It's not every Monday a Mercedes Maybach pulls up outside my apartment, but it's here and is ready to pick up my dog Loki and I to whisk us away to New Jersey's Teterboro Airport.
We're testing out the new VistaPet program by private plane service, VistaJet. It's been designed in collaboration with experienced veterinary practitioners, groomers, dietitians and coaches for the pampered pooch, cat, chameleon, ferret, or falcon (or any other animal, really) and their human to fly with as little stress and as many amenities as possible.
The program was created for VistaJet customer's demand for it. "1 in 4 of our passengers were already flying with their pets," explains Matteo Atti, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Innovation at VistaJet. According to the company, 75% of pet owners don’t trust airlines to safely care for pets in cargo, so more and more customers are turning to private aviation.
From pre-flight travel advice and therapy to in-flight pet travel care kits, luxe mats and post-flight dog-friendly concierge services (think pet-friendly pick up to pet salons, hotels, local dog walkers, and photography sessions), this program is comprehensive, considered, and very luxe.
We stroll happily into a quiet Teterboro Airport lounge, sitting until we're ready to board the jet. Loki is calm and getting lots of attention from the staff, until the shuttle car collects us from the tarmac, driving us to the Challenger jet. For a dog that gets jittery on New York's subways, this is one relaxed pup, mostly thanks to the calm, quiet surrounding.
Here's a breakdown of the VistaPet experience.
Fear of Flying and Desensitization Courses
Nervous pets can get access to dog whisperer, Gillian Thompson, co-founder of The Dog House, Britain's poshest retreat and education center deep in the Welsh countryside. As well as selling delicious treats from Michelin-chef Michele Roux (Loki can't get enough of the Bedtime Biscuits), they specialize in desensitization and training courses tailored to specific needs, whether it's the sounds, smells and movements of a chopper, commercial flight, or private jet, or the sights and sounds of gunfire and fireworks. VistaJet partnered with them to create the Fear of Flying jet course, which prepares Fido for turbulence, sudden air pocket drops, and the smell of jet fuel.
Help With Paperwork and Pet Passports
Every country has its own set of strict rules and timings of needed paperwork when it comes to pet travel. VistaJet will assign you a well-versed customer service rep who will help navigate the complicated and somewhat stressful process for you, no matter the destination. At a minimum, Customer Experience Manager, Danny Beahan says pets need to have these three items:
- Pet Passport
- Certificate of microchips
- Rabies and tapeworm vaccination certificate
Of course, you needn't worry about this too much as the customer experience pros will do the legwork for you.
On The Jet
Once onboard, you know your pet is in good hands thanks to the expertly trained VistaJet crew. Fun fact: as well as being well-versed in pet knowledge, all VistaJet cabin hosts are also trained at Norland College, the royal's go-to nanny school, they're also trained in wine and spirit knowledge up to WSET Level 2 (they're so serious about wine, VistaJets have even produced a book on the different tastes of vintages on the ground and in the air).
The crew gives your furry friend 10-15 minutes to wander and sniff around to acclimatize, get to know the crew, and find a place that they feel safe. Loki wandered around, hopped on a few seats and had a sneak into the captain's cabin. "Then they will often go find their master", says customer experience manager, Danny. "Once they find their human, what else? Sleep." And so he did.
Pets get a handmade, quilted Labbvenn sleep mat to relax on, a selection of the Dog House's Random Rewards treats by Michele Roux, and a travel-sized care kit with water-free shampoos, fur wipes, and rope toys by Furzu.
Onboard Food and Drinks
The breakfast menu for humans included things like pancakes, avocado toast, and a banana berry smoothie. The hosts will remember clients preferences, some like their coffee to be ready and waiting as they board for example. For our furry friend, the pet food came from Rockster, and your customer service rep will find out your pet's diet preferences ahead of the flight. For Loki, that meant chicken. His tailored breakfast was roasted chicken filet, mixed vegetables, and wholegrain brown rice. His water was spritzed with natural flower essences to "aid in elaxation during the flight".
While we didn't actually leave the tarmac on our test experience, the pet-friendly touches don't end once passengers land. The advisors can organize pet hotels, salons, walkers, trainers, or suggest pet-friendly activities like pet yoga, rafting, and surfing at the final destination.
Pet Travel Tips
A few quick things to remember before traveling with your pet.
- Cats and dogs live in the moment. so they will forget a bad experience far quicker than humans;
- Cats feel more comfortable in their carriers since they have the tendency to hide;
- Pets that are noise shy (e.g. scared of loud sudden noises like thunder) can be desensitized through training;
- If the dog is traveling in the cabin, have pee pads available. If they travel in a carrier, place a larger terrycloth or bath towel inside; A facility at a destination where the dog can get a quick clean would be useful (especially if they were transported in a carrier);
- Many US and Canadian airports have pet relief station (aka pet toilets);
- No need to stimulate or exercise animals’ muscles during the flight; it is best not to have too many interesting toys because this encourages more movement and the kidneys to work more, which can result in needing the bathroom more;
- Have chewing and shaking toys available, ones you can hide food in are encouraged;
- Any pet that is transported to a different country should have vaccinations up to date;
- Rabies vaccine should be administered at least a month before;
- Regarding first aid, the two main concerns would be gastrointestinal problems, such as continuous vomiting and diarrhea, and secondly, ear infections. For vomiting there are injections, for the second there are tablets and for ear infections, there is an ointment that can be used ahead of travel;
- Many people have diabetic cats and dogs, and they should plan to bring their own insulin.