News & Politics

How Do You FedEx a Panda to China? We Talked to the People Overseeing the Trip

Bei Bei takes off for his new home on November 19. Here's what will happen on the Panda Express.

The Panda Express in 2017. Photograph courtesy of FedEx.

Bei Bei may be among DC’s biggest stars, but when it comes to travel, the National Zoo panda flies commercial—or, to be more precise, FedEx. The package-delivery behemoth has been tasked with transporting the beloved bear back to China. “It’s going to be like anybody else traveling 15-and-a-half hours,” says Dave Lange, the managing director of FedEx Charters, who is helping organize Bei Bei’s trip to his new home. “We won’t have any in-flight movies, but he’ll have all the other amenities a business-class traveler will have on the flight.”

On November 19, the panda will board a Boeing 777-Freighter at Dulles, piloted by captain John Hunt. The plane has been dubbed the Panda Express and will be specially decaled with an image of its namesake.

Last month, the zoo announced that Bei Bei would relocate to the Bifenxgia Panda Base, which is operated by the China Conservation and Research Center for research and breeding purposes.

And while it’s sad to say goodbye, Lange says his team has been working for about eight weeks to make his ride as smooth as possible. The temperature will be a cool 65 degrees, just the way Bei Bei likes it. He’ll have complimentary snacks, including around 25 kilos of bamboo and treats like apples and honey, along with plenty of water. He’ll even have a window seat: his three-by-four-foot enclosure has plexiglass panels that will let Bei Bei see what’s going on around him. Though he’s still at the zoo, he’s already spent time in the enclosure, so he’ll be used to it by takeoff.

Hunt will be joined on board by three other crew members, an attendant from the zoo, a veterinarian, and a loadmaster who will oversee boarding and deplaning. This will be Hunt’s fifth time aboard the Panda Express, which has been deployed a total of nine times, including to transport Bei Bei’s sister, Bao Bao, to China in 2017. Hunt says the bears generally sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight: “They lean back against the corner most of the time and they have a stick of bamboo, an apple, and some water. They’re perfectly content, and they’re very docile.”

There are still plenty of chances to see Bei Bei before he leaves. The National Zoo is hosting a ton of “Bye Bye, Bei Bei” events and activities from now until November 18.

Nathan Diller
Editorial Fellow

Nathan Diller has also written for DCist, Vulture, and Bustle. On Twitter, he’s @nateclaydiller.