Pet parents usually entrust their furry companions to a relative or boarding kennel rather than taking them on a trip, particularly when it involves a flight. But people are increasingly keen on travelling with their four-legged friends, and some airlines are attempting to make it easier for them to do so.
With airfares on the rise around the world, and travellers looking to save money on their journeys, Korean Air is making a bid to win the loyalty of Seoul passengers by offering their pets a special treat. The airline has created a loyalty programme called Skypets, specially designed for animals on board its aircraft – specifically dogs, cats and birds.
While most major airlines allow pets under a certain size to ride in the cabin while larger ones are allotted space in a special zone within the cargo hold, Korean Air goes one step further by offering pet owners “miles” (aviation loyalty points) every time their furry or feathered friend flies with them.
Each trip taken with Korean Air earns them points, which entitle them to discounts. And since being launched in 2017, the Skypets programme seems to be working at attracting flyers who are pet parents: it is said to have contributed to a 29% increase in Korean Air flights with animals over the first six months of 2023.
Indeed, this could be explained by a population in South Korea that is attached to their pets. Some 6.38 million households were home to at least one pet in 2020, according to official figures, representing 28% of all households in the country.
South Korea’s president Yoon Suk Yeol and first lady Kim Keon Hee are said to have 11 pets of their own (six dogs and five cats), according to The Korea Herald.
According to the Yonhap news agency, South Korean pet parents spend an average of 150,000 won (around RM540) a month on their little companions. And travel is a part of this pet industry: a growing number of South Koreans are investing in “all-inclusive” packages, or “petkages”, to take their furkids on vacation with accommodating transport and lodgings.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to South Korea. In Europe and the United States, many pet parents are also interested in taking their pet with them on their travels, but are often disappointed by the welcome their furry companions receive on board many commercial airlines.
That’s why some are turning to private aviation to offer their pets every possible comfort. Companies such as K9 Jets, NetJets, and VistaJets all offer pet-friendly packages to their customers.
The lucky dogs and cats that fly on these companies’ planes can lounge at their owners’ feet during the flight, or even on their own cushioned full-size seats. They may also be offered a protein-rich meal, at their humans’ request.
Of course, travelling by private jet costs a pretty penny – about US$9,000 (RM42,000) per seat for a one-way flight between New York and Europe with K9 Jets, according to the New York Times.
But there’s demand for these services, according to Adam Golder, the founder of this private carrier. “There are hundreds of people waiting for a flight. People no longer want to put their pets in a crate in the hold and wave goodbye to them,” he told the NYT.
It’s a safe bet that the aviation sector will be thinking about more pet-friendly approaches in the future, to meet the expectations of passengers who are increasingly reluctant to leave their cherished fur friends at home when they travel.