Our Experience

Virgin Atlantic Announces Onboard Pet Therapy

by Moderator April 2012 - last edited April 2013

At Virgin Atlantic, our primary goal is for our passengers to feel safe and relaxed when they fly with us. Here at the airline we absolutely love to fly, but we understand that for some people, getting on a plane can be a challenge.

Over the years, we've helped thousands of people overcome their anxieties through our pioneering Flying Without Fear programme, but nevertheless we do still carry nervous flyers on a regular basis and we've been looking for extra ways to make them feel more at ease.


Virgin PetTherapy™

Senior Flight Pet "Betty Lebowksi" Virgin Atlantic Pet Therapy.png

Senior Flight Pet Betty Lebowski


Today, we're delighted to announce a brand new and groundbreaking scheme which we believe is a worldwide first in onboard passenger care.

Over the next six months we will be rolling out Virgin PetTherapy™ on a select number of flights; a completely unique and innovative new service for our nervous flyers, which will see a five-strong crew of elite kittens and puppies take to the skies in a purely therapeutic role.

The benefits of pet therapy are long-established. Many scientific studies have shown that stroking a cat or dog in times of anxiety can have a dramatic impact on heart rate, blood pressure and levels of unease, as well as providing a positive distraction during peak moments of stress.

Takeoff, landing and intermittent periods of turbulence have always presented the biggest challenge for nervous passengers, and these are the times that our four-legged crew come into their own.


Flight Pet "Bunk Herzdog" Virgin Atlantic Pet Therapy.png

Flight Pet Bunk Herzdog


Services offered include the Comfort Blanket, where our specially-trained Flight Pets will curl up on your lap for takeoff and landing and the Turbulence Consoler, where one of our puppies will sit by your side and rest its head on your knee, every so often raising a quizzical eyebrow to check that you're ok.


What does it take to be a Flight Pet?

Over the past few months, our Animal Engagement team have hunted high and low for the extra special cats and dogs that will make up our first ever Flight Pet team, and in January this year we whittled down hundreds of applicants to a small crack team of five.


Flight Pet "Doris McWhirter" Virgin Atlantic Pet Therapy.png

Flight Pet Doris McWhirter


As with our regular cabin crew, we looked for well-groomed pets with a great personality and caring nature, who instinctively understood how to deliver the best possible Virgin experience.

Since then, they have been undergoing intensive training at our Cabin Crew training facility near Gatwick Airport alongside their fellow (human) recruits.

Chief Pet Recruiter Donald Gillespie said: "Our Flight Pets have been through an amazing transformation over the past six weeks. At first all they wanted to do was zoom up and down the aisles, and once they discovered the escape slide it was very hard to get them to do anything else. But they soon buckled down, and have learned everything there is to know about onboard safety and delivering brilliant customer service, as well as ensuring our nervous passengers receive a comforting paw of support."

Despite the shaky start, earlier this month all five Pets received their Wings after passing their final exams with flying colours.


Who are our Flight Pets?

Flight Pet "Nelly Charman-Perry" Virgin Atlantic Pet Therapy.png

Flight Pet Nelly Charman-Perry


Our very special team is headed up by golden tabby Betty, 5 years old, who is an expert at detecting which passengers are in need of some support. She is ably assisted by kittens Doris and Blu, and puppies Nelly and Bunk.

Virgin's Pet Trainer Maggie Marwood commented: "I'm so proud of what our pets have achieved over the past five weeks, and it's been wonderful watching them mature into the role. Blu has completely overcome his fear of heights and Nelly and Bunk have learned not to beg for our passengers' leftovers - an incredible achievement."


On her test flight, Doris passed out behind the Upper Class bar.png

On her test flight, Doris passed out behind the Upper Class Bar


"We did have one or two incidents with Doris who unfortunately received a formal warning after passing out behind the Upper Class bar on a test flight, but all five are now completely focused on their roles as inflight therapists, and we're really excited to have them onboard."


What do our passengers think?

As part of our Flight Pets' final exams, they were required to operate on a small number of flights to ensure their new found skills were fully up to scratch. These flights contained genuine passengers who couldn't speak more highly of our new crew.


Flight Pet "Cecil 'Blu' Couttie, Jr" Virgin Atlantic Pet Therapy.png

Louise receiving a cuddle from Flight Pet Cecil "Blu" Couttie, Jr


Louise Hargreaves, 39, a nervous flyer from Wolverhampton was thrilled with her cuddle from Blu. "Blu was a little star!" she said. "He curled up on my lap and purred like a traction engine from the moment the seatbelt signs went on right up until the moment we landed and taxied up to the gate in New York. I normally get very worried as the plane makes its descent, but this time I was completely calm."

Our Flight Pets will be going into service today, Sunday 1st April 2012, and will initially be operating on our routes between London and Tokyo, New York and Barbados. More routes will be added later in the year.

If the initial period is a success, we anticipate that we will be recruiting for five more Flight Pets in the summer. If you would like your pet to be considered, please do leave a comment below.

For the best fares on flights to all our fantastic worldwide destinations, visit www.virginatlantic.com.

