Julien…

This post today is a bittersweet, though I feel the need to write it to the semi-public audience that may or may not ever read it. Nothing about photography but the story of my trip from Denver to Paris a few weeks ago.

I flew Lufthansa airlines from Denver to Frankfurt with my dog Thelma and my cat Julien. Both of them have and were in their airline approved travel crates and I sent them off in Denver after a quick check in the bomb detection room at Denver International Airport. This is not the first time for their travel so I did not have much apprehension about the trip but then things went bad.

The flight from Denver to Frankfurt Germany was about 30 minutes or so late and I missed my connection flight to Paris. The same thing happened last year as I was flying through Washington DC on my way to Denver and the animals were stuck in baggage for an extra 4 hours while we waited on another plane to take us home. It was hard on the animals but I had clear communication from all airport staff that they were fine and in a secure area. So, with this experience, my apprehension of something going wrong was muted a bit.

Julien the cat relaxing in the sun after a hard day of eating mice

Well, the desk at Lufthansa in Frankfurt could not tell me anything about their status this time. I asked the desk person several times and she kept calling down to the tarmac and the baggage handlers and no news. I finally went and sat by the window at the terminal to see if I could catch a glimpse of the crates being loaded and I told myself I would not get on the plane if I didn’t see their crates. Well low and behold, a single tractor with both crates showed up in front of the plane. I could see Thelma in hers and Julien’s crate was right next to Thelma’s so I though all was good and I boarded the plane without another word from Lufthansa.

Welcome home to Paris…The flight from Frankfurt to Paris is quite short at about an hour and I arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport and made my way to pick up my suitcases before going to the large item pickup for the animals and I heard my name over the loudspeaker to go to baggage area one and I assumed it was just to get my cat and dog.

Well that’s when everything went wrong. The lady at the Lufthansa desk said someone had let Julien out of his crate while taking him out of the plane in Frankfurt, they are denying this now, but more on that in a bit. She had a report in front of her, written in English that said the cat was let out of his cage and escaped during the deboarding process and they have not found him.

So Lufthansa had lost my cat in Frankfurt and they let me board the plane thinking he was on board. I’m in Paris now, helpless to go and try and find my frightened cat who I assumed was smashed by one of the maniacal tarmac vehicles at the airport. The desk person at Lufthansa in Paris made a couple calls to Germany and I suppose her supervisors and in the end she wrote Julien missing as a lost cat carrier. During all of this frustration and anguish, Thelma had not been brought down to me yet, so my tension was through the ceiling. Michelle and Margot were waiting on me outside the secured baggage area with no news and no way for me to speak with them. After about 5 minutes more they brought the empty cat crate to me with no words, they just handed it to me. Why in the hell did they give me the empty crate?? After running up and down the baggage area at Charles De Gaulle looking for Thelma with two of the staff members from the baggage desk, she came in safe and sound about 10 minutes later. The longest wait I’ve ever had for my dog coming off the plane, in all it was about 45minutes to an hour for her to get from the plane to the terminal. Julien is missing and assumed dead or living in the forest surrounding Frankfurt airport.

Now it was time for me to go out and see Michelle and Margot after a month apart and explain to my 4 year old daughter why her cat is not in his crate. After our initial exchange of hugs and kisses, Margot asked why the cat crate was empty and looked for Julien to be on a leash behind me (which he would never stand for a leash). I took the easy way out and said that he got off the plane and decided to live in Germany for a while and I hoped that he would choose to come home soon.

Next steps were for us to take up the issue with Lufthansa, hoping they would be working finding the cat and staying in communication with me. Well I was wrong. I called Lufthansa in Paris the next day to find status and what my next steps will be. She was actually somewhat polite for a customer service person in France but she said there was no status and I should just check on the website for any new news and there would be no more reason to ever call her again. Stuck. Next, I called United Airlines with whom I made the reservation for this flight and they were very apologetic and quickly sent me a voucher for $200 in flights. What the hell am I going to do with a $200 flight coupon and what kind of restitution for an animals life is that? I managed not to cuss him out but simply hung up on him and decided my fight would be best spent in Germany with Lufthansa. So, I call the baggage claim office of Lufthansa, I’m not sure where this was but it was a 1-800 number and I met with a very nasty lady who said that the crate had not been found, remember I have the crate, and I reminded her that it isn’t a crate and that they lost my cat. She, in a few words, told me to get bent. She could not do anything and she told me to check the website. My only recourse was to send a letter to Lufthansa customer service, which by the way does not take phone calls! You can only initiate communication with these people via a web form, fax or email. I’m very frustrated at this point and begin to give up.

Michelle in her infinite wisdom, goes to the web for help. She finds someone who listens to this story and sincerely cares. She finds www.petflight.com where Chris agrees to help us. Chris sends our story to the media relations department of Lufthansa and within a day or so, we were contacted by a team lead at Lufthansa “Customer Service”.

The gentleman at Lufthansa is at least somewhat appologetic and begins to help me find Julien.  He asks the right questions by getting a description and photo of Julien along with his EU microchip number for valid ID.  He goes on to tell me that there is no way that someone would have let him out as it is against the law but I heard and read differently in Paris.  The cage is not damaged in anyway and it was locked when it showed up to me at CDG.  The flight was long but I don’t think it was long enough for my cat to figure out the lock on his travel carrier.  I am trying not to be accusatory towards anyone at this point of the case, i just want my cat back.

A short time after providing him this information, he calls back and says there is good news and weird news.  Julien is alive and well!!!  They found him at Frankfurt airport and sent him to a shelter where his microchip was read and he was put up for adoption!  His address and information is to us in France on his chip, the shelter in Frankfurt still let him go.  So, at this point my temper is about to explode but then it gets even worse.  He tells me that Julien must have been a very charming cat as they are usually not adopted so quickly, and the family that got him wants us to let them keep him.  What do you say to that???  I said hell NO!!  Just get me my cat back!  You lost him and it’s your responsiblity to right the wrongs that happened with the baggage services at Frankfurt and you’re baggage people who did not take any information at the time or the people who let me leave Germany without my cat.  I’m at a loss, he says he’ll make some calls and see what he can do.

It is now Monday morning in France and I have several more hours until he’ll be working in New York, so I wait.  I will keep this post updated as I learn more.  If you have stumbled upon this post and have read this far, please send it to everyone you know who travels with pets.  It is important that airlines take responsibility for people who have to travel with their pets.

Julien the cat on the bridge, at his home in Patinges France

One thought on “Julien…”

  1. Hi there. I found your blog as I was trolling craigslist, wistfully hoping that I would miraculously find a job that would take me and my family back to France. If I were still a student (haven’t been for about fifteen years!) I would want to be your bike helper for the summer. But it is your story about Julien that really got me! I have several pets and am sympathetic to your situation. I have not experienced that myself, but jeez, my heart goes out to you and your family. I flew Lufthansa in January to Belgium, and could not believe the incredibly poor customer service and racism that I saw (the flight attendants were HORRIBLE to the large contingent of passengers from India). Unfortunately, they are one of the only airlines that flies direct from Portland, OR to Europe.
    Where in the Loire Valley are you? My grandparents lived for 20+ years near St. Branchs, Cormery and Esvres – about 20 minutes east of Tours. We love the region and are bummed that this past fall they move HERE! We live an incredibly beautiful part of America, (Yamhill County, Oregon – about 40 miles SW of Portland), but jeez, I sure miss France!
    Good luck with Julien
    Sylla

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