Your Dog Just Got Its Own Airport: Inside the World of Pet Luxury
An airport for animals, and sounding much nicer than the one for humans, is about to open at JFK—the pinnacle for a generation of pampered pets.
Shallow pools, massages and pedicure services are things you expect from a traditional spa—not a holding terminal for animals.
But at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York animals of all kind will soon be lapping up the kinds of luxuries most humans would love at an airport, if they were not being herded like cattle through security checks.
The international airport is getting a $48 million first-of-its-kind luxury animal terminal as soon as 2016.
The 178,000-square-foot facility dubbed The ARK will act as a shelter and quarantine facility for every animal on earth: cats with trees to climb, “pawdicures” and splash pools for dogs, and private hay stalls for horses.
Even sloths, aardvarks, cows, sheep, goats, pigs—you name it—will have dedicated areas. There will even be a private mating area for arctic animals such as penguins.
And you thought the free booze while flying first class was lavish.
“With demand for pets and animals of all kinds transported by air escalating year on year, we recognized the need for a more humane and efficient model for this significant segment of the air travel industry,” Dr. Aaron S. Perl, managing director of The ARK at JFK, said in a press release.
For the majority of animals, The ARK at JFK will offer a comfortable quarantine facility for incoming international transportation. Horses, for instance, have a holding period of three days to check for contagious diseases before heading off to racetracks, competitions, or new homes.
For pets in transit or waiting for their owners return, The ARK will offer a luxury pet resort operated by Paradise 4 Paws, a nationwide high-end boarding resort with sleeping suites, spa services, and areas with specially designed activities, such as climbing and swimming.
The new luxury terminal is only the most recent venue to offer human-scale luxuries to animals.
Over the past decade high-end pet hotels have spawned in major cities around the globe; animal-only airlines have begun comfortably transporting our favorite furry creatures; and private chefs have cornered the market for gourmet pet grub to match whatever diet, whether its paleo or gluten-free.
We can even dress and accessorize them with designer outfits by Bottega Veneta, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Hermès.
Lummis estimates that approximately 10 percent of that is dedicated to luxury spending, while a broader 40 percent accounts for upper-end and premium purchases.
“Premiumisation has been going on in the market for almost a decade,” Lummis told The Daily Beast—the term means turning existing consumers on to higher-priced products.
“It happens across the market, but particularly in pet foods we began seeing organic and natural products. People are now willing to pay a multiple of what they have paid historically.”
Food accounted for $21.57 billion of the 2013 figure, the largest expenditure out of diet, health care, recreational, and travel. In 1996, total pet spending only amounted to $21 billion ($31.3 billion with inflation).
“People have always loved their pets,” Lummis said. “But a decade or so ago it started to change where pets started to be seen more and more as family members, so marketers started really tapping into the emotional bond that owners feel toward their pets through humanization.”
For instance, many luxury spenders can now tailor their pet’s diet to their own.
Chef Kevyn Matthews, also known as The Dog Chef, crafts gourmet meals for private clients and runs a café for dogs in Washington, D.C.
Matthews specializes in seasonal menus (chicken with pear and kale; cod fish with green apple and cauliflower), homemade treats (coconut muffins and kale pretzels) and even froyo. All orders—roughly $20 an item—are made fresh daily and shipped on dry ice.
“The bottom line is that people are seeing their pets more as their kids,” Kerry Brown, who owns the über luxury D-Pet Hotel in New York, told The Daily Beast. “There is so much new information about the health of animals and the best way of extending their life, particularly in food. Regular dog food isn’t necessarily the best thing so we have a lot of clients who use our private chef services.”
In addition to a private chef service, D-Pet Hotel also offers Bentley chauffeurs, a gym, a spa, and private luxury suites equipped with a full-size bed and 42-inch flat screen television. These Über Suites cost $200 a night.
“We are very familiar with New Yorkers and how they travel and work all the time,” Brown said. “New York City has one of the highest number of dogs per capita in the world yet there is not a lot of outdoor space for dogs to play in.
“There were only traditional kennels and no options for owners who felt guilty leaving their dog in a crate. D Pet Hotel fills that void by making boarding and day care less stressful and less guilt-inducing.
The cage- and kennel-free franchise, founded by Alissa Cruz in 2008, also has locations in Los Angeles and Scottsdale, Arizona.
“A lot of people are looking to do more with their pets,” Lincoln Dow, the owner of People and Pets Air, told The Daily Beast. “They want to travel with them and not leave them behind when they relocate.”
Dow, who founded the pet-only airline last year, spoke from his experience trying to travel with his Doberman, who was large and had travel under the plane in cargo.
“He didn’t enjoy the experience,” Dow said. “At the end of the flight you could tell he was very stressed out. He was not happy and the same thing happened on the return. So it wasn’t something I ever wanted to do again.”
In the past decade, according to a report required by the U.S. Department of Transportation (PDF), 289 animals have died while being transported by commercial airlines. Another 158 have been injured and a 52 have been lost.
“A lot of pet owners have this concern,” Dow said, “and if you know there is a chance that an animal is going to be harmed on a major airline, then that gives a lot of people the incentive to pay extra for safety.”
Dow is expecting to have an official FAA certification within the next few months and begin offering flights shortly thereafter.
Each flight, which keeps the animals in the main cabin instead of cargo, will be customized based on the route, animal, and special requests such as veterinary supervision. A standard flight from Houston to Denver, for instance, would cost around $400.
People and Pets Air, which is based in Houston, is partnering with Pilots and Paws Pet Rescuing Service to get “some real, practical experience while working through the certification process,” Dow said, while also offering ground transportation.
“Pet owners are pretty smart,” Lummis said, “and when they are paying those premiums, they want to make sure they are getting something out of it. It’s not just the prestige of having their pet dressed in a Burberry raincoat.”
This, he says, is not as frivolous as it may look because some small dogs do need clothing, “but it does bring up the question of how much further we can go and what unmet needs remain in the pet market.”