Puppy Vs. Airline Personnel: How Misinformation Messed Up Our Vacation Plans

On its surface, the facts of David’s story are the very definition of a “first world problem.” His family missed part of their tropical vacation because misinformed American Airlines personnel wouldn’t let their puppy on the plane. They incorrectly believed that St. Maartens, their destination, requires incoming animals to be microchipped. It’s true that no one has to vacation with their pet, but sometimes transporting an animal by air internationally is necessary due to a move or a family emergency. And when that happens, hope that you don’t encounter the American Airlines employees who cost David’s family a lot of money by keeping them off their flight.

We had planned this vacation for 4 months prior and included our 7-pound little Maltese puppy Marley on the trip. When we arrived at the check-in for American Airlines, we presented all of our travel documents that we had researched ahead of time, including all of the required forms and vaccinations to bring along Marley to the St. Maartens airport. Our destination, St. Maartens, requires documentation proving all current vaccinations, including the rabies shot. My wife specifically contacted St. Maarten’s immigration prior to this trip as well as verified all procedures for bringing the pet with American Airlines on the flight.

When we arrived at 6:30am to JFK with my wife, daughter, son (who was on spring break) and Marley (the puppy), we presented all of the documents to the American Airlines representative at the counter. After looking at our documents, she said we needed proof of a microchip inserted under the skin of our 7-pound dog. She said this was a mandatory requirement for St. Maarten’s immigration. She claimed that without the microchip, she would not allow us to board the flight with our dog. When we protested and explained that we had done all of the required research including physically contacting St. Maarten’s immigration ahead of time, she again refused, so we asked if she could call in a supervisor. The supervisor arrived and we again explained that we had done the required research and that no microchip inserted into our pet was required. We even Googled it on our iPhones to show the two women that no microchip was an actual requirement. We then asked if they would contact immigration at St. Maartens, but unfortunately for us the hour was too early and immigration was not open.

At this point we were running up against the deadline to board the flight, as this process took approximately 30 minutes. As a last ditch effort, my wife called JetBlue and asked about this microchip requirement, as they are the other US based airline that flies from JFK into St. Maartens. The representative confirmed that no microchip was necessary and when we put JetBlue on speakerphone for the American Airlines representatives, both told us that JetBlue is a different airline and that they are not mandated to use their information.

With my wife and children in tears, we were faced with the reality we were not boarding this plane. As our final, last-ditch effort, I told the two representatives that this mistake on their part was going to have grave financial impacts on our family.

Because we had prepaid for two hotel rooms for that night on St. Barths for $400 euros each per night, plus we were going to miss the Win-Air connecting flight from St. Maartens to St. Barths later that morning. This flight cost 212 euros per ticket. In addition, we were faced with the unpleasant reality that we had to haul all of our luggage in the rain back to the long term parking lot where we had just parked and drive another 75 miles back to our house (we even had to pay for a full day of long term parking – $18, even though we were only at the airport for 3 hours).

Not only was it my son’s spring break, but also we had chosen to fly out on March 16th because it was our 21st wedding anniversary where we honeymooned in St. Barths. Approximately 3 hours later after driving home with all family members stunned and dejected, we got on the computer and telephone and researched this matter again. By this time, immigration in St. Maartens was open and it was clear that the representatives from American Airlines had made a mistake, as no microchip was required. We called American Airlines again and they confirmed that the two counter representatives were wrong. Unfortunately we had missed the opportunity for travel that day. The lady on the telephone who looked into the matter told me that the only recourse she had was to refund the price of the tickets and provide us with a credit voucher for the price of the tickets, which expires in one year. We have not confirmed receipt of anything from American Airlines. I detailed to this telephone representative that the damages we incurred:

1. An extra 150 miles round trip drive to JFK in the early morning

2. We purchased 4 one-way tickets on Jetblue for $484 each ($1,936) to travel
out the next day which is approximately more than double the cost of our
original American Airlines flight

3. We lost one night’s stay at our hotel in St. Barths (800 euros)

4. Most significantly – we lost one of our 6 days of vacation that was so clearly unnecessary. Our trip was cut short unfairly.

We believe we should be reimbursed fully for our losses financially and that some accommodation should be made for the fact that we lost approximately 18% of our vacation time and that our anniversary was ruined.

It’s a good idea to microchip your pet, but generally not a good idea to keep entire families off a plane due to erroneous information. We wish David luck in getting some kind of compensation from the airline, but it probably won’t come close to covering his losses.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.