Now you can take your best fur friend in the cabin
Hainan Airlines became the first Chinese airline to allow pet cats and dogs to travel in-cabin with owners last week, something pet lovers have long wanted.
The news broke out on social media just weeks before the Spring Festival travel rush known as chunyun.
When people go home for their family union, pet owners have to find alternative homes for their “fur kids” in the cities far from home where they work or study.
The service is only available on Hainan Airlines’ routes to nine cities: Guangzhou, Qingdao, Changsha, Kashgar, Xiamen, Haikou, Jinan, Shenzhen and Hefei.
It costs 800 yuan (US$125.75) per pet and each flight is restricted to two pets.
China is now one of the largest pet markets worldwide.
According to a white paper on China’s pet care industry jointly released by e-commerce platforms such as JD.com, veterinary hospitals, pet show and pet communities, the value of the Chinese pet market reached 134 billion yuan in 2017.
And it will maintain a high growth rate of 30.9 percent on average from 2010 to 2020.
In a country increasingly spending more on pets, the issue of carrying them on public transport is taking off.
So far, pets could only be taken as checked cargo on planes, trains and other domestic transports.
Chinese airlines do not have a good history of pets flying.
In less than three weeks in 2017 — between May and June — three pets flying with China Eastern Airlines died during their flights: two golden retrievers and a French bulldog.
Another golden retriever flying from Shanghai to Wuhan was severely beaten after it escaped the travel kennel.
In 2014, Kevin, a 6-year-old Samoyed, was flying with Hainan Airlines from Haikou to Qingdao.
At the stopover in Wuhan, Kevin’s owners were told that the dog died.
Kevin and its travel kennel were covered in blood.
Autopsy revealed that Kevin died of pneumorrhagia and asphyxia — blood loss and suffocating.
Like all other accidents, the airline offered to compensate the owners at a price of 100 yuan per kilo of the pet.
When pets travel in cargo, not only the owners receive no assurance regarding the pets’ well-being, but they also experience considerable pressure.
Xie Jiao, owner of Pomeranian Mimi Mao, took her pet in cargo from Beijing to Shanghai in 2008.
The first step was to confirm and double confirm with the airline to have an oxygenated cargo environment, then acquire the related veterinary inspection certificate and have the travel kennel sanitized and certified at a designated quarantine station.
“I arrived at the airport five hours in advance and completed the procedure of special luggage, signed a liability waiver which stated that if accidents happen, the compensation was per the price of meat products,” she said.
“I dropped the dog off and asked everyone to handle with care, that he’s a very cute little dog.
“I was very nervous and was worried during the whole flight.”
Xie rushed to pick up Mimi Mao immediately after getting off the plane, and saw the cage drop from the baggage carousel.
“I would fly him with Hainan Airlines but Shanghai is not among the nine cities, it solved the problem of traveling with dog because we cannot bring them on trains either.
“I’ve always envied to see pets can travel on public transportation in some foreign countries.”
Hainan Airlines’ first in-cabin pet travel policy started its test run in December. So far, only one pet has traveled with its owner in the cabin.
The airline won’t reveal any more details until the service is more established.
During the flight, the animal must remain in the cage at all times and they cannot be given water or food.
The owners are responsible for looking after the pet and must abide by all safety regulations at local airports.
The pets must wear muzzles and diapers.
But while the new policy is loved by pet owners and animal lovers, some people have concerns. Firstly, most dogs and many cats do not meet the 5-kilogram limit by the airline. Most containers weigh about 2 kilograms.
A typical Chinese domestic shorthair cat older than 6 months can easily weigh more than 3 kilograms, let alone some larger-sized breeds like Ragdoll which can reach 3 kilograms at the age of 3 to 4 months.
What’s more, it’s difficult to find containers to fit the size requirement, especially the 35-centimeter length. American Airlines require non-collapsible cages do not exceed 48x33x22 centimeters.
Nancy Shu, owner of a Chinese domestic shorthair cat named 2Y, said that Hainan Airlines’ policy is good and it allows people to travel with pets and allays the concerns when leaving them home alone, but there are also some questions.
“Adult cats and dogs can easily exceed the 5-kilogram limit, I think they should consider adding the cost according to the weight of the animal — like 80 yuan for every kilogram exceeding the rule.
“Also, what are the specific required vaccinations and the hospitals from which vaccinations are accepted?” said Shu.
In addition, she’s concerned on the timing of filing the applications and scenarios when other travelers refuse to travel in the same cabin with pets due to allergies.
Regarding the requirement for muzzles, it’s easy to achieve with dogs, but there are no muzzles that can stop a cat from meowing. The cat face masks are mostly for keeping the cat still in hospital.
“I think the policy is a good step forward. Honestly I didn’t expect to see one so soon in China. Although there are lots of limitations, Hainan Airlines has taken the first step,” noted Xie. “Letting pets enter the cabin can lower the risk of the animal safety, but it also demands more from the pet owners to raise and supervise their pets properly.”
The dissenting voice
Although China has close to 60 million pet-owning families, the general public is still not so ready to accept the change.
When the news broke out on Weibo last week, the comment sections were flooded with opposition.
The top “liked” comments under the posts of mainstream media were people claiming that they would never fly with Hainan Airlines again; the pets should only be allowed in business or first class rather than economic cabin; Hainan Airlines is trading the health of all passengers for money and so forth.
The second most-liked comment under CNR’s post was by user @大明给事中, who wrote that “if there’s cat or dog on my flight, I would file a complaint because I’m allergic to cat and dog fur.”
User @呼叫胖虎猪猪侠 wrote that the airline should operate special flights for people traveling with pets in order to reduce conflict. Under People’s Daily’s post, user @Mr丶LOLO wrote that the airline should ask the permission of all passengers who are not traveling with pets, because they also paid for their ticket.
People also expressed their unwillingness to travel in the same cabin and that the pets should be removed.
Similar cases have happened abroad, but the result was the other way around. In September 2017, a woman was removed from the Southwest Airlines flight after pet allergy complaint and the demand of removing two dogs, one emotional-support dog and one pet, from the plane as she wasn’t able to present medical certificate to validate her claims.
But many users said noisy passengers were more annoying than animals and if the pet owners abided by all the rules and the pets remain in the container at all times, there shouldn’t be a problem.
For pet owners who wish to book the service of Hainan Airlines:
- File an application to Hainan Airlines direct ticket offices 24 hours in advance.
- Prepare two documents: a veterinary inspection certificate from the local animal health supervision office with a special seal for quarantine in the section of container disinfection; a vaccination certificate.
- Two pets are allowed on each flight, limited to one per traveler. The pet must be kept in a container. The size cannot exceed 35x28x24 centimeters. The weight of the pet and container combined must not exceed 5 kilograms.
- Brachycephalic breeds of cats and dogs are not allowed on the plane, both as carry-on and in cargo. The list includes more than 20 breeds of dogs and four breeds of cats (Burmese, Persian, Himalayan and Exotic Shorthair). The dog or cat must be at least 6 months old, healthy, not pregnant and hasn’t delivered babies within 48 hours.
- The price is 800 yuan per segment per pet.
Hainan Airlines hotline: 95339