ABOVE: Maggie checks in at Venice's Marco Polo Airport for her flight to the United States. INSET BELOW: Maggie, Chester, and friend.
Maggie is back at home in the United States, where she'll stay until we return to Venice in the winter. (Ever since Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie left Venice, Maggie has wanted to spend time with her family and friends back home--including Chester, the hyperkinetic little dog in the photo at right, who lives next door to our son and daughter-in-law and often comes over to play when Maggie is visiting.)
The trip from Venice to the U.S. wasn't a disaster, but it went less smoothly than our eastbound flights.
Checking in was easy:
- The staff at Venice's Marco Polo Airport were extremely dog-friendly, and all we had to do was go to the Delta Air Lines counter, pay 200 euros or so for Maggie's ticket, and take Maggie (with her crate) to the oversize-baggage door, where--after a security check--she was rolled away in her crate by a baggage handler.
Going through immigration and changing planes at New York's JFK International Airport was another story. We had 3-1/2 hours between flights, but we almost missed our connection. Here's what happened:
- After standing in line to have our passports checked and waiting a long time for our bags, we waited even longer for Maggie to be delivered to the immigration hall. (We weren't alone: Another passenger, a young mother with a small baby, was wondering when her boxer would show up.)
- Finally, an airport employee told us that we'd need to rent a "Smarte Carte" for $5 before we could claim our dog. Once we had the cart, the employee rolled it away and returned a few minutes later with Maggie in her crate. Unfortunately, the crate barely fit the small and poorly-designed baggage cart. Durant had to grip the cart with one hand and reach across the crate with his other arm to keep the crate from falling off.
- After showing Maggie's health documents to the Customs officer, we learned that we could recheck our bags at an airline desk outside Customs, but we'd need to take Maggie to another Delta terminal on the airport train.
- We managed to get from Terminal 4 to Terminal 3 without incident, where we stood in line at a "special services" counter. When we finally got to the counter, the agent wasn't quite sure what to do with Maggie, so she called out to a pair of baggage handlers who were lounging near the doors. (By this point, we had only 30 minutes until our domestic flight's departure.)
- One of the baggage handlers sprang into action. He used tape to secure Maggie's crate to his baggage cart, said "Follow me!" to Durant, and literally ran up a ramp to the terminal's second level. There, he led Durant into a staff-only area, asked a TSA employee to check Maggie's crate, and told one of his colleagues where Maggie and her crate needed to go. He then led Durant into the terminal's departures level via a side door, escorted Durant to the head of the security line, and said good-bye after accepting a well-deserved $20 tip.
We managed to catch our connecting flight, and so did Maggie.
Later, when we arrived at our home airport, we noticed that a Delta JFK Ground Crew rubber band was clipped to Maggie's leash. Once again, Delta's JFK ground crew had taken care of Maggie during her layover.
If only Delta and JFK management had been half as competent as the airline's ground crew and baggage handlers, going through Customs and connecting to a domestic flight at JFK might have been more pleasant than it was--and less likely to make us dread the thought of another trip through JFK.