Lufthansa gives falcons seat upgrade

Falcon Master tray
Lufthansa's specially designed "Falcon Master" tray will allow first-class passengers to bring their birds on-board with more comfort and less mess.Today

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By Harriet Baskas

German airline Lufthansa announced Monday that first-class passengers will soon be allowed to bring falcons in the cabin using a specially designed "Falcon Master" tray.

The ancient sport of falconry is so popular in the Middle East that many commercial airlines in that region allow passengers to bring trained hunting raptors into the main cabin, where the birds travel on a handler’s heavy cuff or tied to an adjacent seat.

“If falconers tried that in the states, people would get all worked up about it,” said Scott McNeff, vice-president of the North American Falconers Association. “But in the Middle East its part of their culture. Everyone understands that and is around it all the time.”

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Etihad Airways, Emirates, and Qatar Airways post falcon policies on their websites, as does Royal Jordanian Airlines, which allows up to 15 properly hooded falcons to travel in wide-bodied economy cabins at a per-bird charge of three times the normal excess baggage rate.

With input from falcon specialists, the Executive Jet Solutions division of Hamburg-based Lufthansa Technik designed the “Falcon Master,” an easy-to-assemble and disassemble kit that connects to standard aircraft seat tracks and provides both a stable bird perch and what a company statement describes as stainless steel surfaces that can help “maximize sanitary protection of walls, seats and carpets against dirt produced by the birds.”

A prototype of the product for private jet interiors is currently on display in Dubai, said Ziad al Hasmi from Lufthansa Technik, “and theoretically, it could also be installed in commercial aircraft in the future.”

The price? Depending on the market response and final design, the Falcon Master could sell for about 50,000 EUR, or about $61,760, and be available in the second half of 2015.

“The target market is private and VIP Jet owners especially from the Middle East, who own these precious birds and use them for hunting,” said Lufthansa Technik spokesperson Peter Isendahl.

U.S. airlines don’t allow falcons in the cabins, so Scott McNeff and his fellow falconers usually drive their birds to events and meetings in other regions.

“I’d be content to sit on a plane with my bird on my fist,” said McNeff. “But it would be really nice to have perch on a plane where you can put the bird down, go to sleep and not worry.”