BarkBox’s next big delivery: Charter flights for dogs

BarkBox’s next big delivery: Charter flights for dogs

BarkBox, the service that assembles and ships care packages for dogs to millions of subscribers each month, is expanding into a new market: pet-friendly charter flights. This spring, the company will begin transporting dogs (and their owners) on private planes via Bark Air.

Starting on May 23, Bark Air will fly weekly between Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y., and Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles. The following week, it will kick off bimonthly service between Westchester and London Stansted Airport. Reservations at will go live Thursday, on National Pet Day. The one-way cross-country flight costs $6,000 for one dog and one owner; the transatlantic flight goes for $8,000.

By comparison, for the same date as the launch, nonstop air on a major carrier starts at $220 one way from New York to Los Angeles and from $525 to London. Adding a dog would cost more.

Bark chief executive and co-founder Matt Meeker said the inspiration for Bark Air came from his Great Dane. Hugo visited nearly two dozen states and Canada during his 12-year lifetime, but he never pranced around the West Coast or Europe because of the challenges of flying pets, especially of his size.

Options are limited for pets too large for the cabin. Depending on the season, destination and airline, owners can transport their dogs as checked luggage or cargo, an arrangement that comes with risks. According to Transportation Department data, U.S. carriers reported nine incidents involving animals, including seven deaths, in 2022. (The agency has not published its annual 2023 numbers for these incidents).

To understand the experience of traveling as baggage, Meeker packed himself into a crate and was rolled across the tarmac and loaded onto a plane, where he stayed in his enclosure for 45 minutes to an hour. His experiment confirmed his suspicions: Flying in the belly of a plane can be traumatizing.

“It was very cramped, very dark. Loud noises. Disorienting. No food or water. Nowhere to go to the bathroom,” said Meeker. “It was very, very terrible.”

Moneyed travelers can book a private or charter plane. However, noncommercial air can be prohibitively expensive or unpredictable. K9 Jets, a private charter operator that started offering pet-friendly flights last year, flies to 13 destinations, including Dallas, Paris and West Palm Beach, Fla. It has similar prices to BarkAir — $6,650 from New Jersey to Los Angeles — but will cancel the flight if it is not at least 75 percent full.

“There’s a huge amount of interest and demand, and really frustration,” Meeker said. “People are looking for a reasonable solution to transport their dog if they’re moving or taking a summer vacation or weekend trip.”

Meeker said the company partnered with Talon Air, a New York-based charter company that will fly two Gulfstream G550s under the Bark Air banner. The plane can accommodate 14 passengers, but the company will cap the number at 10.

After the traveler books the flight, a concierge will contact the family to learn about the dog’s temperament and to help with logistics, including the documents required to enter England. The fare includes complimentary car service within a 30-mile radius of the arrival destination.

Meeker recommends passengers arrive 45 minutes to an hour before departure. Guests will wait in a private area inside the terminal, where a chef will prepare a hot meal for the human travelers to avoid any in-flight tray-table surfing. Before boarding, the dogs will have a chance to sniff each other out.

Onboard, pets can fly without a leash as long as they behave. During a test run, Meeker said the dogs were very courteous, with no unruly outbursts.

“They would say hello to the other dogs and say hello to the other people. Everyone was very calm about it,” he said. “For dogs who were a little more nervous, or people who were more nervous for their dogs, we have a place on the plane for them to sit without anyone bothering them.”

Since the pups are the top dogs onboard, the carrier will cater to their tastes. The menu will feature “Doggie Champagne” (actually chicken broth), doughnuts made for dogs and meaty snacks served on a silver tray. The flight crew will include professionals trained in veterinary care and dog behavior. At the end of the trip, the four-legged fliers will earn their wings, which they can proudly pin to their collar or harness.

If Bark Air does well, Meeker hopes to add larger planes to the fleet, which could help lower the fare. He also dreams of building the world’s first in-flight dog park.

“The dogs for those longer journeys will have a park where they can play with other dogs while their humans enjoy a drink at the bar around the edge of the park,” he said.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with the Atmosphere Research Group, said pet airlines are more apt to fail than succeed. (RIP, Pet Airways.) However, Bark Air has a few advantages. It is not building an airline from scratch. It has brand recognition. And it oversees a mailing list with the names of millions of pet lovers willing to drop a small fortune on their pooches.

“Some people will absolutely do this,” Harteveldt said. “The question is: Will there be a enough people who love their pets enough to pay $6,000 or more to transport them coast-to-coast or from New York to London?”

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