Loading Erin into the belly of an airplane and flying to Europe remains one of the most stressful things I've ever done, the mind conjures up everything that can go wrong and for good reason as many pets do not survive the rigors of flying. Recently turned 3 she was in the prime of her life and more than capable of surviving this journey but whether I would endure was another story as I'd remain a nervous wreck until touching down in Frankfurt. Upon accepting employment in Germany the logistics of pet travel began; discussions with her veterinarian, airline representatives, and my new employer took place to ensure this would be as stressfree as possible. Initial itineraries were rejected by myself due to multiple layovers or excessive flight time but eventually a schedule was agreed upon, we would fly directly from Savannah to JFK with a brief layover and then nonstop to Frankfurt International Airport. Erin received the necessary examinations, vaccinations, and documents that would allow her to avoid quarantine and stroll out the door by my side but first we'd have to get there.
Arriving at Savannah's Airport, I was immediately informed dogs are required to be crated at all times but I felt it was important that Erin got one last potty break so we wandered down to a small grassy area where I lovingly assured her everything would be okay; on reflection I was trying to soothe my own tattered nerves. Into the large crate she went prior to the skycap wheeling her to the check-in counter where all travel documents were verified and then off to the loading area but not before I opened the door for one final kiss and hug. Standing at the terminal window I anxiously observed hundreds of bags being loaded onto the airplane but no animal crate was ever spotted before the boarding process began. From the assigned window seat I strained to catch a glimpse of her being lifted onboard but the effort was futile so a flight attendant was flagged down where I insisted she confirm the presence of Erin down below; in several minutes she returned to inform me that the pilot personally went below to say "hello" and he thought she was very cute. That was comforting as my worst nightmare was her being loaded onto the wrong plane or left behind in the loading area while I'm on my way to our new home.
Into the air we soared toward JFK where upon landing she was promptly whisked to the international terminal along with my luggage thus I never laid eyes upon her in New York. Inquiries into whether I could see her were flatly rejected due to strict security concerns and that was understandable as 9/11 had occurred only two months prior thus somewhere in the bowels of JFK she waited alone. As before I informed a passing flight attendant of Erin thus she scampered off only to return with news that she is content down below and will not be making the long flight alone; several other dogs were in the climate controlled hold beside her. The plane landed in heavy snowfall where it seemed the aircraft moved towards the terminal much too slowly, I was simultaneously cursing the pilot for taking his sweet time and praying for Erin's well-being. My patience was severely tested that day as everyone seemed to impede my path to passport control, clearing customs, baggage claim, and reuniting with my beloved friend; to me it was irrelevant that Frankfurt International Airport is one of the busiest hubs on Earth.
Our personal belongings were collected, stacked high upon a dolly thus the wait for Erin to appear began. The baggage carousel crowd thinned out considerably leaving me with mostly clear views of the doorways so I anxiously scanned them all in hopes of seeing a gray crate marked with "Erin Smith" being rolled out. Before long, a set of double doors swung outward to reveal an animal crate atop a rolling handcart while a liver/white face was seen peering through the metal grating and I dashed over to welcome my beloved friend. To my knees I fell, flung the door open and the most joyous of reunions took place until a customs agent interrupted our moment; the dog was to be left in place while I followed him to complete the necessary claim paperwork.
Latching the door, I spun to walk away but took only a few steps before Erin unleashed a series of barks that rang out across the baggage area, afraid of being left again she implored me to not leave thus loving words were heaped upon her. While the agent scanned the thick folder pertaining to Erin, I maintained eye contact with her across the divide; "Daddy is here Daddy is here" "I promise to not leave you" were shouted in her direction as arriving passengers streamed by. That moment is very significant in our relationship as it was the only unprovoked bark directed towards me in nearly 12 years, at no other time did she attempt to gain my attention via a bark so that remains clearly etched in my memory; guessing being apart for the first time and 10 hours on an airplane was enough for her.
And together we strolled out into the swirling snow where a new chapter was awaiting us....