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MaxKrugerraq April 2012
on flights between London & Tokyo and New York & Barbados. – The full story is here: http://blog.vtravelled.com/virgin-atlantic-announces-onboard-pet-therapy/. Well done Virgin, you’re certainly pulling out all the stops this
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Ash April 2012
April fools?
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MilesHammond April 2012
April fool???
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Shell April 2012
Hmmmmm, I'm checking out the date here and thinking "April Fool" :-)
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Priya April 2012
Travelling by Virgin is much more worth it now! Simply to be with the little furry guys... :) Amazing idea! Thanks for coming up with it! maybe sometime later you could come up with an online adoption center... i'll bet then animal lovers will only travel by Virgin! Way to go...
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SarahPoulten April 2012
I guess this service will only be available until lunchtime today... Sunday 1st April eh...?! Very well executed...!
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Annjohnson April 2012
Who's an April fool then....
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Joyce April 2012
April Fool !!
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OliverMellors April 2012
Too bad this is an April Fool. You should consider really doing this.
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TheBestAirlin April 2012
up, in third place … Virgin Atlantic announced “Onboard Pet Therapy.”   This year’s April Fools Gag from Sir. Richard Branson’s crew focused on the
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Animaltherapy April 2012
Virgin Atlantic Announces Onboard Pet Therapy by Maxine …
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Bear April 2012
This one might come back to bite... link on hoax page links to a very real page asking for credit card info for a 'fear of flying' program.
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RecapofBestO April 2012
go all-out. Virgin Holiday launched a new currency—the Branson, while Virgin Atlantic started up onboard pet therapy (the cutest April Fools airline prank ever?) and Virgin Active began “Bare and Burn”
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RecapofBestO April 2012
go all-out. Virgin Holiday launched a new currency—the Branson, while Virgin Atlantic started up onboard pet therapy (the cutest April Fools airline prank ever?) and Virgin Active began “Bare and Burn”
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RecapofBestO April 2012
go all-out. Virgin Holiday launched a new currency—the Branson, while Virgin Atlantic started up onboard pet therapy (the cutest April Fools airline prank ever?) and Virgin Active began “Bare and Burn”
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DawnShort April 2012
Loved it .... great stunt, as always, for Virgin. Well done
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VirginAtlanti11 April 2012
Via blog.vtravelled.com Rate this: Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Filed under Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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DebraMKLuto April 2012
Shame this is an April Fool story, but then again it would not be mcuh fun for the puppies and kittens. My dog gets confused when the clocks go back and forward, and certainly wouldn't cope with jet lag !
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Lyn April 2012
As a volunteer animal therapist, I was in seventh heaven when I first read this article. What a disappointment to find it was a joke! I recently flew in the seat next to a flight phobia sufferer, and I know she would have been much less afraid if she had had a therapy animal to stroke while I verbally held her hand for several hours. She loves dogs, and would have responded to my calm-spirited Sheltie. I hope this someday becomes a REAL news story. In the meantime, the very fact that it appeared here shows that animal therapy is becoming more widely known and accepted -- good news for us practitioners.
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Kathy May 2012
I did not think this was funny at all. It was actually cruel. Those of us who need therapy dogs and go through

hoops to get some quality of travel do not need to be made fun of!!!! It is like being told "we have a cure for your anxiety attacks" then told "just kidding".

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May 2012
Hi Kathy,

Thanks for your comment. The post was just intended to be a lighthearted April Fool's joke. We're sorry if you feel it was cruel - that wasn't our intention at all.


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PaulQuinn July 2012
I'm a bit late noticing this. Any how as some who has a phobia of cats and dogs, I am glad that this was a joke. Its certain that some folks get great comfort from animals. However the thought of being trapped in an aluminium tube beside a cat for dog for 9 hours would be beyond endurance.
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DalePreece-Kel October 2012
Hi Maxine

Just caught this post . . . you won't believe it but we provided this exact service (but with a range of animals) last Tuesday and today (2nd & 11th Oct 2012) at Stafford Railway Station, for Virgin Trains !!! It was immensely well received with massive positivity - we could not have wished for these trials, and a UK first in the passenger transport industry, to have gone any better. The commuters leaving trains and walking into a concourse with animals to pet, were excited and amazed. We even took their blood pressure readings and proved that it works to reduce stress and anxiety in the service users :) It was reported on the main Virgin website, and in The Telegraph, and Passenger Transport Magazine.

My company - Critterish Allsorts - are the premier independent animal education and therapy resource and we are internationally recognised for our pet therapy work. I would like to talk to Virgin about making this service for Virgin Atlantic passengers a REALITY !! Not necessarily on board the aircraft, but more so in the passenger lounges at airports.

Please contact me or pass my details onto the appropriate member of the Virgin Team.

I look forward to hearing from you

Dale Preece-Kelly (Owner of Critterish Allsorts)

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Kathy October 2012
There is no reason why a pet cannot travel on a plane or if they meet the criteria. Even buying a seat would work. Each airline can set the standard for what is acceptable and what documentation from the correct professional service is required. I would gladly buy a first class ticket for my pet to travel with me.
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JuliaBueno October 2012
have long been used in therapy (Virgin Atlantic included), and hearing these stories is a far more effective way of understanding why than any
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About the author: Maxine

Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.