In Hong Kong 2022, the average person could say they chartered a private jet for their pet
“Private plane for your pet” is the kind of phrase you might expect to hear from a movie star or media mogul.
But in Hong Kong in 2022, it is very likely that the average person will make these extraordinary expenses.
Many people who have moved away from the financial center have been unable to secure foreign flights for their dogs and cats, which has spawned online groups of desperate landlords trying to raise money together to cover the rent of a private jet.
Hong Kong has some of the most restrictive COVID-19 measures in the world. Almost all non-residents are banned from entering the city, while residents who leave and return are subject to a three-week quarantine, which can be in expensive hotels or government quarantine facilities – even if they test negative for the virus multiple times.
As a result, about 40% of expats surveyed in 2021 said they were considering leaving the city for good and moving permanently to other locations.
Olga Radlinska is the founder and director of Top Stars Air, a Hong Kong-based private airline. He says the Top Stars business has shifted to less private business flights and more group rentals for pet tours.
“People have to move and they have to bring their pets,” she says. “Sometimes the owners have walked away, but the pets are still here.”
Clients of these companies charter Also changed. Now, it is the working class and middle class who desperately need options in a city where the commercial airline industry is hanging by a thread.
Radlinska estimates that her company’s pet transportation business has grown “by 700%” since the start of the pandemic. Less than 1% of people try to bring their pets to Hong Kong.
And it’s not just cats and dogs. Radlynska says Top Stars has also moved hamsters and rabbits, while Julie Howard, CEO of charters L’Voyage says his company has responded to requests to move birds and turtles.
These calls grew after more than 2,500 small animals were euthanized in Hong Kong when one case of a delta variant was traced back to a pet store employee hamster.
Life Travel, another Hong Kong-based private airline, told CNN that 98% of its flights are currently carried. Before the pandemic, the company’s main offering was rentals to and from Japan. However, it has now switched to the resettlement business and operates one-way routes from Hong Kong to Japan, the United Kingdom and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, Top Star’s busiest routes are, in order, London, Singapore, the United States, Canada and Australia.
It’s not the ever-changing Covid travel restrictions that affect pet travel. Some commercial airlines have strict policies on how animals travel – some require large animals to be raised and/or carried as cargo, and others do not want to risk flying small-nosed dog breeds such as the famous French Bulldog, due to their increased likelihood of health problems in the air.
Howard of L’Voyage had plenty of experience flying pets on private planes before the pandemic, but he told CNN that pet owners were becoming increasingly desperate as Hong Kong canceled flights and banned many airlines.
“Pets are part of the family,” she says. “A lot of people wait 12 months for a flight. From what I understand, there are a few thousand animals (in Hong Kong) waiting to board flights to get back to their owners.”
She says half of L’Voyage’s business is now pet related.
Private airlines like L’Voyage work closely with pet owners to make sure pets are equipped with an electronic chip, have paperwork in order, travel in the correct sized, approved carriers and have all vaccinations needed to fly.
The process can be daunting, and commercial airlines cannot always support customers.
“Right now, we’re providing support to fill in the gaps that airlines can’t do,” Howard says.
Radlinska says that while she is glad her company has been able to stay afloat during a time of great challenges for the travel industry, it’s not worth taking advantage of others’ misfortunes.
“In terms of business, it has been very positive. But at the same time, it is sad to see people abandon Hong Kong with their pets. And these people want to go out yesterday.”