Are we an industry of pet lovers?
Patrick Margetson-Rushmore, chief executive of leading charter operator Luxaviation UK, looks at how business aviation manages the practicalities and paperwork of transporting pets.
One thing you soon realise when you work in business aviation, if there was ever any doubt, is just how much people love their pets. You also realise many people in our industry love paperwork (often, I should quickly add, rightly so – where health, safety and security are concerned there is never any room for compromise or cutting corners). With planning and experience, though, it’s perfectly possible to keep everybody happy – from passionate pet owners to rigorous airport staff.
The number of passengers travelling with pets on business jets is rising, so the need to handle these requests efficiently and sensitively is increasingly important.
Firstly, operators should ensure the pet travel request is clearly recorded when the client’s initial flight request is received, so there is no risk of overlooking what needs to be done.
The next task for the operator is to confirm there is a pet clearance facility at the airport to which the passenger wishes to fly. If not, the nearest alternative should be offered.
Are pet passports necessary?
In terms of regulation, let’s start by looking at the basic requirements when flying dogs and cats into the UK from a European Union (EU) country. (The rules vary for pets coming from non-EU countries.) Fundamentally, the UK government stipulates the pet must have been microchipped; must have a pet passport; and must have been vaccinated against rabies. Dogs must also have been treated for tapeworm, no more than five days and no less than 24 hours before entering the UK. Exceptions – there are always exceptions in regulations – include the fact dogs do not need to be treated for tapeworm if coming directly to the UK from Finland, Ireland or Malta (or, indeed, the non-EU country of Norway).
The UK accepts pet passports from all EU nations, as well as many European countries that are not members of the EU (such as Switzerland, Iceland and Norway). However, pet passports are not necessarily essential when flying pets into the UK. An official veterinary certificate is acceptable for pets coming from so-called ‘listed’ countries outside the EU including the US, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.
In terms of flying pets out of the UK, it is simply a case of different countries and regions have different restrictions in place. This subject could take up whole chapters in a book, but it is worth noting that Europe, as a whole, is more relaxed about pet travel than the UK is.
Ensuring inflight comfort
Regulations are not the only challenge. Practical inflight needs must be met too. We carry dedicated pet blankets, food, water bowls and beds. Cabin crew get to know the specific requirements and preferences of our regular pet passengers, which is helpful, and the pets feel like friends just as much as their owners.
Pets enjoy a freedom in the cabin of a business jet that they cannot experience on commercial airlines. And, when pets relax, it’s amazing how much their owners relax too. Nonetheless, safety is always the top priority and so, during takeoff, landing and turbulence, pets must be comfortably secured.
Business jet passengers may well object if you suggest feeding a tin of cheap dog food to their beloved Bichon Frise (or, put differently, you need to think carefully about how Chow Chows chow down). Ask the owner about specific preferences and requirements. Here are just a few of the meals and treats we offered on a bespoke ‘Flying Paws’ menu for one of our canine customers earlier this year:
· Fresh organic grilled chicken with boiled carrots
· Laverstoke Park beef with ground bone
· Lily’s Kitchen ‘Eat Your Greens’ snack bars (containing apples, kale, spirulina, wheatgrass and mint)
· Organic ‘aeroplane biscuits’
So, here are my top five tips for operators when flying pets on business aircraft:
1. Ensure every member of your staff, from the sales team to pilots and cabin crew, understands the unique sensitivities involved. There are challenges in the business jet industry that simply don’t exist in commercial aviation, not least the need for high-level customer service from pilots. A careless word or action could be costly.
2. Take responsibility for ensuring the pet has all the necessary and up-to-date documentation (originals, not copies) to fly. If you have organised everything properly and delivered the correct documentation to the authorities well in advance of the flight, clearance at the arrival airport should only take a matter of seconds.
3. Treat pets as human passengers. Assume whatever humans need on the flight, pets will need the equivalent. If you treat pets as ‘baggage’ in any way, don’t expect to see their owners on your aircraft or at your airport/FBO again.
4. Provide water, but monitor to avoid excessive consumption. Pets and their owners both deserve outstanding inflight food.
5. Walking dogs immediately before takeoff and immediately after landing can help relieve pre- and post-flight stress for owners and their pets.
Flying pets is one of the many areas in which business aviation offers a far better service than commercial airlines. Let’s all make the most of that fact, because ours is definitely an industry of pet lovers. With careful preparation and sensitivity, we can make sure our animal friends enjoy their flights just as much as their owners.
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