No go for pets with passports on Virgin and British Airways flights

Despite the introduction in February of the "passports for pets" pilot scheme, few airlines have yet taken up the challenge of carrying pets.

Despite the introduction in February of the "passports for pets" pilot scheme, few airlines have yet taken up the challenge of carrying pets.

Thousands of cats, dogs and other animals have poured through French ports and the Channel Tunnel (on the Shuttle, but not yet on Eurostar), while just 120 pets are estimated to have flown in to Heathrow since quarantine restrictions were lifted. Only three airlines - British Midland, Lufthansa and Finn Air - have taken an active part in the scheme, while British Airways is conspicuous by its absence.

"I had hoped that the airlines would have moved on by now," said Lady Fretwell, chair of the pressure group Passports for Pets. "We had meetings before and they seemed positive. They shifted quarantine animals before the ban was lifted, and I don't see the difference."

Lady Fretwell said Heathrow had a "very good animal reception centre" that was set up to cope with the anticipated influx of pets, so the problem cannot be to do with airport facilities. And elsewhere in Europe, she added, pet travel is very often negotiable with airlines, within the bounds of local health regulations.

So why have British Airways and others gone slow? "We have not taken part in the scheme because of the administrative difficulties involved," said a British Airways spokesman, citing the "need to train staff in pet documentation". But, he added: "We are evaluating the scheme and hope to participate in future."

Meanwhile, Lady Fretwell thinks the precedent set by British Airways has already harmed the scheme. "We thought Iberia was on board, but it found British Airways was hesitant and backed off," she said. And although Sir Richard Branson is a member of Passports for Pets, Virgin Atlantic does not carry pets either.

In February, the passports scheme will be extended to 15 new rabies-free destinations, including Australia, Cyprus, Malta and Hawaii. But if airlines won't carry pets, owners will not be able to take the whole family - animals and all - to these holiday spots.

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