Whenever I tell people that I fly with horses, they often look at me as if I’m crazy. Then they start firing questions at me, some of which can be quite strange. For instance, whether horses can jump high enough to get aboard the plane. But also whether horses are afraid of flying. I especially love watching their expressions when I tell them the horses fly along with the passengers. They’re in the cabin, about three metres behind the last row. In addition to thousands of people, KLM also transports dozens of horses every week. To America and Asia, for instance.
Okay, let me start by answering that first question. No, they don’t jump on board. And no, they don’t have to wear special seatbelts. The horses are brought on board in special containers, which look a lot like rectangular trailers, which have room for two or three horses. Once they are in the container, they are loaded onto the aircraft. The container is placed on a hoist that lifts the horses up to the cabin. Once they are at the right height, the container is pushed on board. That’s all pretty easy to do, because there are special rollers on the floor of the cargo hold. Once the containers are in place, we secure them to the ground.
Which aircraft type is used for horse transport?
The horses are transported aboard a Boeing 747 Combi, which has a cabin that is split into two sections. The front part is for passengers, while the rear is a cargo hold that can take up to seven containers.
There’s a door halfway the plane. If you go through that door, you walk into the big net within half a metre. We need to climb through this net to get to the horses and back into the cabin. The net is there for safety reasons.
We can take along a maximum of 20 horses. In the most aft part of the aircraft (the T position, as we call it), we can only accommodate two horses, because there are weight restrictions. We don’t always have horses there. Sometimes we transport cars or other types of cargo. We recently carried two pandas!
Preparing for take-off
The transport agents usually arrange all the required documentation and veterinary reports for the horse and also bring the horses to the KLM Animal Hotel. Our job starts when we start loading the horse onto the plane. We are on site five hours before departure, so that we have plenty of time and can calmly prepare the horses for the flight. We also conduct various inspections, reading computer chips and checking the horses’ passports. And then the action really begins!
We ensure that there is plenty of feed and water on board for the horses, to see them through the flight. We work with a team of people that includes a number of flying grooms (the number varies depending on the number of containers) as well as an animal steward. You could say the latter is the captain of the flying horse grooms.
Next time round, I’ll tell you more about the flight and the way it is experienced by the horses. And if you have a question, feel free to pose it in the comments section below this blog, and I will try to answer it as best I can!