Dec 2, 2020

Pigs Can Fly—and Not Just on Air Force One!

A new (muddy) pool of customers may help save the airlines

By Ed Goldman

If you’re planning a trip to Hell, here’s a travel advisory: Watch out for snowballs. I pass this along because I just learned that pigs fly, which gives my snowball alert some foundation.  

The new omnipresence of airborne swine has been verified by the Wall Street Journal and other sources. As you can imagine, the number of human airline passengers has dwindled, attributed almost completely to Covid-19 concerns—though I think we can also blame the practice of allowing  some customers to use steamer trunks as carry-ons, thereby delaying flight departures as they try to cram the damn things into overhead bins while their fellow customers wait in the aisle and silently improve their street vocabulary. 

Come Sty With Me!

It’s not always “silently,” either. I was on a flight two years ago in which a woman held up takeoff because she insisted on loading what looked like a complete Samsonite set into three separate bins. A very frustrated guy waiting behind her so he could find a seat suggested if she didn’t finish soon, he’d jam her “#$!@&*!” into the fourth bin. A flight attendant came over and admirably calmed the passengers down—but not until after their ovation for the guy was permitted to dissipate organically. 

Anyway, to make up for lost revenue, some passenger jets, and cargo planes in particular, have been having a field day, welcoming everything from giraffes to elephants to pigs into their cabins, if not their frequent flyer programs just yet. Surprised by that last part? Come on.  Even a pig would object to having to fly from Sacramento to Kansas, then to Phoenix and Los Angeles before getting to its actual destination, Long Beach. Yet this is the easiest way to chalk up extra mileage points on some airlines—or so I’m told by intrepid travelers who laugh at me for continuing to pay to fly direct/nonstop to where I wish to be, which I still find miraculous. (And how ’bout those fax machines, ‘eh?)

According to the WSJ story, “Cargo planes this year have taken thousands of pigs, goats, alpacas, cats and dogs on international flights, and livestock handlers say demand is rising even as many humans shun air travel.” At first glance, this seems logical: Who among us would want to fight with an alpaca for an aisle seat? Or reprimand the dog sitting in front of us for suddenly reclining in its seat, causing our tray table to dump the canned soda and Nestlé® Sno-Caps we’d smuggled onto the plane?

To be fair, the animals aviate in a variety of containers. For example, “Hundreds of pigs can travel on each cargo flight,” the WSJ reports, “with groups in large wooden crates roomy enough for them to move around in, and that fit nicely in Boeing 777s and 747s, or Airbus A330 aircraft.”

In other words, flying pigs have more legroom than flying humans. As long as they don’t expand their spheres of influence, so to speak. “Pigs grow quickly…Earlier this year, 1,300 young pigs that were scheduled to be flown from the U.S. to the Philippines to stock a farm were bumped when their plane was requisitioned by the U.S. government to move personal protective equipment,” said the WSJ. ”A new flight was secured two-and-a-half months later but the original young hogs had become much bigger—too heavy for the 85 tons the plane could handle.”

Study questions:

  1. When the pigs were bumped from their flight, did the airline buy them a complimentary cocktail and put them up overnight at the airport Host hotel?
  2. Wouldn’t The Original Young Hogs be a terrific name for a rock band?

Finally, airborne animals also have to take non-linear flights, though I doubt they get frequent flyer points for it. Again, from the WSJ: 

“Last month, three horse grooms flew with 31 horses from Mauritius to Belgium. To get to the pickup point, the animal handlers had taken a 280-hour trip, first on freighter aircraft from France to the Middle East, and then to South Africa before arriving in Mauritius, due to border closures and their inability to go directly to the island nation on a passenger plane.”

I feel bad for the horse grooms—though worse for the horse brides waiting at the church. There’s nothing more humiliating than being stood up, even if it’s on four legs.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).