Sarah Blake: I’ve taken a hellish flight with a flatulent basset hound and I’m still on board with flying dogs

Headshot of Sarah Blake
Sarah Blake
The Nightly
3 Min Read
There's exciting news for pet lovers this morning with one of Australia's major airlines unveiling a major change in travel plans for pets. Virgin Australia is set to launch the nation's first ever flights with pets in cabins.

As someone who both likes to take my dog to my local bar and has suffered through a red-eye across America with a giant rapper’s flatulent basset hound passed out on my feet, I feel particularly qualified to weigh into the debate over whether Australian pet owners should be able to fly with their animals.

And as Virgin announces it’s going to allow pets in the cabin with their owners, I reckon that even though this will be something that turns a lot of people off, it’s actually one of those good ways that we can follow in the footsteps of the US and Europe.

Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said on Thursday morning the airline anticipated being Australia’s first to offer pets onboard flights (pending regulatory approvals within a year based on polling that showed customers would be more likely to travel if it was an option.

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“Overwhelmingly, our guests tell us they want to travel with their pets, and we are now on a journey to make that a reality. It’s something that commonly happens overseas and is proven to work well,” Ms Hrdlicka said.

“Almost 70 per cent of Australian households have a pet, so this announcement is really significant for a large proportion of the country. It’s also a great thing for pet-friendly accommodation providers who will benefit greatly from increased connectivity and the ease for travellers to fly with their pets.”

Virgin said a social media survey in 2021 showed 85 per cent of customers supported the move. Recent research showed 70 per cent would fly with their pets and more than half said it would make them fly more.

I know there will be plenty of curmudgeonly griping from some travellers about the move, but this is one of those particularly Australian traits we should shake off.

The positive mental health impact of pet ownership is well documented and we lag far behind Europe and the US in how far we have integrated our animals into our day-to-day lives. Dogs overseas travel freely on public transport and are welcome in many hotels, shops and restaurants.

Here at home, our love of rules puts up all sorts of barriers to pet ownership, from renting somewhere to live to going on holidays.

But while I’m all in on small dogs and cats on flights, that’s as far we should go.

For a little while there in the US you would sometimes have to put up with a petting zoo of support animals travelling with their anxious owners, from miniature horses, rabbits and even infamously once a duck and a peacock. The Federal Aviation Authority cracked down on that practice with new rules in 2020 that limited companions to dogs and cats.

Even with that change, the smelly basset hound who sprawled across the feet of a row of passengers on my overnight flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta fit within the rules and I am pleased there’ll be no free-range animals on Virgin flights, with only small dogs and cats allowed to travel inside carriers.

Virgin also says the service will be restricted to selected routes and that only designated rows will offer the option, so even the most animal-averse flier will be left with options.

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