Families’ shock as cost to take pets abroad hiked

Some owners say they may have to leave their pets behind after a major travel firm raised its prices.
Families' shock as cost to take pets abroad hiked
Sara's pet Yorkshire Terrier, Bentley

Families moving abroad say they are shocked and devastated they may have to leave pets behind after animal travel costs were hiked.

IAG Cargo, which handles pet transfers for some major airlines, is raising prices from 1 March on select routes.

Sara, whose military family is moving back to the US from the UK, saw the price to ship her two small dogs Ghost and Bentley jump from £1,143 to £5,118.

IAG Cargo said the higher prices reflect the complexity of the service.

A sister company to British Airways, Aer Lingus and Vueling, IAG Cargo is seen as a key provider when it comes to transferring pets, particularly between the US and UK.

The price changes apply to anyone using IAG Cargo to move their animals on certain routes. The shipping firm is often used by military personnel to take their pets abroad when their role is relocated.

‘Devastating’

Sara’s military family is moving back to the US after three years at their duty station in the UK. They are due to ship Bentley and Ghost on a British Airways flight on 1 March.

Under its current policy, IAG Cargo will only accept a booking for a pet transfer up to six weeks before the flight – it then confirms the space has been requested and “pencilled in”.

About two weeks before, once the planes have been scheduled on that route, the booking is confirmed and the price is locked in.

Sara had initially received a quote for the journey from London to Baltimore at £1,143 for both dogs.

But the price has now jumped to £5,118, without administration fees or those for the agency she is using to arrange the cargo shipment.

Sara's dogs Ghost (L) and Bentley (R)

When Sara saw an email with the updated price from her pet shipper on Sunday, she says her eyes filled with tears.

“We’re paying out of our own pocket for this, and we just bought a house in our new location,” she said.

“Our dogs are like our children, we would do anything for them but that doesn’t mean it’s not devastating for our finances.”

Sara’s shipping agent found another airline which could transfer their pets for a lower price. But it means a seven-hour round trip to collect them from a different airport.

She added that while her dogs are smaller breeds, she believes other larger pets could see shipment costs reaching £8,000 to £9,000.

“I already know a number of people who did not bring their pets [to the UK] because of the costs to bring them one way… People are going to be shocked.”

Currently, the US military provides up to $2,000 (£1,588) for one cat or dog’s transfer if personnel are moving between countries. UK Defence does not pay for any pet transport costs.

‘Prices up by 400%’

Dean Faulkner, director of Silver Birch Pet Jets, helps US and UK military families move their pets for permanent station changes. He said some ticket prices had gone up by as much as 400%.

He said many military families would be in “turmoil as they will not be able to confirm the funds”.

Mr Faulkner said he heard of the price changes on Friday and had spent the last few days trying to comfort families or find alternative routes.

“Often young families will have small children and pets and get three months’ notice when restarting their whole lives from scratch,” he said.

“It’s a huge amount to organise, and within days or weeks of arriving one of those family members may be sent on to areas of conflict. The dog or cat is hugely important, it is the family’s companion when one partner is away fighting and this will be hugely distressing for them.

“It’s massively emotional and detrimental to their health and welfare.”

Having been in the industry for 12 years, Mr Faulkner said that such price increases were “unheard of” and “came without warning”.

“Even during Covid, when aircraft were flying without passengers, prices were not going up as much,” he added.

Stephanie, a UK national and military spouse will soon be returning from Florida with her children as her relationship has come to an end.

She said she had originally been quoted $2,600 to ship her dog Toby to London with IAG in June, with the cost totalling some $5,000 to $6,000 when fees and shipping agent costs were added.

Stephanie's pet dog Toby

Stephanie is now terrified she could potentially be facing a “completely unreachable” bill of up to $20,000 with the price increases by IAG Cargo, which she says would leave her in debt.

“I’d have to consider leaving Toby which would destroy my kids. Some people have dogs and some people have family members, the idea of leaving him behind is something I don’t even want to think about,” she told the BBC.

“For people like me, and those in the military who have to pick up and leave everything behind, it’s extremely difficult… keeping families together could become unattainable.”

‘Unaffordable’

The BBC has also received emails from families who said they “simply cannot afford” the price increases ahead of their move to the United States in April on military orders.

Another couple returning to the US due to a permanent station change said the cost of shipping their three-year-old cat would be “exorbitant”, adding to the financial strain they already face.

They urged IAG Cargo to “reconsider” and “support military families”.

Maria Lyle, director of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Families Federation, said: “It sounds like a really difficult situation for those families returning in the short-term with little notice of the change.”

She said as the RAF had hundreds of families serving in the US, the charity would raise the question with the British Embassy in Washington.

IAG Cargo said it had reviewed pet transfer rates across its global portfolio and “adjusted a number of rates across multiple routes to better reflect the complexities and care associated with this product.”

A spokesperson for the firm said: “We know that pets are as important as family members and the specialist service of providing safe and secure transport for live animals is our priority.

“To reflect the complexities of this bespoke service and the cost of providing the very best care for pets travelling as cargo, we have made some amendments to our prices.”

They encouraged any customers with questions about their quotes to contact their sales representative.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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