Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Accra - New York City with dogs and bikes

Our flight was leaving at 20:25, 4th of May, from Accra. We left the hotel at about 14 o'clock to reserve time to get sorted out how to deal with Hertta. The traffic was light and we waited for a little while at the airport until the Turkish Airline counter opened. The first nasty surprise was that our dogs were not yet confirmed and there was a risk that we could not fly at all!

Last impressions from Ghana.
There we went once...
Me in the taxi with Hertta ...
... being all excited.
Lyra was bored.
Two hours later(!!!) and we finally got the "go ahead", paid the fee for the dogs (210 USD for each dog in the cabin and 420 USD for Hertta in the hold) in cash. We proceeded with the check-in and clarified how to get Hertta on board. Now we could relax a little bit and I had some quick lunch, Skippy some juice and I got the change to use the rest of our money.
Waiting... waiting... waiting... and more waiting...
It was 19 o'clock, time to board and we brought Hertta to the agreed place when suddenly the customs guy came and wanted copies of the dogs' certification papers. Everybody looked at me and I got the feeling like “Obroni” take care of your stuff. I just told the Turkish Airlines guy to get those (damn) copies as I just paid myself sick on getting our dogs aboard. He then mumbled something and disappeared. It appeared to be taking forever and then at around 19:30 he finally returned and handed the papers to customs. Boarding started 19:36! Hertta was already gone by then and we could make it now also towards boarding. Again some cueing at passport control and security check and straight to the gate – it was almost the take-off time. Anyway we made it!
Hertta ready for her great journey.

A few moments after take-off the captain announced “Prepare for landing”. I though WTF is now happening? I asked the stewardess what is the matter and she said happily we are landing. ÄÄÄÄÄÖÖÖÖÖmmmmhhhh??????????? Did we take the wrong flight?

Nope! The flight landed in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, for an intermediate stop before continuing to Istanbul. No wonder the flight time was around 10 hours. No worries then and we enjoyed the absolute stunning onboard entertainment selection. It took me almost 15 minutes to browse through the 70+ movies, the games and other stuff :D

+1 country

Once arrived in Istanbul the only option to allow girls to do their business was to enter Turkey. There were no “accidents” during this 10 hours flight – I am so proud of girls that they could hold it in. So passport control and customs and then finding a green spot for the princesses to pee. Some 20 minutes later we went back to see whether we are allowed to visit Hertta. As it turned out the only way to visit her was to take her out of transit area and check her in again. That sounded extremely risky to me. In worst case it would totally confuse the system to take her out and put her back in resulting that she would be missing the flight and stay another 24 hours in Istanbul. We decided to let her be where she was and hope for the best.
Now again passport control and security check. Nobody asked us why we came to Turkey or why we enter/exit the country within one hour. Our answer would have been to let our girls out to pee.
Spielverderber! Anyway we had our dogs visible on lead when walking through the airport and we got a lot of new admirers in Istanbul. It seems that besides the religion people were really dog friendly. A small and positive surprise.
Lyra and Ulpu "marking" Istanbul (been there and done that) :)
We had a quick snack and got ready for another 11 hour flight. This time we had the last row and since the plane was not fully booked I occupied right away another seat – a good choice. Then the stewardess came and told that we cannot fly with two dogs in the cabin, one must go to cargo! WTF is this again??? OMG – I so hate amateurs when they pretend to be professionals. People – ReadYourOwnF***ingManuals!!! Another 20 minutes later the flight personal got the ok to go and took off for JFK.

Girls were very bored and Lyra started to sulk after 8 hours or so – poor girl. The flight went by without problems and the landing was very very harsh (Hans – dieser Pilot musste vermutlich ein Darlehen aufnehmen um die Landegebühr zu finanzieren!) - it bounced a few times and the plane went heavily to one side – spooky in the last minutes. When the engines stopped, the cargo unloading started right away and I could hear Hertta barking. I was sooo relieved she was alive and had energy to bark – a good sign. It looked like the poor girl had been all the time in the cage – all those 27hours!
Hertta on her way from the hold to the family reunion.
We went through immigration and heard Hertta barking in the baggage claim area. We could hardly wait to get there and the family re-unification was great!!! Everything went fine with customs. They just wanted to see the dogs' certification papers and we were good to go into the USA. Rich waited for us at the airport, and after girls took care of their business we went to David's and Francine's place who offered us accommodation in their adventure loft. Thank you very very much for your help, we really appreciated it.

