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5 Special Ways to Fly

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No self-respecting canine travels to a luxurious spa in the cargo bay of a 757, so it was only a matter of time before an airline that caters exclusively to pets arrived. Here's the story of recently launched Pet Airways and four other companies that provide specialty air travel.

1. Pet Airways

Pet Airways began service to five U.S. cities last week, offering first class pet travel for as low as $149 on Beech 1900 planes that have been stripped of their human furnishings. Dogs and cats travel in carriers in the main cabin; humans, save for the pilot and pet attendants, must travel separately. Alysa Binder and her husband, Dan Wiesel, began planning the launch of Pet Airways in 2005 after they had an unpleasant experience traveling with their Jack Russell Terrier on a cross-country flight. Pet Airways passengers "“ pawsengers and catengers is the company lingo "“ must check in at least 2 hours prior to departure and are generally not fed during flights. The company provides service to and from the New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles areas and appears poised to prosper with flights already booked solid for the next 2 months.

2. MedJet Assist

medjetsMedJet Assist is a program that provides medical evacuation assistance to members who are injured or become ill while traveling. An annual individual MedJet Assist membership costs $250, while a family membership costs $385. Short-term packages from 1 to 4 weeks are also available. Members who are hospitalized more than 150 miles away from home can fly to a hospital of their choice on one of MedJet's specially equipped planes, regardless of the reason for their hospitalization. Though membership isn't cheap, it beats the alternative should you need medical evacuation assistance while abroad. A single transatlantic evacuation may cost more than $100,000.

3. OpenSkies

open-skiesIt's all business, all the time on OpenSkies Airlines, which was founded in 2008 as a subsidiary of British Airways. The OpenSkies fleet consists of four Boeing 757s, each with two business class options: Business Bed or Business Seat. OpenSkies currently offers daily flights between New York and Paris and Amsterdam. News broke last week that British Airways is seeking a buyer for the subsidiary, which has struggled financially since its launch. If OpenSkies goes under, it would join EOS, MAXJet, and Silverjet among the list of business-class airlines that have failed since 2007. Silverjet claimed to be the world's first carbon neutral airline, with mandatory carbon offset contributions included in the price of every ticket.

4. Air New Zealand

air-nzAir New Zealand makes this list because it specializes in innovation, one of the keys to keeping loyal customers and luring new ones during tough economic times. The airline recently filmed an in-flight safety demonstration video featuring employees wearing nothing but body paint that was carefully applied to resemble their regular uniforms. Beginning in October, Air New Zealand will offer a Matchmaking Flight from Los Angeles to Auckland to facilitate the love connection between Americans and Kiwis. Former Bachelor star Jason Mesnick and his girlfriend, Molly Malaney, will be guests on the inaugural flight. Matchmaking Flight packages, which include tickets to a matchmaking ball to be held in Auckland's SkyTower, start at $780 round trip.

5. FlyMeNow

fly-me-nowBased in England, FlyMeNow arranges private travel on charter flights for the person who needs to get somewhere fast and/or in style. The company, which was founded in 2007 and earns a mention here for its punchy name and impressive network of aircraft, has access to thousands of helicopters, turboprops, and private jets. It offers charters to virtually anywhere, including otherwise inaccessible locations for extreme sports enthusiasts and remote islands in the Caribbean. Among the company's many happy customers are the Red Hot Chilli Pipers "“ and no, that's not a typo. The bagpipe-playing rock band won the BBC One show When Will I Be Famous in 2008 and turned to FlyMeNow after booking multiple gigs on the same day during its ensuing tour. FlyMeNow also arranged travel for Bon Jovi during the band's recent South America tour.

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The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
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Tengi

Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
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Fart Gallery: A Novel History of Spencer Gifts
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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When U.S. Army Corps bombardier Max Spencer Adler was shot down over Europe and imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, it’s not likely he dreamed of one day becoming the czar of penis-shaped lollipops and lava lamps. But when Adler became a free man, he decided to capitalize on a booming post-war economy by doing exactly that—pursuing a career as the head of a gag gift mail-order empire that would eventually stretch across 600 retail locations and become a rite of passage for mall-trekking teens in the 1980s and 1990s.

