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Virgin Australia to be country’s first airline to have pets in cabin flights

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Companion Animal Network Australia welcomes Virgin Australia’s announcement to become the country’s first airline to operate flights with pets on board.

“Companion Animal Network Australia and its member agencies are keen to ensure owners of companion pets feel welcome in all parts of our community. We applaud Virgin Australia’s move to allow pets in cabin flights,” says Trish Ennis, CEO of Australia CAN.

Subject to regulatory approval, the pet friendly service is expected to launch within 12 months. Almost all major carriers in North America offer a pets onboard service for domestic flights, including United Airlines and Air Canada.

In a social media survey of Virgin Australia’s Facebook followers in 2021, 85 per cent of respondents voted in favour of the airline launching pets in cabin flights. In more recent research conducted by Virgin Australia with Australian pet owners, nearly 70 per cent of respondents advised they would travel with their pet in the cabin, with 57 per cent saying they would fly more regularly if the service was a reality.

There are a few parameters for pets in cabin flights:

  • The service will be limited to small cats and dogs on specific domestic routes;
  • Pets will be restricted to a limited number of designated rows and will not be allowed to roam freely or sit on laps;
  • Pets must also be carried in a Virgin Australia approved pet carrier under the seat in front of the owner for the duration of the flight.

Sue Hedley OAM, founder of CANA’s Western Australia member SAFE Inc, is thrilled about this “significant milestone in Australian aviation” which is going to make a huge difference for pets across the state.

She has been involved in flying animals as freight for 21 years and says, “Currently there is no Virgin freight in Karratha – a place that generates so much wealth to Australia. This would be a breakthrough for some small animals whose owners are flying Virgin.”

Ms Hedley has seen many occasions, especially with kittens and puppies as well as vulnerable adult dogs and cats, that she has wished could fly in the cabin “where the people are and not where the luggage is stored”.

“Virgin’s move to allow companion animals in the cabin supports pets as part of the family where they can fly to holiday accommodation that welcomes pets,” she says.
“Any initiative that supports the human animal bond is valued by all those involved in animal rescue, especially in these dark times when so many pets are surrendered due to the cost of living and the rental crisis.”

Australia needs to “keep up with the rest of the world where animals can fly in the plane,” says Ms Hedley.

“Virgin will need to learn from other airlines so they can go in forearmed to minimise any risks to animals or people. Also, I find it hard to imagine how small the cat or dog would need to be to be able to fit under a seat in a bag or crate. But it’s a start!”

For more information about Virgin Australia’s pet friendly flights, please visit www.virginaustralia.com/au/en/travel-info/specific-travel/pets/

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