Rich picked us up from JFK.

Getting the bikes
Next day it was around midday when I went back to JFK to clear the bikes which arrived with the cargo flight the day before (in order to safe money my attempt was to get the bikes out without a broker). First it went pretty smooth as I went to Turkish Airlines and got the freight papers. Then I had to go to customs which happened to be on the extreme other side of the cargo areas. Well the shuttle bus took me there and I spent most of my time by waiting for the bus. At customs I asked the guy where to go and he told me to wait in line. Then I got REALLY worried. Many brokers had those heavy mailboxes full of shipping documents and there was a cue of several people ahead of me. I went back to the officer and described my case with more details. He just repeated to go back to line “we will handle you”. Anyway he was a friendly fellow. It was almost 17 o'clock and some parts of customs started to close down and that increased my worries even more. Then it was my turn, I handed over the EPA and the DOT papers as well as some other form. The first surprise was that Turkish Airlines did not list in the manifest that the cargo is motorcycles (BIG MISTAKE). The officer told me to call them and update the system. Then he told that the agriculture customs officer must inspect the bikes. OOOppppps!

I went over there and we clarified what needed to be done. The bikes should be uncrated so that the customs guy can inspect whether our bikes are clean enough to enter the USA. He had one free appointment(!!!) at 22 o'clock this evening. OMG – I knew that Rich was coming soon to help but that late was no good (Rich had to prepare for an exam the next day). A few minutes later I got an appointment at 20 o'clock.
Waiting for Rich, there was this large amount of school buses.
Finally the bikes are coming for uncrating.
Forklifts buzzing around - take it easy guy, you transport precious goods!
Lousy packing, the bike came almost off the palette.
Now here is the chicken-egg problem.
  • In order to get the bikes out of the warehouse they must be cleared by customs.
  • In order to clear them from customs they must be uncrated and inspected first.
Now how the hell do I do this one? I went back to Turkish Airline and after some waiting I was able to explain this to the manager. I need to tell that this warehouse area was very busy. Several fork-lifters were buzzing around and Rich and me had trouble to find a safe spot to wait. Waiting waiting ... it was not around 19:30 when we finally saw the bikes. They were strangely wrapped onto another transport plate and tightened up with another net and belts. Well obviously the Ghana-style packaging appeared not reliable to whoever had the final say on the packaging.

We dismantled the stuff until we had both bikes standing on their bottom palettes. Then I decided to push forward and take the Suzi off completely for the simple reason that the bike was standing on its main stand and had not much support anymore. One of those buzzy fork-lifters would have the wrong feeling of security that they can still move the bike when on the metal palette. The Suzi would have just been timbered with the crate.

After we did that the freight guys went all ballistic. Now we MUST release the bikes even though they were not yet cleared by customs. What a mess!!!

It was 20:20, no customs guy in sight and we released the bikes. Suddenly some other freight guy came over and “blablabla” told that we should not have even touched the bikes (not even speaking of uncrating them ourselves)! I explained that I got precise instructions from customs to have the bikes ready for inspection (and thus uncrated) by 20:00 (sharp)! And if we cannot uncrate them who can?

Then this guy told that customs guy was here – no bikes in sight and he had left already. WTF WTF WTF..... ANGER!!!!! THIS CANNOT HAPPEN! Am I still in Ghana?

We found the customs guy again and he was really friendly and understanding. He looked at the bikes and told that the Suzi is far too dirty to be imported into the US and my bike could also use a wash (both statements were very much true). And now what?

In the meantime we got lucky and the “garbage man” came. He was very eager to help and collect all our wood, plastic and other stuff. Rich and me were both very happy, one less item to worry about.

With the customs guy we agreed that Rich and me would get some buckets of water and splash the dirt off the Suzi's wheels and also gave my bike some attention. Well, I knew that at least Milady would be happy to get a cleaner bike :D

The customs guy continued his lecturing (where I fully agreed with) about washing bikes before leaving the country and so on, we started to work on washing the Suzi and taking SilberWolf of the bottom palette. That was not done as easy as said because the bike had dropped almost with all wheels on the bottom and only with help from other truckers (which were hanging around, waiting for their cargo to come) we got my bike out of the frame. Then to wash.

