Something to bark about: US airlines are increasingly accommodating jet-setting pets


Dogs travelling with Bark Air will be allowed to board the aircraft cabin, with their owners. Photo: AFP

For a long time, travelling pet owners were obliged to entrust their pets to a relative, or to board them, to prevent them from travelling in the hold. But some airlines are trying to remedy this situation by making it easier to transport our furry friends. Some are even going one step further, by catering specifically for animals.

Bark Air is one such airline. It's the result of a partnership between Talon Air, a private jet charter company, and Bark, a New York-based, publicly listed company offering subscription-based products for dogs.

As its name suggests, Bark Air is aimed at dogs (and their owners). But there's no question of them travelling the globe in cramped carriers or, worse still, in a cage in the hold. Dogs travelling with Bark Air will be allowed to board the aircraft cabin, with their owners.

Once on board, furry passengers can enjoy a luxurious in-flight experience, with soothing music, scents and pheromones to ensure optimum comfort. During their journey, in-flight personnel will offer them treats and refreshments (water, bone broth, etc). Indeed, all care is taken to pamper discerning dogs during their flight.

And Bark Air has thought of every detail. On the day of the flight, dogs and their owners are invited to arrive at the airport 45 to 60 minutes before take-off to benefit from a simplified check-in procedure. They can then get to know the other passengers – human and canine – to get used to their presence, and even form friendships.

At first glance, it may seem like a joke. But Bark Air insists that its offer has been carefully thought through. "If you think this is a joke, you're not a dog person," explains a promotional video for this doggie airline.

In recent years, attitudes towards pets have changed so much that many dog owners find it inconceivable that their pet should be confined to a travel bag at their feet when flying. Yet the vast majority of airlines require this, in line with international regulations. Service dogs may remain seated or on the ground during the flight, but must be kept on a leash at all times. However, larger dogs (over 8 or 10kg) must travel in the hold, whether or not they have been trained by a certified organisation.

These flight conditions can cause significant stress to the animals, which can be dangerous for their health. Bark Air CEO Matt Meeker proved this point by locking himself in a cage to travel in the hold, like a dog, for four hours.

"There has to be a better way," he says in a video of his ordeal.

But the alternative offered by Bark Air comes at a price: Expect to pay US$8,000 (RM38,230) for a one-way ticket from London to New York. For the moment, the airline only offers flights between London, New York and Los Angeles, but it hopes to cover other routes in the near future.

Bark Air operates in a niche but growing market. Private aviation companies such as K9 Jets, NetJets and VistaJet also offer pet-friendly packages to their customers. Dogs and cats lucky enough to fly with these companies can lounge at their owners' feet during the flight, or on large leather seats. They can also be offered a protein-rich meal, at their owners' request.

For its part, Korean Air, South Korea's national airline, created a loyalty programme in 2017 called Skypets, specifically for the four-legged companions traveling onboard its aircraft. It enables their owners to earn miles (aviation loyalty points) every time they fly with their pet. These miles will then entitle them to discounts. This, and similar initiatives, should help make aviation more pet-friendly in the future. – AFP Relaxnews

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Pet travel , Bark Air , K9 Jets , NetJets , VistaJet , Skypets


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