May 24, 2024 - Business

For $6,000, Bark Air offers a luxury cross-country flight for your dog

A dog climbs the stairway to an airplane marked "Bark Air."

Dog boarding a Bark Air plane at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, N.Y. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel for Axios

A boutique "dogs first" airline called Bark Air has introduce round-trip service from New York to Los Angeles and London — at $6,000 and $8,000 per ride, respectively.

  • For that price, one human can accompany the canine flyer, who gets spa treatment aboard a private charter jet.
  • No, it's not a joke.

Why it matters: At the same time that many dog owners are seeking full rights for their pets as family members, airlines are cracking down on their rule for emotional support animals.

A chaotic scene inside a small airplane with people and dogs.
Each Bark Air flight can accommodate up to 10 dogs, and as many people. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel for Axios

Driving the news: Bark Air is a new service from a 12-year-old public company called Bark that also sells dog food and toys, subscription boxes and doggie dental treats.

  • "We've sold well over 100 tickets now," Matt Meeker, the founder and CEO of Bark, tells Axios.
  • The service officially started Thursday.

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 said.

  • An in-flight concierge supplies cushions with pheromones to ease canine anxiety.
  • Each flight takes up to 10 passengers with their dogs.
Dogs inside an airplane.
Bark Air is an alternative to a crate in the cargo hold. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel for Axios

What they're saying: "The reception has been really great," said Meeker, who got the idea from trying to fly with his late Great Dane, Hugo. "In our first week, we had over 15,000 requests for new routes."

  • "It's certainly not a lark," he said. "It's something I've been thinking on and working on for over 10 years."
  • He's working to cut the price, but says that the alternatives — which include chartering a private jet or sticking your dog in the cargo hold of a commercial flight — are more expensive or unappealing.
  • "If we do it right, then I think it's a real business."

Zoom in: Customers include celebrities, people moving their households for the summer, and even a military family that's being relocated from the U.S. and has three dogs.

  • Meeker says he's giving that family a military discount.

How it works: For a $6,000-$8,000 ride — or $12,000-$16,000 round-trip — you get a seat for yourself and your dog (or two small dogs).

  • On board, there's a pilot, copilot, flight attendant and concierge — with the latter two trained in dog CPR and canine de-escalation.
  • Bark has partnered with a jet charter company called Talon Air that's based at Republic Airport on Long Island outside New York City. (Actual flights leave from Westchester County Airport.)
  • Dogs need to be on-leash during taxi, takeoff and landing, and "throughout the flight need to be under control of their person," Meeker said.
Matt Muller, CEO of Bark, shows a plate of doggie donuts to a dog inside a plane.
Matt Meeker, CEO of Bark and its Bark Air service, shows a plate of in-flight treats to canine passengers. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel for Axios

Fun(nish) fact: To dramatize the discomfort of a dog flying in a plane's cargo hold, Meeker shut himself in a dog crate and flew from Florida to New York.

  • The experience is "pretty frightening," particularly for a dog — who doesn't understand the loud runway noises, sudden darkness or extreme temperature changes, Meeker said.

Where it stands: Under Transportation Department rules that took effect in 2021, only "only emotional support dogs that meet strict service animal standards" are allowed to fly in the cabin with their owners, per NPR.

  • Chartering a flight to fly solo with your pet would cost perhaps ten times the ticket price that Bark Air is charging, said Meeker.
  • For now, he said, Bark Air is just passing along its costs to customers, not marking up the flights.

Zoom out: Meeker's company, whose signature product is a monthly BarkBox full of toys and treats, describes itself as "a leading global omnichannel dog brand with a mission to make all dogs happy."

  • "We've served over 7 million customers over the years, and as you talk to those people, this comes up a lot as something that's a real struggle," Meeker said, referring to air travel with one's pet.
  • The luxurious trappings, he said, are part of the company's "dogs first" philosophy.

The bottom line: "What we sell is awesome emotional experiences with your dog," Meeker said.

A dog sits in an airplane entryway over a sign that says "Watch your paws."
On Bark Air, dogs need to be on leashes during takeoff, taxi and landing, but otherwise can roam free. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel for Axios
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