Why do Hong Kong pet owners hire private planes for their pets?
Several of Hong Kong's private aviation companies say that January 2022 is on track to be their biggest month ever for pets (Life Travel Limited)
Hong Kong (CNN) — "Private jet for your pet" is a phrase you'd expect to hear from a Hollywood celebrity or a media mogul.
In 2022 Hong Kong, though, it's just as conceivable that an ordinary person will be investigating this strange expense.
Many people moving away from the financial center have been unable to book flights out of the city for their pets, leading to online forums where desperate pet parents try to pool their money to cover the expense of chartering a plane.
Hong Kong has some of the strictest Covid policies in the world. Locals who leave and then return are subject to three-week quarantines, which can be in pricey hotels or at government quarantine facilities, even if they test negative for the virus many times.
As a result, 40% of expats polled in 2021 stated they were thinking about leaving the city permanently and transferring themselves and their families elsewhere.
Olga Radlynska is the founder and director of Top Stars Air, a private aircraft firm situated in Hong Kong.
Top Stars has shifted its focus away from private flights for corporate people and toward group rentals for pet flights, according to her.
People must move one way, and dogs must be moved as well, she argues. Sometimes the fur parents have already moved on, but the pets remain.
These charter businesses' clientele has shifted as well. In a city where the commercial aircraft industry is on life support, it's now working-class and middle-class individuals who are anxious for solutions.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Radlynska estimates that her company's pet transportation business has surged "700 percent." People attempting to bring their pets into Hong Kong account for less than 1% of the population.
There aren't just dogs and cats on board either. Top Stars has also carried hamsters and bunnies, according to Radlynska, and Jolie Howard, CEO of charter aircraft broker L'Voyage, has handled requests to carry birds and turtles.
These cries grew louder after a single instance of the Delta variety was linked from a hamster to a pet store employee in Hong Kong, resulting in the euthanasia of over 2,500 tiny animals.
Life Travel, a Hong Kong-based private aviation company, told CNN that 98 percent of its trips are currently relocation flights. Prior to the pandemic, its main service was charter flights to and from Japan. It has now shifted its focus to relocation, operating one-way routes from Hong Kong to Japan, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the busiest Top Star routes are London, Singapore, the United States, Canada, and Australia, in that order.
Pet travel has been impacted by more than just the ever-changing Covid travel limitations. Some commercial airlines have severe regulations about how animals can travel; for example, some demand larger animals to be kenneled and/or flown in cargo, and others refuse to risk flying a snub-nosed dog breed like the popular French bulldog due to the increased danger of health difficulties in the air.
Before the pandemic, Howard of L'Voyage had a lot of experience carrying pets on private planes, but he tells CNN that pet owners are becoming increasingly anxious as Hong Kong cancels flights and bans different airlines.
Pets are part of the family, she says. Many folks have been waiting for a flight for over a year. According to my understanding, a few thousand animals (in Hong Kong) are awaiting flights back to their owners. She claims that pet-related business now accounts for half of L'Voyage's revenue.
L'Voyage, a private aviation company, works directly with pet owners to ensure that their animals are microchipped, have all of the appropriate paperwork, are transported in properly sized and licensed containers, and have any necessary vaccines before flying.
The process can be intimidating, and commercial airlines may not always have the resources to assist clients on a one-on-one basis.
We're currently giving help to address the holes that the airline can't fill, according to Howard.
While Radlynska is grateful that her company has been able to stay afloat at a difficult period for the travel industry, she believes it is not worth profiting from others' difficulties.
It has been a major plus in terms of business. At the same time, it's heartbreaking to watch individuals essentially fleeing Hong Kong with their pets. They also want to go today.