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England must be one of the most popular and busiest destinations for pet travel (worldwide). Right now, thanks to the pandemic and the effect it has had on air travel in general, it is a very tricky destination for us to get pets to.
London Heathrow (LHR) is the most requested airport for pets to be sent to, however, there are some challenges in getting pets to LHR due to the following reasons:

  • All pets to Heathrow have to be processed by the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC). There is only one HARC facility and it has a finite amount of space and as a result, the HARC issued the following statement:

“The Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC) team have worked extremely hard during the Covid – 19 pandemic to ensure we can remain open throughout, facilitate as many movements as possible, keep our charges the same but most importantly maintain the highest levels of animal welfare. Staff numbers for this period are the same as 2019 and we have no plans to change this. We have noticed that over the last few weeks the number of movements has begun to increase significantly hence this statement. Before the Covid pandemic the HARC was running at maximum capacity, albeit not every day, but enough for us to realise that new/updated facilities are required. This is a separate project the City of London, HAL and their stakeholders are still working towards. I am here to advise today on the here and now. The HARC team recognise that there is backlog of animals that need to get to their final destination, and we want to work with all parties to make this happen. This backlog does however mean the HARC is over capacity on a daily basis and this is something we cannot allow to continue with no end date in sight. For that reason the HARC have taken the decision to implement some interim measures/restrictions. We hope this will allow us to maintain a more manageable throughput but if this is not the case, we will have to consider additional, more restrictive measures. The current measures are shown below:

  • There will be a limit on the number of the animals the HARC can accept on any one day.
  • The HARC will still not be accepting any dog and cat shipments on weekends unless in exceptional circumstances.
  • Each flight will be restricted to approximately 5-7 animals. That being said the total number of pre-notified animals over the course of the day will also be taken in account and if over capacity on that day the shipment will not be accepted.
  • Larger shipments can be considered but adequate notification will be required, of at least 21 days. If adequate notice is provided this does not mean the shipment is guaranteed, shipments already pre-notified will take precedence but we will do our best to accommodate depending on space.
  • The HARC will only accept pre-notifications from airlines. These will in turn be added to HARCs daily notification database (PHILIS). There is no time limit to the pre-notification period. The sooner the confirmed booking pre-notification is received from the airline the sooner it can be allocated against that day’s throughput.
  • At present there is no charge for booked shipments that do not arrive. We are aware that other airports make a charge for this, so it will be monitored closely and reviewed.

Apologies if these requirements seem draconian but this is the only way we can manage throughput, safely facilitate these shipments and maintain the highest animal welfare standards. We will of course regularly review the situation as things change so quickly these days and get back to you all accordingly.”

  • For pets travelling as cargo, the booking process works very differently to that of people. For cargo, all airlines are only able to see into their systems from around 3 weeks prior to the date of departure and that is when they can process booking requests.
  • Some airlines allow us to submit booking requests in advance but most of the other, more regular airlines that we use and that are an option to LHR will only begin processing our booking requests within a 3 week period.

So, we are finding that by the time we get into the 3-week booking period in order to submit the booking request for a PAWrent’s requested departure date, the HARC is already at capacity and cannot accept our request. This is where it gets challenging – airlines will not look at our booking request in advance of the 3 week booking period and by that time, the HARC have no space.
To get around this challenge, we started to use some other airlines that allow us to request the booking space far in advance of the 3 week period (such as Ethiopian Airlines, Swiss Air, Egypt Air). These airlines then request space from HARC space before they become fully booked, we were having a little bit more luck in getting space. We were able to use Egypt Air for assistance, however, they have just informed us that they are having a type of aircraft change that does not have sufficient ventilation for live animals. With this in mind we are now no longer using Egypt Air as an option for the foreseeable future.
We always shop around and try to find an option into LHR but there are severe capacity constraints across the board. Therefore, our PAWrents are starting to have to consider alternative airport destinations in England. Here are the 3 airports we generally send to:

  • London Heathrow – This airport can process both commercial and non-commercial shipments but have severe constraints at the HARC
  • London Gatwick – This airport can process both commercial and non-commercial shipments BUT Emirates are the only airline that can accept live animals to Gatwick Airport and they are very expensive and they do not accept any snub nose breeds.
  • Manchester Airport – This airport cannot process commercial shipments which means that all pets to Manchester have to travel either within 5 days of their owner or the appointed pet travel buddy.

In addition to the above, not all airlines accept all types of breed of dogs and cats so the plan, routing, destination and cost could vary during the process.
Industry changes like the above are out of our hands and we ask for your patience and understanding. We recommend that you have provisional plans made for your pets, in the event that your pets do not travel when and as you were hoping.

This will not last forever and things will go back to “normal” but for now, we have to work within these confines, and we are trying to do so to the best of our ability.

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