Who Let the Dogs In? Virgin Australia’s New Pet Policy

Virgin Australia CEO and staff member with dogs in airport terminal.
Photo Credit: Alex Coppel/Virgin Australia

It looks like the cat is well and truly out of the bag with Virgin Australia’s new pet policy. Virgin Australia is taking a leap forward, aiming to become the first airline in Australia to offer in-cabin pet travel on select domestic flights.

The service is subject to regulatory approval and is likely to launch within 12 months, pending planning and stakeholder consultation.

High demand for pets on board

A 2021 Virgin Australia social media survey revealed overwhelming support, with 85% of respondents in favor of allowing pets in the cabin.

Further research conducted by the airline found that nearly 70% of pet owners would travel with their furry companions, and 57% would fly more frequently if offered this option.

The plan is to roll out the new policy on specific routes, with restrictions on the seating locations and carriage conditions for pets.

To ensure a comfortable experience for all passengers, Virgin Australia has outlined specific guidelines for its in-cabin pet program:

  • Limited to small-sized domestic cats and dogs.
  • Pets will be restricted to designated seating areas. They must remain securely fastened in Virgin Australia-approved pet carriers under the seat in front of their owner throughout the flight. No roaming or lap sitting allowed.

Virgin Australia will keep offering pet transport as cargo through approved pet carrier services.

Virgin Australia announcement. . Picture: Alex Coppel
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Virgin Australia joins the ranks of leading North American carriers like United Airlines and Air Canada in offering in-cabin pet travel for domestic flights.

The airline prioritizes the comfort of all passengers, including those not traveling with pets. To reassure other travellers, several measures are in place:

  • Seating: The airline will restrict pets to designated areas to minimize their interaction with other passengers.
  • Air filtration: Aircraft cabin air filtration systems are highly efficient. The system actively circulates the cabin air from top to bottom, refreshing it completely 20-30 times per hour. Additionally, hospital-grade HEPA filters capture over 99% of airborne particles, significantly reducing the risk of pet-related allergens circulating onboard.
  • Existing protocols: Virgin Australia already has established procedures for guests with severe allergies (MEDA process). These protocols allow for pre-travel arrangements to further minimize potential risks.

Airlines in North America and Europe have successfully implemented in-cabin pet travel for many years.

Stakeholder Comments

Virgin Australia CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka, expressed her excitement, saying: “We are thrilled to be the first Australian airline to offer pets in cabin flights, fulfilling the wishes of many of our passengers.”

“This announcement is significant for a large portion of the country, especially pet-friendly businesses.”

“Innovation has always been our focus, and this initiative reflects our commitment to providing new and improved services.”

Virgin Australia announcement. . Picture: Alex Coppel

Melbourne Airport CEO, Lorie Argus, echoed the sentiment: “We are excited to support Virgin Australia in offering this Australian-first service. He confirmed that the existing facilities are fully equipped to handle these new guests.

“We believe this will be a popular option and look forward to collaborating with Virgin Australia to make it a reality.”

Virgin Australia market research in April 2023 polled 643 Australian travellers.

 164 pet owners selected said they would take at least one extra return flight a year to the question. “Would being able to fly with your pet in the cabin increase the number of flights you take per year? – Selected Choice”.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
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