In the popular novel and ensuing movie, Life of Pi, a young Indian boy struggles to survive in a lifeboat with four terrifying animals-a spotted hyena, a Grants zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger. As bizarre as this menagerie may sound, there are wild animals who travel together every day at 35,000 feet.

Each day, air carriers such as Lufthansa, prepare, load and transport wild and exotic animals around the world. The animals receive the attention and pampering that we all could wish for-private lounges, showers, spacious sleep cubicles and gourmet meals. The Animal Lounge at Frankfurt International Airport is the largest animal airport facility in the world. Every year more than 2000 horses and 15,000 dogs and cats transfer through the facility. The Frankfurt Animal Lounge handles 110 million animals a year –nearly twice the number of human passengers. That said, some 80 million of those are ornamental fish.

Animal transport is big business both in terms of the space required and the economics. The Animal Lounge in Frankfurt, which is managed by Lufthansa but used by all carriers, is over 43,000 square feet. That is more than twice as large as Lufthansa’s two-story First Class Terminal at Frankfurt. This service generates about 30 million Euro a year in sales for Lufthansa and is growing about 3% to 5% per year. 

Flying an animal is expensive. Although passengers may bring a small dog or cat on-board as carry-on baggage for about $125 each way, transporting a race horse across the Atlantic coasts about $3000 or the price of a discounted business-class ticket. Like their human counterparts, animals do not want long layovers. The typical animal connection is about 3 ½ hours. Weekend travel is avoided to expedite deliveries.  Most of the animals-70%-80%-flown by Lufthansa are flown on passenger flights.

The animal flyers are varied-in size and type. An elephant named Billy was flown from a zoo in the Netherlands to its new home in Denver. Wolves from Russia were flown to Canada for a film shoot. Even a hippo became a mile high flyer as it was transported from a zoo in Israel to one in Kazakhstan.

Private charter flight companies are increasing their marketing to focus on animal travel. Many publications now sport glossy ads that feature families and their pets. Beloved family dogs and cats can be assured of stress free, safe transport by their owners.

The next time you think you hear a tiger roar during takeoff, don’t be concerned. You are not hallucinating. It may well be a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Reference: Wall Street Journal

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