On a Gulfstream private jet, Bark Air gives the VIP treatment

Here’s an airline that really has gone to the dogs...

By David Flynn, May 29 2024
On a Gulfstream private jet, Bark Air gives the VIP treatment

Bowls of chicken broth replace flutes of Champagne on the dog-friendly Bark Air, which is now flying from New York and Los Angeles and London on a Gulfstream jet.

The new boutique airline gives dogs and their humans a VIP experience that’s far less stressful and infinitely more fun than a commercial flight – especially one where pets are consigned to a crate in the below-decks cargo hold.

So while Qantas and Virgin Australia mull the idea of dogs and cats being carried on board domestic flights, Bark Air describes itself as “the world’s first air travel experience designed specifically for dogs first, and their human companions second.”

“Bark Air has taken the white glove experience typical of a human’s first-class experience and redirected all that pampering to pooches,” it says.

“From booking to arrival, to in-flight services and disembarkation, dogs will truly be the VIPs and treated to a positively luxurious, curated experience.”

This includes blankets covered with pheromones, chicken-flavoured ‘puppuccinos’, cereal treats  and even an inflight ‘dog spa’ treatment.

Dogs are VIP passengers on Bark Air.
Dogs are VIP passengers on Bark Air.

“Unlike any flight before it, these dogs are not merely an afterthought, nor are they treated as cargo or a burden to the crew and fellow travellers,” according to Bark Air. “Here, dogs are the foremost priority.”

The Gulfstream G500 – a plane more often associated with rich-listers, celebrities and heads of state – usually carries 14 human passengers, but Bark limits this to ten so there’s more room for everyone.

Bark Air CEO Matt Meeker – who also runs the online dog-centric company Bark – came up with the idea for Bark Air after extensive travels with his late Great Dane Hugo, who could never fit in the cabin.

“I was unable to travel with him long distances and had the idea that there should be an airline that caters to dogs.”

“We cater everything to the dog, trying to lower their anxiety and their stress, so they have the most comfortable, fear-free experience on an airplane.”

Dogs are VIP passengers on Bark Air.
Dogs are VIP passengers on Bark Air.

Even when flights run smoothly, many dogs experience discomfort and anxiety when coupled up the cargo hold away from their human best friend.

To emphasise this point, Meeker rode inside a crate in the cargo hold of a plane for four hours, from Florida to New York City.

“I don’t know why any person would ever choose to do this to their dog,” Meeker said in a video posted on Instagram. “It’s an absolute horror show back here. There has to be a better way.”

Dogs are VIP passengers on Bark Air.
Dogs are VIP passengers on Bark Air.

Meeker says the worries, logistics and cost of travel can be a highly emotional issue for many families who don’t want to leave their dogs behind when relocating, let alone vacationing.

“We don't think of ourselves as selling dog toys or seats on an airline,” Meeker told media ahead of Bark Air’s launch. “We think of ourselves as selling awesome emotional experiences with your dog.”

That experience starts before the flight, with Bark Air running a “pup intake” to learn about the temperament and preferences of each four-legged passenger.

The flights also take off from a private terminal. “We’ve bypassed a busy commercial airport and a very rigid TSA environment, and treating the dog as just another piece of luggage,” Meeker explains.

Dogs are VIP passengers on Bark Air.
Dogs are VIP passengers on Bark Air.

Dogs and humans are served their meals before the flight takes off, while Bark Air cabin crew are ready to help dogs any ear discomfort as the plane ascends and descends.

Pups can choose whether to socialise with other dogs or stick close to their favourite human – although they must be leashed during taxi, takeoff and landing, and “throughout the flight need to be under control of their person.”

In the air, each dog gets "lots of belly rubs, a warm facial towel, a grooming, a waterless shampoo and body cleanse, and some nose and paw butter.”

Meeker reports his own experiences on Bark Air flights proves that “the dogs make it magical.”

“They calmed everyone down, they floated around, they’d take someone’s seat. A dog would wander up, sit on the couch next to you, put their head in your lap, and it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s great.’”

Dogs are VIP passengers on Bark Air.
Dogs are VIP passengers on Bark Air.

That said, Bark Air isn’t cheap: a one-way flight between New York and LA costs US$6,000 for one dog and one human, with New York- London pricing at $8,000.

And while Meeker ism well aware this is cost-prohibitive for most families, he expects the flights will get cheaper as demand increases.

“Televisions, telephones, VCRs and DVD players, to automobiles, train and boat travel, and, yes, even human air travel – all of these started with very high prices until demand was proven and the costs could be brought lower by serving the masses.”

Meeker says the next step will be to make a longer commitment with the charter company, leasing the plane for a month or even a year to bring down costs.

And even better would be Bark Air buying and outfitting its own plane.

With that in mind, Meeker has his eye on a Boeing 747 jumbo jet with a back half dedicated to cargo, which could serve as an additional source of revenue.

He says the Bark Air team has already designed a 747 interior which would feature private cabins with lay-flat beds, a central “dog park” and a bar for dog and human socialising.

“That’s the dream,” he smiles. “But it’ll take a little bit of time to get there.”

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