The strange part was that it was sufficient to wash the bikes outside the cargo hall where the dirt (i.e.”contaminated” water) could go directly into the sewer system = entering the US sewer system and the US rivers and ocean and potentially the dirt would find its way back to Africa? I really had to hold back and not laugh out loud. This made no sense whatsoever but it was the only way to get the bikes out of customs. We washed the bikes and I paid some attention to the wheels and the obvious dirty parts (I even used the brush I had with!). The inspector was very happy about the obviously good job we did and he told that he would clear the bikes.

It was now after 22 o'clock and Rich and I were ready to go when I checked with the freight folks that all is clear now. And surprise it was NOT OK! Damn. I called customs a few times, no answer! Customs closed at 23 o'clock and the clock was now 22:35! What to do? Drive quickly over to customs? Just leave and do not care? I changed clothes and asked again. Yes finally customs had cleared the bikes. I was happy and we packed the things ready when they called us to sign off. Rich just went in and provided a signature :D

Then I rode one bike after the other into the USA :)

It was close to midnight and all was good when I got back to the Adventure Loft after getting some fuel and facing a traffic jam due to construction.

Parking in New York City, Manhattan :D

IMO – it was worth the hassle to clear the bikes myself. We saved a huge amount of money and also nerves, then dealing with a broker is not free-of-trouble either. Also nobody told that there would have been a storage charge of around 600 USD per day if we would not release the bikes within 3 business day after arrival! That was a high incentive for me to get the bikes out. A broker would not care about that (no incentive) and things would take with the agriculture department whatever it would take.

A HUGE THANK YOU to Rich! You were a fantastic help to get the bikes! And I feel guilty that I took so much of your time. I hope all went fine with the exam.

~ Wolfi

p.s. A few thoughts on shipping bikes

I asked for quotations from 4 different companies as well as one open quote in freight forwarders (www.forwarders.com). In the end we had five options.

Option 1 – sea freight
The one who answered fastest was also the cheapest and at the same time offered most convenient conditions. However once we gave the go-ahead the firm was not able to provide us with local contacts and the flow of information was very slow. Furthermore, this firm seemed not to know the import regulations and wanted to charge all sorts of things which were not required. It seemed to me also that there were hidden costs and I could not trust that company any longer and we continued with option 2.

Option 2
The next cheapest was by contacting the airline directly. Of course this was a bit of an open check as nobody could tell me what to expect in the US for importing. This end needed a little homework. The broker in Accra took care of all the things in Ghana side. It took a little bit of project management from me but I loved to do that anyway, so it came as a bonus :D

The next options were significantly more expensive. Here is a short summary table (I used now the real weight and the freight measures which we were charged in all the options to keep them somewhat comparable). 

Bikes weight: 1100kg (Dangerous Goods)
Volume weight: 1647kg
Volume: 9.8cbm
And – all payments in cash!

One Two - REAL Three Four Five
Freight Company
Ameritrans Freight International
Turkish Airline Ameritrans Freight International www.air7seas.com Air Menzies International SA (Pty) Limited
Broker Origin Steps Freight Services
Broker Destination Do-it-yourself
Freight Sea Air Air Sea Air
Transit time 30 days 2 days 2-3 days 30-33 days 2-3 days
Origin costs 250USD 600USD 250USD + crate(600USD) 1300USD 2290USD
Freight costs 3000USD 6400USD 7000USD 3500USD 7600USD
Destination costs Unclear 600-2000USD 63USD Unclear 600-2000USD 2500USD Totally open as offer was “non customs cleared/delivered”
Total costs (USD) Estimated 3850-5350 7063 USD real costs by air Estimated 8450-9850 Estimated 7300 by sea Estimated 10.000++

Cheers to that!

1 comment:

  1. "Wow, your girls were very disciplined, I should say! Was it difficult to have the dogs board the plane? There seemed to be a lot of hassle at customs that I'm afraid to bring my dog with me overseas! Anyway, I don't have a choice since I don't want to leave them behind when I go on a vacation. Last night, I saw one article that caught my eye and I think this will help a lot of dog owners prepare their dogs for traveling. Here's the link and hope it helps: