Dogs on a Plane

Flying with a commercial airline can be a frustrating experience made even more difficult when a pet is involved. Cargo conditions are less than favourable due to temperature extremes, noise, poor ventilation, and potentially rough handling. Even small dogs able to fly in cabin—generally defined as those whose carrier will fit under the seat—face confusing rules and restrictions that change airline to airline.

On average, 500,000 pets travel each year within the domestic United States. If your furry pal weighs over 20 pounds, they’ll have to travel in cargo by law—unless your pup is a service animal. Cargo conditions are particularly tough for Brachycephalic breeds like Frenchies, English Bulldogs, and Pugs, as they are more susceptible to issues like heat stroke or oxygen deprivation, notes the Humane Society. Some airlines refuse to transport these breeds altogether due to higher risk, while others restrict pets-in-cargo travel to cooler months.


Flying Cargo Not Without Risks

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

That’s not an anomaly. Between 2012 and 2018, there were 153 animal deaths on U.S. airlines, per the Department of Transportation, with an overall incident rate of 0.79 incidents per 10,000 animals in 2017 specifically, including 24 animal deaths that year and 15 injuries. Pets lost on the tarmac, having sprung from their cages, is yet another risk. The sheer possibility of loss, death, or injury is enough to keep many pet owners from bringing their pets on trips at all. But in cases where a pet’s travel isn’t optional—such as an overseas move—what’s a concerned pet parent to do?

flying private with dogs

Worried Owners Turn to Flying Private

With private jet travel on the rise since the Covid-19 pandemic, a new company is making a bid for the business of pet owners and their fur babies, specializing in air travel for people with pets. K9 Jets, co-founded by pilot Adam Golder and his wife Kristy, tout themselves as the first-of-its-kind luxury pet charter.

K9 Jets allows passengers, each permitted one accompanying pet, to skip the airport queues and the cage for a more comfortable and stress-free flight. For added ease, all K9 Jet’s flights depart from private terminals, meaning that passengers can bypass long check-in and security lines at regular airports by arriving just 60 minutes before flight time.


Costly, but for Many Pet Parents, the Peace of Mind is Worth the Expense

Like popular semi-private airlines Aero and JetSuiteX, the company has adopted the pay-per-seat model, making private air travel much more affordable than booking out an entire plane. The company says the cost is on par with that of a first-class ticket on a commercial airline for transatlantic flight: K9 Jets charges about $9,000 USD per ticket, which includes the cost for the pet.

Aside from the hit to the pocketbook, private flights come with an undeniable environmental cost, emitting far more carbon dioxide emissions per passenger than commercial planes do. According to Brussel-based advocacy group Transport and Environment, private jets are 5 to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes.

Golder told the New York Times that K9 Jets is offsetting the carbon emissions of every flight.

Regardless of the costs, many of K9 Jets customers feel they have no alternative. “Flying with pets can be a nerve-wracking experience for both pet owners and their beloved animals,” Adam Golder, co-founder of K9 Jets tells Modern Dog. Golder also pointed out that K9 Jets is also a safer option for those who have disabled or older pets who may not be able to travel in cargo at all.

“Most commercial airlines require pets to travel in the cargo, which can be an incredibly stressful experience, especially for those who are older, require bespoke crates due to their size, or have special needs,” he explains. “The hold is an unfamiliar environment with loud noises and strange smells, which can cause fear and anxiety. At K9 Jets, we believe pet family-members deserve to travel in comfort and style alongside their owners.”

Most of the Birmingham, England-based companies’ planes are Gulfstream G-IVSP, heavy jets operated by Pegasus Elite Aviation or other US carriers, which can seat up to 10 passengers and their pets. Pets cannot fly without a person accompanying them.

US destinations to Europe are some of K9 Jet’s most popular routes, with flights between New Jersey and London, and Paris and Lisbon, as well as return flights from London and Paris back to New York State. There are also offerings from Los Angeles to New Jersey, and several within Europe, as well as a London to Dubai route.

Given the limited route offerings, customers need to get themselves and their furry pals to the departure points—often driving or using other semi-private carriers like JSX domestically so their pets can stay out of cargo the whole journey.

K9 Jet’s staff will also take care of all the paperwork for your pet—in part via a partnership with Pawsitive Pet Health Certificates—which includes pre-filing a health certificate from your pet’s vet, working with the USDA for a health certificate endorsement, and making sure any other boxes are ticked.

flying private with dogs

The concept for K9 Jets came about when the couple’s sister company, G6 Aviation, received a request to provide a quote for 10 dogs flying from London to New Jersey. The request, it turned out, had originated on social media.

“The idea for K9 Jets came from our first pet shared flight that we organized for a group of passengers who had met on Facebook,” Golder explains. Within the grassroots group, various members would take the lead to facilitate and organize booking a private charter plane, as well as taking on the responsibility of splitting finances with the other members flying.”

The still-active group has around 30,000 members, all with the main goal of keeping their canine family members out of cargo.

“Many [members] suggested to me that we should launch a service where it’s simple to book, you don’t need to find someone to organize and take on the financial/legal responsibilities. They also wanted something competitively priced,” Golder says. “In July 2022, we registered the company and started to work on the concept with our legal teams in the UK and U.S.”

Upon launch, K9 Jets sold an impressive half a million dollars of seats in just five hours—most to people relocating across the pond, such as customer K.C. Hagen, and the majority flying private for the first time.

“We had to move our two dogs—an 11-year-old Goldendoodle and a two-year-old Golden Retriever from England to the U.S.A. K9 Jets was a saviour,” enthuses Hagen. “We wish we knew about this years ago when we moved over. Our poor pups had a horrible experience in cargo and customs, even though it was a direct flight. K9 Jets’ team was so helpful and responsive from the start of our search all the way until we were landed! They truly care about your pets but also that you’re having a first class experience. The crew was lovely, the plane was so comfortable, and the food and drinks were great,” she says.

Client Athena Clarke echoes the sentiment. “I flew from the United Kingdom to the U.S.A. and then back again with my two miniature Dachshunds at my side, cage free,” she explains.

“From start to finish, [it was] a stress-free experience. Adam of K9 Jets makes sure you know exactly what’s needed paperwork-wise for your destination and is in contact with you as often as needed before travel to make sure all your ducks are in a row,” she adds, praising the ease of flying out of a private terminal and skipping long waits and long lines.

Flights are confirmed by the company once 75 percent of passenger-and-pet spots are booked at a fixed cost, which potential customers can book online. Due to the popularity of the company, cancellations are unlikely.

“The client base is changing as we are becoming more established. There are a lot more passengers traveling for leisure, including some A-list stars too!” Golder teases.

As the company grows, customers can expect to see more routes added. But even at this point, customers are impressed.

“You arrive at the private airfield just an hour before travel and board the plane five minutes before take-off,” Clarke notes in a testimonial. “Who knew this would ever be possible? Travelling is made pleasurable for you and your pet by Adam and his team…. It’s so lovely being able to take my dogs with me.”


This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Dog magazine. Subscribe today!

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