Virgin Australia Allows Pets To Fly With Their Owners


Announced yesterday, Virgin Australia plans to be the country’s first airline to allow pets to fly in the cabin alongside their owners. Two RMIT experts weigh in.

Melissa Laing, animal companionship researcher

“Pets are family. Sixty-nine per cent of Australian households are what we could call ‘interspecies families’; that is, they contain one or more pet.

“Many people consider themselves to be ‘pet parents’, and have a bond with their animal companions that is every bit as meaningful and complex as those they have with other humans. This is particularly the case for people who are socially isolated.

“Enabling companion animals to travel on flights is a positive development for the human-animal bond and interspecies families in Australia, as it communicates to people that their relationship with their pets is important.

“We can take our pets to some public spaces like outdoor cafes, on public transport and to short stay accommodation, so it’s not too much to expect to take your animal on a flight with the rest of the family.

“There are reciprocal physical, psychological and social effects of the human-animal bond, and continuing to experience that bond while on holidays could increase the therapeutic benefits of travel.

“Companion animals are social lubricants; that is, their presence helps break down social barriers by giving us a shared topic of conversation, and this could be enhanced in the impersonal space of a plane cabin.

“Giving pets access to traditionally ‘human-only’ spaces like planes means Australia will be catching up with the rest of the world, where pets have greater visibility.

“However, there are potential downsides to this change. While companion animals are widely loved, many people have allergies or fears or other cultural understandings and experiences of dogs and cats, meaning the presence of pets on flights could be a source of stress.

“For people who are anxiously attached to their pets, or easily worried about them, the stress of flying could be exacerbated.

“It’s easy to overlook the subjective experience of our companion animals and just focus on all that they bring to us. However, we must also ask: would pets on planes be good for our pets or just for us? If we want to increase access to human spaces for companion animals, we need to ensure those spaces are dog and cat-shaped as much as they are human-shaped.”

Melissa Laing is an Associate Lecturer in Social Work and Human Services and researcher in the Social Equity Research Centre in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University. Her research focuses on the human-animal bond in human services practice.

Dr Iryna Heiets, aviation lecturer

“The global aviation market is very competitive, and airlines need to properly understand the environment in which they operate as well as customer behaviours and wants.

“Virgin Australia is competing with major players in the domestic passenger aviation market such as Qantas Domestic, Jetstar Airways, Bonza Airways and Rex Airlines.

“In 2023, there was a total of 5.21 million passengers carried on Australian domestic commercial aviation, and Virgin Australia held a 31.2% market share in the domestic market.

“They are looking at another statistic: approximately one-third of Australian households have dogs (48%) or cats (33%).

“Recognising this, Virgin Australia conducted a survey on social media asking its passengers about carrying pets on flights.

“As a result, they are launching ‘pets in cabin’ flights for domestic destinations.

“These changes may be a competitive advantage for Virgin Australia, identifying it as a ‘pet-friendly’ airline that aims to make the journey convenient and stress-free for both passengers and their furry friends.

“This decision will also generate revenue for the airline through the fee that applies for this service.

“Many airlines around the world allow small pets to travel in the cabin with their owners, but specific policies can vary.

“Major airlines such as American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and Alaska Airlines permit small dogs, cats, and sometimes household birds in the cabin. This allows pet owners to care for their pets during the flight while ensuring safety for other passengers, as there are restrictions on the size of the pet carriers.

“We’ve seen through these international competitors that it works. Virgin Australia may be the first in Australia, but I would expect more to follow.”

Dr Iryna Heiets is Senior Lecturer in Aviation at RMIT University and Program Manager for the Master of Science (Aviation). Dr Heiets’ research focuses on air transportation management, aviation strategy, game theory, competition strategy, airline marketing and operations.


/RMIT University News Release. View in full here.