In September 2015, PetAir UK celebrated flying our 10,000 client – which amounts to around 18,000 pets assuming many of our clients have more than one pet. This is quite a milestone as PetAir was a good idea dreamed up by 2 vets on one of the vets’ honeymoon, with the simple premise of doing pet shipping “better”. The vast majority of the time we succeed in this. We aim to look after the pets first and foremost and in the event of problems we default to “What would we do if this pet was our own pet”. This has led us to make some very unbusiness like decisions, which may have made external shareholders (if we had any) shriek, but it has also made PetAir a very liked business. Our independent ratings show an average rating of 4.9 out of 5, dragged down from 5 out of 5 by two 4 star reviews (you know who you are!). Pet shipping is a very complicated world and of course when you are dealing with the world of air travel and pets and government regulations, there are very rare occasions when things don’t go exactly to plan, but we treat our human and animal clients how we want to be treated, in an effort to help out where we can.
Over the course of 10,000 clients, we have had some fun stories which we now look back on fondly.
One long cold winter when the roads were closed by snow, we still have pets to fly and pets still have to get from point A to point B, so we don’t down tools and email our clients to say everything is on hold, we plough on. One driver earned his nickname of Frosty (and is still called it even though he has left the company now) by endeavouring to meet his client to collect a pet and getting stuck in the snow. Rather than turning back, he had his sleeping bag with him and slept in the van when he could go no further. This is a good example of the dedication our driving team show. Getting up at all hours and literally going to extra mile to ensure the pets get to where they need to be.
The unprecedented ash cloud from Iceland many years ago, was a once in a lifetime event which downed planes all over Northern Europe. Our kennels became very full at this time with pets waiting to travel abroad. We had to get extensions for the blood tests done to allow pets entry into their new countries and rather than increase the stress and worry to the owners by asking for more money, PetAir covered these extra costs, when this was something which was definitely not our fault.
During a different winter, we had been asked to fly many greyhounds to Australia. The exchange rate had plummeted down to 1.4 Aussie dollars to the pound and so these expensive beasts had fallen in price for the Australians. Some of them came from Ireland and so we arranged the flight fo the dogs from Ireland to UK and then out to Australia. The snow was falling and the planes from Ireland to UK were likely to be cancelled, so another one of our intrepid drivers jumped in the van at short notice and got up to Northern Wales to cross the ferry over to Ireland. He collected the greyhounds, but also came back with another dog, a little springer spaniel now called Beau, who apparently was not that good at working and was going to be shot. Roger already had an older springer and rather than leave Beau to her fate, she was popped in the van and brought back to Dorset, where she is having a lovely time and is being thoroughly spoilt, still.
Larger shipments! We have had to plan a journey for 5 Irish Wolhounds and for 6 Newfoundlands – not from the same family, but the logistical challenge of moving such a large shipment of dogs from the owner’s home to the airport proved a challenge. We were able to go to the owners’ homes to complete the vet checks which saved them going to the vets and the 5 Irish wolfhounds needed a 7.5 tonne lorry to be hired in order to assist them travelling from their home in UK to the airport and the 6 newfoundlands needed 2 of our larger air conditioned vans to collect them and then follow the owner to the airport in convoy. All pets travelled safely and well to their destinations in USA.
Another large shipment was the journey for 26 cats from the north east of England to Sweden, where the owner was emigrating. These cats were tame and wild in equal measure and they were collected early one morning and brought down south. I remember very well doing 26 health checks in the freezing cold, trying to avoid hypothermia and flailing claws and teeth in equal measure. They needed to go on 4 different flights with BA and SAS at similar times in order to get them to Sweden in as short a time as possible. And they did – they all arrived safe and sound and settled into their new home very swiftly.
PetAir UK was started in 2004, when we were younger, fitter and had fewer wrinkles and bald patches between us! These were also care free days of being able to work 14 and 15 hour days to build a business, while working other jobs without having to worry about the time which children take up. Since PetAir has started, a total of 17 children have been born to PetAir staff members and who knows, one day one or more of them may end up running and cherishing the business in the future.
A fun shipment to organise was for a micropig (remember the trend for these?) who travelled to the Bahamas of all places. This little pig travelled well and the owner was extremely happy with her new pet. PetAir was then asked to move more of these little pigs, but the airline then decided that “they did not fly pigs” and when we reminded them that they had just flown a micropig, they changed policy not to fly pigs any more.
PetAir Uk has had a few “offices”. When we started, we worked out of the basement of a house, then we graduated to an actual office at the vets – however happy we were to be there at the time, looking back, this was a glorified shed! We finally decided we had outgrown this shed when our newest team member had to work on a filing cabinet as her desk as we could not fit and more desks in. Now the Petair office in Dorset is a set of converted stables in rural Dorset, which is home to our team and their dogs and the office we use up closer to Heathrow is much more office like. Both “offices” are very suited to pets being in and around us while we work, so there is definitely the odd doggy pee stain on the floor!
As a good barometer of how we have grown, in our first full year of business, we flew a total of 188 clients in the whole year. In September 2015, we flew 190 clients in a single month. The VW Touran PetAir bought as the first vets’ car is still going strong, but has 187,000 miles on the speedo and where we had one PetAir vehicle when we started, we now have 10. PetAir had 3 staff when we started and now we have a team of 25 including more vets and vet nurses on our team than any other UK pet shipper.
Arranging a pet to fly abroad is often complicated and requires up to 5 months’ notice. However, the team at PetAir still get calls from panicked clients at the airport with their pets checked in as excess baggage, only for the airlines to refuse them on grounds of temperature, crate problems or aircraft problems. These clients call us up, we swoop into the passenger terminal to collect their pets and then we get the pets’ flight arranged often within 24 hours of receiving the phone call. In the “olden” days, we were able to get a dog flown from UK to Australia within 10 days of receiving the first phone call!
The most expensive shipment PetAir UK has ever organised was a total cost of around £20,000. This was for 3 great Danes to travel to New Zealand. Their crates obviously had to be huge and so the airline cost was enormous and we needed 2 of our normal vans to collect them and take them to the airport.
Our most frequent fliers are definitely Lottie and Saffron who travel from UK to New Zealand and back again every year as their lucky owners enjoy an endless summer. They spend the summer in UK then in the autumn time they fly to NZ for the summer there and then back to UK in spring. They have made this journey for 5 years now and are poised to travel again very soon.
PetAir UK has been really honoured and privileged to be able to help all these people and their animals on all of these incredible journeys and we look forward to our 20,000th client in years to come.
Mon Oct 5 2015