TORONTO — Geordie, my lovely little Westie and best friend in the world, looks at me with his big sad puppy dog eyes every time I retrieve my suitcase from the closet. He slumps to the floor and cradles his furry face in his paws, and I swear his eyes well up as he watches me pack. And when he drives off with the dog sitter, he presses his nose up against the car window as if to say: “please take me with you.”
It’s always a heartbreaking moment. But I’m not alone. More and more pet owners are finding it harder to leave their “best friends” behind. And according to a survey conducted by the travel app Triplt, 77 per cent of respondents say their pets influence their holiday travel plans. And 94 per cent of those same respondents say they are looking for easier ways to travel with their pets.
If, like me, you refuse to cage your puppy in the plane’s cargo hold, or if your dog is too big to fit under a seat in a carry bag, what options do we have? Charter the whole plane?
Well, as a matter a fact, that’s exactly what the mega-rich are doing. And one company, Victor, a private charter jet company based in London, is catering to their request by flying the pampered pets “free” of charge.
Above: The mega-rich and their pets get the VIP treatment when they fly on private jets.
Victor apparently has tapped into a niche market because a company spokesperson tells me their bookings last year jumped 11.3 per cent because of the offer.
Victor is one of the largest companies of its kind and its 200-carrier partners have landing rights at over 40,000 airports worldwide.
When requesting a quote from Victor, clients are asked what kind of pet they’ll be travelling with and how many. Then Victor sources a carrier that can meet the client’s needs. The pets’ food preferences are even addressed and included in the manifest, so when Fido hops onboard, a nice meal — we’re not talking Purina here, folks — will be waiting.
“One client once asked to take 10 cases of gourmet dog food on board with them, just so that their pooch had an entire menu of tailored-made meals whilst they were away on their Mediterranean summer holiday,” a spokesperson for Victor tells me.
And it’s not just dogs that Victor gets requests for.
“We’ve even flown five falcons — on a Dassault Falcon 7X-model plane,” the spokesperson chuckles.
She then tells me the company once was asked to accommodate “10 small bunny rabbits on a flight from London to central Europe.
“One customer flew with nine identical pugs and the heaviest dog we’ve ever flown is an 80-pound (36.3 kg) Leonberger from London to France.”
Owners must secure proper paper work for the pets — like vaccination and custom documents relevant to the destination — before the pups are allowed to board. And if one of the dogs or cats causes damage to the plane, owners are held responsible.
Most private jet operators, like Victor, request that dogs be kept on a leash during the flight and not block aisles. For the most part, though, the dogs are very well behaved.
In fact, Forbes magazine recently quoted a spokesperson for XOJET, a rival to Victor, as saying his company was more excited about flying pets than unaccompanied children.
The Victor spokesperson tells me the company’s long-range charter flights — the cost depends on the type of aircraft chartered — have increased a staggering 98 per cent since last year and that the average booking value is up by 79 per cent since the company’s launch in 2011. In 2016, bookings by first-time private fliers increased by 15 per cent, according to the spokesperson.
Above: More and more young people don't want to leave home without their four-legged friends.
“At Victor, we are always striving to provide a stress-free travel experience — for both our human users and their pets,” says David Young, senior vice-president of Victor’s North American operations. “We understand that holds in commercial aircrafts carry a risk, and therefore Victor provides the best possible solution for you and your pet to travel in style.”
While traditional airlines accommodate pets, their track record has not been good. In fact, according to a U.S. government report compiled between 2005 and 2015, mainstream air carriers reported over 300 pet deaths while in their care, almost 150 serious pet injuries and over 50 pet losses.
No wonder the rich won’t let their “babies” fly commercial.
There are cheaper alternatives to a private jet for your pooch. Pet Airways, for instance, was the first carrier exclusively created to transport pets. Their “pawsengers” are crated in a specially-designed main cabin and monitored throughout the flight by attendants.
The pet is then turned over to the owner at the destination. Not quite Victor treatment, but better than a cargo hold.
And expect this industry to keep growing. With over 100 million dogs residing in North American households, and more and more people, especially millennials, wanting to bring their pet along on a holiday, there’s no limit to this niche product.
According to a recent report in the Washington Post, three-quarters of Americans in their 30s have dogs while 51 per cent have cats.
“Pets are becoming a replacement for children,” Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of “Generation Me” told The Post. “They (pets) are less expensive. You can get one even if you’re not ready to live with someone or get married, and they can still provide companionship.”
Of the $63 billion (U.S.) spent on pets last year in America, $11 billion went to items that are defined as “pampering,” which includes flights, according to the paper.
But be careful. Not all dogs react well to flying. According to the American Human Society, air travel can be particularly dangerous for animals with “pushed in” faces (the medical term is “brachycephalic”), such as bulldogs, pugs and Persian cats. Their short nasal passages leave them especially vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke. And flying time for all pets should be limited to a maximum 0f eight hours.
Good to know that if I can ever afford to charter a private jet, Geordie can come with me. •