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Animals-only airline Pet Airways expands its service to Florida

October 21, 2009 |  6:20 pm

Pet Airways

Many jet-setting pet owners were cheered when a new animals-only airline, Pet Airways, launched this past summer.  Now Pet Airways is giving animal-loving travelers an additional option: Flights between New York and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. for dogs and cats.

Pet Airways offers a unique alternative to the only options that existed previously for traveling with pets via air -- shipping them in the dark underbelly of a commercial airplane or carrying pint-sized pets on as luggage.  The new airline employs small turboprop airplanes called Beech 1900s, removing the existing human-sized seats and replacing them with animal carriers to transport pets. 

The airline's owners, husband-and-wife team Alysa Binder and Dan Wiesel, decided to create Pet Airways after a particularly harrowing experience traveling with their own dog, a Jack Russell terrier named Zoe.  "The cargo hold is scary, dark, unattended," Wiesel told The Times of Zoe's one and only trip in an airplane's underbelly. "I was so stressed out." 

He and Binder spent four years getting Pet Airways off the ground, and, he says, they've heard from many pet owners singing the airline's praises since it launched in July.  "We have been overwhelmed by all the positive feedback to our mission of flying pets safely and comfortably in the main cabin, not in cargo," he said. "It is so fantastic to see the happy faces of all the pets and pet parents after the flights."

Pet Airways initially offered flights only among five major cities: L.A., Denver, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.  Today, it announced the addition of flights between Ft. Lauderdale and New York, although service won't actually begin running between the two cities until December.

Binder and Wiesel hope to expand service to about 25 cities in total over the next few years.  Fares begin at $99 (for travel between New York and Washington, D.C.), but according to Binder, a typical fare is around $250 and varies depending on the size of the animal.  The airline is currently running a special -- $50 off -- for travel booked before Oct. 31 between New York and Ft. Lauderdale.

For four-legged travelers destined for locations other than the six cities Pet Airways now serves (or for owners who don't wish to travel separately from their pets), pet rescue website Petfinder recently ranked its top five pet-friendly airlines, which didn't include Pet Airways because the list was published prior to the airline's launch. In order from first to fifth, Petfinder's picks were Continental, JetBlue, Airtran, American and United.  Two other airlines, Southwest and Air Canada, recently amended their pet policies to allow small animals to ride in their airplane cabins rather than in cargo.

New airline Pet Airways caters to cats (and dogs)
On JetBlue's planes, pets are precious cargo

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Pet Airways workers load "pawsengers" (their cutesy term, not ours) onto a flight.  Credit: Yanina Manolova / Associated Press

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