Menu Close

Caring for the First-class Passengers - Animals

Article submitted by: Heathrow Airport – a TIACA Corporate Member

Written by: Hira Tahseen, Cargo Manager, Commercial, Heathrow Airport

What comes to mind when you think about a first-class airport experience? Maybe a swift journey through security, an excellent retail offer, or a luxurious lounge to relax in pre-flight. How about fresh hay and warm, clean water to swim in?

For the UK’s hub airport, catering to millions of passengers every month doesn’t just mean keeping people happy and on the move, it means offering quality service to over four million animals every year too. Heathrow has three dedicated facilities to do just that, which together have welcomed over 25,100 individual consignments of live animals so far in 2023.

Whether it’s zoo swaps, rescue missions or just bringing a beloved pet home from holiday, our three Border Control Posts work around the clock to check the welfare of every animal that travels through the airport – making sure they’re well cared for and safe to enter the country.

The Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC), operated by the City of London Corporation and located close to our cargo terminals, is the only live animal Border Control Post (BCP) in the UK that is approved to handle all species.  Handling everything from snakes, frogs, birds and fish to cats, dogs, ferrets and millions of invertebrates, HARC also recently processed our biggest ever single shipment of 75 horses.  Last year, HARC helped welcome one of our many first-class passengers, Kiburi – a Western Lowland Gorilla, who was visiting London from Tenerife for a special breeding programme at ZSL London Zoo.

The City of London Corporation has statutory responsibility for the health and welfare of all animals arriving at Heathrow and so the team promote compliance of all airlines, whether they arrive at HARC, Airpets or Animal Aircare.

Airpets, located opposite Heathrow Terminal 5, is one of two newer facilities to acquire a BCP status at Heathrow. They have long been successfully exporting animals from Heathrow and now, working in partnership with HARC, have recently completed a new state-of-the-art BCP facility for the import of cats, dogs and ferrets.

Airpets recently welcomed a critically endangered Kemps Ridley sea turtle, Tally who was rescued from Talacre Beach, Wales after getting swept across the Atlantic. She flew home from Heathrow to her natural habitat of Galveston Beach, Texas with the help of Airpets, with experts saying that Tally now seems to be living “her best life”.

The second new state-of-the-art BCP facility to open at Heathrow this year is Animal Aircare, the only one of our three BCPs with direct airside access from their facility within one of our cargo terminals. Animal Aircare has looked after cats, dogs, ferrets, reptiles, birds and invertebrates since becoming operational, with their team recently welcoming a sloth who was travelling through Heathrow from Prague to Hemsley Conservation Centre in Kent for a breeding programme.

Everyone working at all three of these facilities cares deeply about the welfare of all animals travelling through Heathrow. The fact that the UK is free of rabies and other dangerous animal-borne diseases, is thanks to the thorough checks performed in sites like this for every single animal passing the UK border. Thanks to the vigilant staff who go above and beyond basic industry standards, welfare and border security remain at the heart of the Heathrow live animal operation.

All of Heathrow’s BCPs are heavily regulated by various government bodies to maintain standards, with close collaboration between airport partners and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), City of London corporation, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), and the Border Force department of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). In addition to close partnership with Government, Heathrow’s Cargo team has a dedicated partnership manager to lead on all BCP matters, strengthening the bond between BCP and airport. 

At Heathrow, we strive to work with all of our partners to improve not only the journey of our above-wing passengers, but also those very special passengers who tend to travel below wing.