Virgin Australia’s Ambitious Plan for Pets in Cabins: A Closer Look


by Barbara Csernai



Virgin Australia’s recent announcement regarding its intention to allow small cats and dogs in airplane cabins has sparked curiosity and excitement among pets enthusiasts. However, with the plan set to roll out within the next 12 months, there are several logistical details, including potential challenges and regulations, that remain to be addressed.

Key Points:

  1. Pet Eligibility:
    • Virgin Australia’s “pets in cabin” service is intended for “small cats and dogs,” with the exact definition of “small” yet to be clarified. Certain breeds might face restrictions, similar to schemes already in place in the United States.
  2. Boarding Protocol:
    • Pets must be transported in a Virgin Australia-approved carrier, placed under the seat in front of the owner for the entire flight. This regulation aims to ensure the safety of both pets and passengers, though it might pose challenges for taller travelers struggling with legroom.
  3. Restricted Movement:
    • Only specific rows on select domestic flights will accommodate pet owners using the service. Walking pets down aisles, sitting in laps, or taking them to the bathroom is strictly prohibited.
  4. Mid-Air Pet Needs:
    • Virgin Australia is yet to outline a plan for addressing pet needs, including potential restroom breaks during flights. Moisture-absorbent mats, commonly used for service animals, could be a consideration.
  5. Handling Challenges:
    • Concerns about potential disruptions, such as barking fits or unpleasant odors, remain unaddressed. The airline’s strategy for managing these situations is yet to be revealed.
  6. Regulatory Approval:
    • While Virgin Australia anticipates launching the service pending regulatory approval, existing regulations do not explicitly prohibit airlines from allowing pets in cabins. Changes in Australia’s air regulations in 2021 granted airlines discretion, with a focus on safety.
  7. Passenger Demand:
    • Virgin Australia’s decision to introduce pets in cabins stems from a survey showing that 85% of its Facebook followers in 2021 favored the idea. Recent research indicates that nearly 70% of Australian pet owners would opt for in-cabin travel, potentially boosting Virgin’s competitiveness against dominant players like Qantas.
  8. Global Precedents:
    • Internationally, many jurisdictions have allowed pets in cabins for a fee, featuring a range of animals from pigs to miniature horses. The United States, however, revised its rules in 2020, limiting support animals to dogs. Other airlines globally have accommodated unique cases, like Middle Eastern airlines allowing falcons inside cabins.

Virgin Australia’s move to introduce pets in cabins is part of its strategy to distinguish itself in a competitive market. As the airline works out the finer details and awaits regulatory approval, the initiative signals a positive development for pet owners and a potential unique selling point for Virgin Australia against competitors like Qantas.

Source: Guardian