Dogs and their humans fly together on BARK Air, service coming to San Jose airport in the fall

BARK Air, a new charter plane service that allows people to fly with their dog at their side, is expanding to San Jose Mineta International Airport this fall, bringing what the company calls a “unique, stress-free and dog-centric travel experience” to the South Bay.

The airline launched last month with flights between New York and Los Angeles and New York and London, and in the next few months will begin flights from Paris, Chicago, Phoenix and Miami/Fort Lauderdale. Flights will run from Chicago and New York to San Jose’s airport.

BARK Air, the first company of its kind, is a public charter operator, not a direct air carrier and does not own or operate the aircraft. What they specialize in is keeping dogs comfortable, happy and safe during their time in the air.

“We have a saying, ‘The dog is buying the ticket and they get a free human companion,’’’ said Katharine Enos, chief of staff for New York-based BARK Air.

Flights between New York and Los Angeles run $10,000 roundtrip and a one-way ticket on the same route is $6,000. A ticket from New York to London will set you back $8,000. Prices for trips to and from San Jose have not been released yet.

Pups on the Gulfstream G5s are given fluffy robes, calming blankets, noise-cancelling ear muffs, organic chicken bone broth served on a silver platter and calming dog treats. They are also invited to indulge in a white glove spa treatment, including being smeared with paw and nose butter and wrapped with lavender-scented warm facial towels.

But the first-class service starts long before dogs and their humans board the plane. Upon booking, a BARK Air “concierge” conducts a “pup intake” by collecting information about the dog, the duo’s travel plans and any special treatment needed in order to make the flight smooth and safe.

“They really go in-depth about what you and your dog need,’’ Enos said. “They ask questions, like, ‘Has your pup ever traveled before? Do they have any allergies? And are they OK being directly approached by other dogs?’”

On travel day, dogs and their companions arrive at the airport an hour before the flight for a quick check-in process and private security screening. There is space for 14 dogs and people, but right now the airline is keeping it to nine humans and nine pups.

“Bark Air will operate from one of our fixed-base operators, so the four-legged passengers will not be processed through our terminals,” a spokesperson for San Jose International said in a statement. “While the boarding and deplaning process will be a bit different for the furry passengers compared to that for human-passenger airlines, we are delighted to welcome BARK Air at SJC — we are all about making travel more convenient and fun for everyone.”

Before boarding, human passengers are given a “just in case” bag filled with calming treats, leashes and poop bags for their dogs. Owners are asked to get their dogs to “do their business” one last time before boarding, but in case of an emergency, puppy pads are available in a large bathroom where the owner can accompany the dog.

On board, an FAA-certified pilot, and a vet tech or BARK Air concierge, welcome the dogs with reggae music (Enos says it mellows dogs) and a calming pheromone spray.

Dogs on BARK Air are treated to spa services and given warm scented towels and calming treats. The airline is expanding to San Jose Mineta International Airport in the fall. (Photo courtesy of BARK Air) 

All dog breeds are allowed to fly, but sometimes a rambunctious or overly friendly dog will be corralled in a separate area of the cabin so as not to disturb or rile up the other pups.

“There are always some social butterflies on the planes and there are also ones who are more standoffish,’’ said Enos.

Sally Grottini, a dog behaviorist with JustAnswer who has been involved in dog training for more than three decades, said the airline sounds like it has solid safety precautions in place.

“It should be safe as long as dogs are kept at a distance when boarding and spaced apart on the plane,’’ she said. “It is likely safer then how the regular airlines board them now in the luggage area.”

Although Enos said there is some howling and barking at the start of the flights, the dogs seem to follow a similar pattern after the plane gets off the ground.

“The dogs almost go into a choir together and then they chill out,’’ she said. “It’s quite entertaining to everyone on board because you are reminded that you are here for the dog.”

BARK, which employs 150 people and boasts a dog park inside their East Coast offices, is also the parent company of BARK Box, a subscription dog treat and toy service. BARK was co-founded by Matt Meeker, who serves as the company’s CEO.

Meeker was inspired to get into the dog-friendly air travel business by his late Great Dane, Hugo. Meeker wanted Hugo to accompany him on commercial airline flights but was not willing to put the dog in a crate in the luggage area of the airplane. To prove his point, Meeker himself got into a crate and took a charter flight from New York to Florida in the luggage hold.

Matt Meeker, co-founder and CEO of BARK and BARK Air with his late dog Hugo. Meeker and Hugo were an inseparable pair and the late dog was the inspiration for BARK Air. Meeker never wanted to force his pup to fly in a crate in the luggage area so he started the dog-friendly airline. (Photo Courtesy of BARK Air) 

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Since founding BARK Air, the company has received more than 21,000 requests from people who want the airline to fly from of their cities, a company spokesperson said.

“The interest and enthusiasm around BARK Air to date have been overwhelming,” Meeker said in a statement. “We are excited to expand BARK Air’s service to new cities and through new routes, accommodating customer demand and bringing our unique, stress-free dog-centric travel experience to even more families.”

To fly, dogs are required to have up-to-date vaccination records and international destinations require documents certifying rabies vaccination records and microchip compliance. The United Kingdom also requires proof of tapeworm treatment before dogs can fly.

BARK Air officials said customers are a mix of people who are relocating and need to get their dog to their new home and those who are “summering in the Hamptons” and want to bring their pup along on vacation.

“It’s all worth it when we see this massive grin on the owners’ face when we land,’’ Enos said.

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