Frustrated pet owners turn to private planes to fly their animals

Last Friday night, as drizzle fell on the runway, 10 passengers boarded a Gulfstream G4 headed from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to Farnborough Airport, just southwest of London. They didn’t seem to notice the plush leather seats or the treats placed in champagne flutes on the armrests.

They hadn’t particularly liked going up the stairs of the plane either.

This was the maiden flight of K9 jets, a private jet charter company based in Birmingham, England, founded in response to pet owners’ growing desire to travel with their animals and growing frustration with the increasingly challenging process of flying with them. The passenger manifest included nine dogs, mostly on the larger side, and a sphinx cat, as well as 10 humans.

Most of the people on board moved to Europe. One said her Australian cattle dog mix, Jasmine, needed life-saving heart surgery. They all had one thing in common: an aversion to putting their pets in the cargo hold.

Pet owners looking for transport your pets on commercial flights you have to navigate a patchwork of rules that vary by airline. Service animals, which are not considered pets, may be in the cabin and not confined, but other animals are subject to size restrictions that require larger pets to travel as cargo, although some airlines do not carry specific breeds.

More than 200 pets, mostly dogs, have died on flights in the past decade, according to the US Department of Transportation, which does not specify whether the pets were in cargo. The department has advised owners of snub-nosed dogs, such as pugs and bulldogs. consider the risks to send those breeds as cargo, citing a much higher death rate than for other breeds of dogs.

Snub-nosed dogs more often encounter difficulty breathing, compared to other breeds. according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Last year, seven pets died during flights, according to data from the Department of Transportation. Of these deaths, six occurred in Hawaiian Airlines flights. Five of these animals were short-faced dogs shipped in cargo, said Marissa Villegas, a spokeswoman for Hawaiian Airlines.

Ms. Villegas said that before traveling on Hawaiian, passengers traveling with pets must recognize and accept the risks.

Meanwhile, private jet companies have stepped in, offering air travel for pets inside the plane without spending hours stuck in crates or carriers. Something like NetJets and VistaJet, have dedicated programs for pets. In VistaJet flightspets are fed premium cuts of meat, offered toys and given a soft mat to sleep on.

Leona Qi, president of VistaJet US, said there has been a steady increase in the number of people traveling with their pets, with about half of the company’s customers bringing their pets with them. Most are dogs, but she said there have also been rabbits, hawks, and once, a chameleon. VistaJet sells memberships that offer different levels of access to flights. Madelyn Reiter, a spokeswoman for the company, declined to detail the prices.

Ms Qi said the pet program had often been “the determining factor” in convincing customers to upgrade to more expensive memberships that offer more space in the cabin.

On private flights, dogs under 150 pounds can generally sit on plane seats, though pets must be secured with a seat belt or placed in a carrier during taxi, takeoff and landing, the officials said. private aircraft operators. On some jets, once a person purchases a seat, there is no additional cost to transport a pet and no requirement to purchase a seat. Multiple carriers even help customers navigate country-specific pet restrictions and gather required documents for entry, another hurdle to flying internationally with pets.

But these private flights can be incredibly expensive, running into the tens of thousands of dollars, even for a domestic excursion from one coast to another.

For years, Rusty Rueff, a 62-year-old startup advisor and investor living in the San Francisco Bay Area, flew his dog across the country in Pet Airway, an airline founded in 2009 that only transported animals. but the company closed several years ago.

Mr Rueff said that while he had flown privately with his 5-year-old French bulldog Theo several times during the pandemic, it was not a practice he wanted to continue. When he tried to fly commercially with a previous dog, also a French bulldog, they were sometimes barred from boarding the plane, he said. That uncertainty has made him reluctant to fly an animal commercially.

Instead, her family drives across the country from the Bay Area to Rhode Island, where they have a summer spot. She called the annual trip “a pain.”

“I just don’t understand why airlines don’t recognize the business opportunity,” Mr. Rueff said. “We will do anything for our pets, just like we do anything for our children.”

K9 Jets hopes to capitalize on that sentiment, initially offering flights between New York and Paris, Lisbon and London. Of 17 flights listed between May and the end of September, eight are sold out. In the fall, the company may expand service to additional cities, including Dubai. One-way tickets between New York and Europe are around $9,000 per seat. Pet owners can purchase a seat for their pet; otherwise they can sit on the floor free of charge. Pets cannot fly without human accompaniment.

Adam Golder, the founder of K9 Jets and G6 Aviationa private jet brokerage, said they planned to add more summer flights in response to growing demand.

“There are hundreds of people waiting for a flight,” Golder said. “I think people don’t want to put them in a box and say goodbye to them.”

K9 doesn’t actually own any aircraft. Flights are operated by licensed US carriers, including Pegasus Elite Aviation. K9 Jets uses Gulfstream G4 aircraft with a capacity for 10 passengers.

Dee McLaughlin and her partner James bought two seats on K9 Jets’ inaugural flight last week. They were accompanied by Bentley and Murphy, their cream-colored English retrievers, who lounged serenely on a cream-colored sofa aboard the plane. They were heading to Ireland, where the family is moving, from Los Angeles. To get to New Jersey, they took four flights over two days on JSX, which offers public charter flights to a limited number of domestic destinations and allows medium and large dogs in the cabin, either in a carrier or on the floor.

Ms McLaughlin said she had “absolutely dreaded” putting the dogs in the cargo. She researched alternatives for months, scouring social media for tips on chartering a plane with other like-minded strangers. She then discovered K9 Jets, which she called “a game changer for pet parents like us.”

“We feel great that the dogs will be by our side,” said Ms. McLaughlin. Finally they chartered a private jet for the final leg of the trip, from London to Ireland. Their air travel would cost them more than $35,000.

Mr. Golder said that, so far, most of the prospective clients are moving or traveling for long periods of time. Most of the human passengers on the company flight last week said they were flying private for the first time.

Private flights don’t come without an environmental cost. Research has shown that private jets emit far more carbon dioxide emissions per passenger than commercial jets. According Transport and EnvironmentAccording to a Brussels-based advocacy group, private planes are 5 to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes and 50 times more polluting than trains.

Mr. Golder said that K9 Jets is offsetting the carbon emissions of each flight.

Studies have found that the rich are having a disproportionate impact on the climate. a 2020 article published in the journal Global Environmental Change estimates that 1 percent of the world’s population is responsible for emitting half of the carbon dioxide emissions from commercial aviation.

But some pet owners, like Ali and Mary Borzabdi, feel they don’t have a choice. Ms Borzabdi and her dog, Jasmine, were on the K9 Jets flight to London last Friday. Jasmine, a sweet and excitable dog with a serious heart condition, was nervous and in a diaper on board the plane. In several weeks, she is scheduled for surgery in London.

“We do not have children. All we have is a dog,” Borzabdi said. “You try everything and I hope it works.”