To sneak into a Spencer Gifts store against your parents' wishes and revel in its array of tacky novelties and adult toys felt a little like getting away with something. Glowing with lasers and stuffed with Halloween masks, the layout always had something interesting within arm’s reach. But stocking the stores with such provocations sometimes carried consequences.

A row of lava lamps on display at Spencer Gifts
Dean Hochman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Returning from the war, Adler sensed a wave of relief running through the general population. Goods no longer had to be rationed, and toy factories could return to making nonessential items. The guilt of spending time or money on frivolous items was disappearing.

With his brother Harry, Adler started Spencer Gifts as a mail-order business in 1947. Their catalog, which became an immediate success, was populated with items like do-it-yourself backyard skating rinks and cotton candy makers [PDF]—items no one really needed but were inexpensive enough to indulge in. In some ways, the Spencer catalogs resembled the mail-order comic ads promising X-ray glasses and undersea fish kingdoms. Instead of kids, Adler was targeting the deeper pockets of adults.

Bolstered by that early success, Adler moved into a curious category: live animals. He had small donkeys transported from Mexico and marketed them as the new trend in domestic pets. LIFE magazine took note of the fad in 1954, observing the $85 burros, being sold at a clip of 40 a day, “except for stubbornness, are very placid.”

Burro fever foreshadowed the direction of Spencer’s in the years to come. The Adlers opened their first physical location—minus livestock—in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 1963, expanding on their notion to peddle unique gift items like the Reduce-Eze girdle, which promised to shave inches off the wearer’s stomach. That claim caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which chastised the company for advertising the device could reduce body weight without exercise [PDF]. The FTC also took them to task for implying their jewelry contained precious metals [PDF] when the items did not.

Offending the FTC aside, Spencer’s did a brisk enough business to garner the attention of California-based entertainment company Music Corporation of America, Inc. (MCA), which purchased the brand and proceeded to expand it in the rapidly growing number of malls across the country in the 1970s and 1980s. (The mail order business closed in 1990.)

Brick and mortar retail was ideal for their inventory, which encouraged perusal, store demonstrations, and roving bands of giggling teenagers. The company wanted its stores to capture foot traffic by stuffing its aisles with items that had a look-at-this factor—a novelty that invited someone to pick it up and show it to a friend. When executives saw specific categories taking off, they “Spencerized,” or amalgamated them. When there was a resurgence of interest in Rubik’s Cubes and merchandise from the 1983 Al Pacino film Scarface, visitors were soon greeted in stores by stacks of Scarface-themed Rubik’s Cubes.

Mike Mozart via Flickr

Apart from its busy aesthetic—“like the stage from an old Poison video,” as one journalist put it—Spencer's was also known for its inventory of risqué adult novelty items. Pole-dancing kits and sex-themed card games occupied a portion of the store’s layout. The toys captured a demographic that might have been too embarrassed to visit a dedicated adult store but felt that browsing in a mall was harmless.

Sometimes, the store’s blasé attitude toward stocking such items drew critical attention. In 2010, police in Rapid City, South Dakota seized hundreds of items because Spencer's had failed to register as an “adult-oriented business,” something the city ordinance required. As far back as the 1980s, parents in various locales had complained that suggestive material was viewable by minors. In 2008, ABC news affiliate WTVD in Durham, North Carolina dispatched two teenage girls with hidden cameras to see what they would be allowed to buy. While they were shooed away from a back-of-store display, they were able to purchase “two toy rabbits that vibrate, moan, and simulate sex” as well as a penis-shaped necklace.

As a possible consequence of the internet, there are fewer incidences of parental outrage directed at Spencer’s these days. And despite the general downturn of both malls and retail shopping, the company bolsters its bottom line with the seasonal arrival of Spirit Halloween, a pop-up store specializing in costumes. Despite only being open two months out of the year, their Spirit locations contribute to roughly half of Spencer's $250 million in annual revenue.

Today, the chain’s 650 stores remain a source for impulse shopping. They still occasionally court controversy over items that appear to stereotype the Irish as drunken oafs or other inflammatory merchandise. With traditional mall locations expected to shrink by as much as 25 percent over the next five years, it’s not quite clear whether their assortment of novelties will continue to have a large retail footprint. But so long as demand exists for fake poop, fart sprays, and penis ring toss kits, Spencer’s will probably have a home.

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