip/travel_information/Pet_Travel.page. As it was also much cheaper to fly her as excess baggage than to use a pet relocation service, it was a win-win for all of us.
Our initial reservation was completed via the Thai Airways website, at the end of July. We were scheduled to depart Chiang Mai on the evening of Christmas day and would arrive in Portugal the following day. The day after we booked our flights, we returned to the Thai Airways offices to provide them with Tam’s microchip number. The booking agent updated our reservation and provided us with a printed confirmation of our flights. Shortly thereafter we noticed the following entry on our booking confirmation:
- SSR AVIH TG HK1 ONE DOG THAI MIXED/32KG/100X67X75CM. MIND MAX WEIGHT 32KG PER PIECE AND MAX LENGTH 200CM/S3/P1
* SSR = Special Service Request, AVIH = Animal in Hold
As requested by the agent, we returned at the beginning of December to confirm Tam’s reservation on our flight. In light of the entry on our booking confirmation noted above, we confirmed with the agent (once again) that we would have no issues including Tam as excess baggage on our flights. To avoid any confusion when we checked in for our flights, we asked that the SSR AVIH on our booking confirmation be updated to reflect the 40kg weight limit. The booking agent at the corporate offices called the Thai Airways offices in Bangkok and Lufthansa Airlines to confirm, once again, that we could in fact fly with Tam if she was under 40kg. After confirming with both, the booking agent updated the SSR on our booking confirmation to reflect the 40kg weight for each leg of our travels. With our reservation confirmation updated, we felt confident that we would be able to take Tam without any issues. All of the travel documents would be verified in Chiang Mai, Tam would be checked through at Bangkok and we would retrieve her in Frankfurt for medical examination and entry to the EU. Lufthansa would have put her on our connecting flight to Faro as excess baggage.
During the next couple of weeks, we completed the remaining steps (health certificate and export license) to take Tam with us to Portugal. We’d been preparing Tam for months to get her to feel safe in her crate, how to drink from the water dispenser, and walked her vigorously to ensure her weight (including crate and accessories) was below 40kg. We invested a lot of time, money and especially energy in this process. We knew this would be a stressful journey for her (us too) and we tried to do everything we could to minimize the stress as much as we possibly could.
We arrived at Chiang Mai International Airport on Christmas Day with Tam, and all of our belongings approximately 2 ½ hours before our flight. We provided the ticketing agent with the printed reservation confirmation (including all of the updates) that had been provided to us by the booking agent at the Corporate Offices. When we checked in, we had other issues regarding our baggage and associated fees but that is secondary to what followed. We loaded Tam (crate and all) onto the luggage scale and the total weight was 39.8 kg. We knew that her weight would be close to 40kg so you can imagine how relieved we were when we saw that she was under the limit. Shortly thereafter, our excitement was cut short when the ticketing agent told us that Tam could not travel with us on our flight because she was over 32kg.
There we stood at the Thai Airways counter on Christmas day, after months of preparation, checking and double-checking that we had complied with all of the travel and export requirements, ensuring that the 40kg. weight limit was allowed AND DOCUMENTED on our booking confirmation, in total disbelief that we were being told that we would not be allowed to take Tam with us.
We spent 2 hours at the ticketing counter dealing with an agent who seemed entirely indifferent about the circumstances. The only explanation that she was able to provide was “Bangkok not accept”. We had to ask for a supervisor and eventually the highest person in charge for Thai Airways at the airport. After speaking with the Supervisor and being told once again that Tam could not fly with us, the Duty Manager eventually came down and told us that the booking agent in the Corporate Offices should not have made the reservation for Tam and that Tam would not be able to travel with us (regardless of what was on the Thai Airways website or the printed booking confirmation).
With 30 minutes to our departure, our friend from the shelter, told us he would take care of Tam until we could make alternative arrangements. With no time to say goodbye, we headed for the gate in tears, without our girl. To say that this experience with Thai Airways ruined our Christmas and the beginning of our new journey is putting it lightly. When we arrived in Frankfurt and checked in with Lufthansa, the ticketing agent was confused because our booking confirmation indicated that we would be arriving with a dog, yet there we were, without Tam. We were still in disbelief about the whole experience with Thai Airways. To confirm that there wasn’t an issue with Lufthansa we inquired with the ticketing agent about weight / size limits and she told us that the issue was not with Lufthansa Airlines and they would have put Tam on our flight without any issues.
We received an email survey from Thai Airways after our trip was complete, but it certainly was not enough for us to convey our dissatisfaction with the situation. After some research on the Internet I managed to locate the email address for several Directors, including the Director of Customer Relations & Services Quality Department. On 2 January, I directed a lengthy email to three Directors at Thai Airways describing our experience. I also included details about Tam’s rescue as well as our involvement at the dog shelter in Chiang Mai. Several days later I received an email confirmation from Thai Airways Customer Relations Department that they were forwarded my email by the Director of Customer Relations & Services Quality Department and that they would be conducting an investigation into our situation.
On 10 January, I sent a follow-up email to the same Directors and the Customer Relations Department inquiring about our case. On 12 January I received an email from the Chief of the Customer Relations Service Department regarding the investigation that they completed on our case. In the Chief’s response, she acknowledges that Thai Airways Staff at Chiang Mai International Airport was in the wrong and should have accepted Tam on our flight, but she indicates that because we were given additional baggage allowance (as a gesture of goodwill) that there was nothing further Thai Airways would do for us.
My last email to Thai Airways was sent on Friday, 12 January and was directed to the Customer Relations Department, the Chief, (2) Directors and (2) Vice Presidents. In it I expressed that while we appreciated the gesture, including the additional bags was a soft cost to Thai Airways and that I would have gladly left behind our excess bags in exchange for Tam. I also highlighted that bringing Tam on our flight as excess baggage was the most critical part of our decision in selecting Thai Airways. As of Thursday, 18 January, I have not had a response from anyone at Thai Airways, nothing, zero, zip, zilch, nada.
Everything in our bags could be replaced, but there is a void in our lives right now because Tam is not with us. The part that really chaps my ass is that this wasn’t a failure of just a single ticketing agent at Thai Airways, this was also a failure of the Supervisor, the Duty Manager, and whomever the ticketing agent spoke to in Bangkok. Quite honestly, I think the Supervisor and the Duty Manager were more concerned with not “losing face” than they were with trying to properly address our issue. Any Manager with a modicum of customer relations skills (especially for an organization with 20,000 employees world-wide) would make absolutely sure that when they have 2 customers standing at their counter, in tears, that they were 100% correct about their policies and procedures. That just wasn’t the case with Thai Airways management team.
3 weeks after our flights and several emails later it’s clear to me that Thai Airways, is not interested in doing what is right, they are only interested in the bottom line. I have not written this just to give caution to anyone considering traveling with a pet on Thai Airways, but to highlight that if you have any issues during your travels with Thai Airways, don’t expect much in the way of customer service, you can forget about the “service” or “relations” part. Don’t be fooled by the Thai Smile, it’s an empty marketing gimmick. (As of 22 January, Thai Airways has not responded to my email on 12 January)
If you know someone traveling to or from Thailand, especially anyone traveling with a pet, please feel free to share this with them. If I can help someone else avoid this kind of travel debacle (and heartache), then it’s worth the time to have written this.