Australian airlines' pet hate

Thank you, Virgin Australia, for allowing my jet-setting pooch to earn frequent-flyer points the next time she flies in the cargo hold of the plane.

She, of course, will be oblivious to the fact she's turned into a little earner. Snug in her crate, with a pill to send her to sleep, she will hopefully not know anything about it at all.

But it's a lovely idea and quite brilliant for people who need to travel with assistance pets, which, happily for all involved, can actually fly with their people inside the plane.

No such luck for the rest of us. Airline rules in Australia demand that all other pets have to fly with the cargo and stowaways. Ironically, we call the economy seats "cattle class", but the superior animals aren't permitted to fly in them.

It's different in Europe and North America. Often, I've been seated next to someone travelling with a small pet in a case. The pet usually makes less noise than the children on board, and it doesn't get drunk or miss the toilet seat when it pees or snore loudly the moment the plane takes off. I'd happily see a quarter of my fellow passengers in a crate, rather than some well-behaved little kitty.

If you want to fly with Fluffy on your lap (or, strictly, under the seat in front of you) on a domestic flight, then you're in luck with KLM, Air France, United and a slew of international airlines. Admittedly, the pet-and-case combo has to weigh less than six kilograms, which restricts the furry jet-setter pretty much to cats, chihuahuas and ferrets, and there are sensible regulations regarding vaccinations and microchips, which mitigate against the chance of you sitting next to a rabid dog. But not so in Australia. I don't understand why a nation that could revere a dog on a tucker box and send a sentimental film about a red cattle dog to the top of the box office can tolerate punitive health-and-safety laws that treat pets like vermin, even though many of them have had haircuts that cost more than their human's salon trim and are waited on like princelings.

It's not just domestic airlines. Australian pets are denied access to restaurants, bars and shops. Yes, yes, yes - I hear you saying that some dogs are not well trained, and who wants to sit next to a nervous pit bull (or chihuahua, which can be nastier) on a flight? And what about people who are allergic to pet hair? I'm allergic to Thierry Mugler's Angel perfume, which is very popular, but try complaining about the over-scented passenger next to you to a flight attendant trying to get a rabble of passengers settled.

I travel the world with a sense of envy, sighing longingly at dogs on the Paris Metro or under the table at a chic restaurant in Rome. In New York, I've been shopping with a friend and her rather ferocious-looking British bull terrier, and the salespeople didn't give a toss.

My dog is a Cavalier King Charles. These dogs are permitted to go wherever they like in the kingdom by royal decree from King Charles II, which remains unrevoked. I tried it once in Coles, when she was a puppy in a bag, and they thought I was barking (mad). Maybe we were a health risk. But so was that snotty kid running their hands over all the vegetables.


Things may very well change. While Australian hotels are slow to catch on, hotels in cities such as Paris and New York compete with each other for the lucrative pet dollar. The pet dollar is as welcome in tourism as the pink dollar, and sometimes, as in the case of gay couples with miniature schnauzers, there's a triple benefit to be gained.

I stayed recently at the five-star Le Meurice in Paris and I noted that canine guests were accommodated there in high style, with their own VIP welcome, a bowl engraved with their name, a selection of small toys to play with, and walkies in the Tuileries Garden. If that didn't impress them, a Salvador Dali-inspired egg-shaped basket with haute couture faux-fur trim was available for bedtime.

Furry frequent flyers, your day will come. A welcoming liver treat? A bowl of warm cream in first class? Perhaps. But don't count on being able to put your head out the window.

Do you think other countries offer more pet-friendly options to travellers than Australia? What has your experience with travelling with pets been? Post your comments below.

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