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Pets-only airline takes off

July 15, 2009 |  2:33 pm

Pet Airways

A new day in pet-friendly travel dawned Tuesday with the official launch of Pet Airways, the first airline to cater to pets (and only pets)

The idea behind Pet Airways is simple: Most pets, particularly large ones, traveling on airplanes are required to travel in airplane cargo holds. It's cramped, stuffy, and scary -- and, in thankfully rare but nonetheless notable cases, pets have died as a result. Enter Pet Airways, the brainchild of husband-and-wife business owners Alysa Binder and Dan Wiesel, who told the Associated Press they "wanted to do something better" for traveling pets after a stressful experience shipping their Jack Russell terrier, Zoe, in cargo. 

Their idea was to repurpose small turboprop airplanes called Beech 1900s, removing the seats (there are typically 19) and placing pet carriers there instead (each plane fits about 50).  Fresh air would circulate through the plane, and the "pawsengers" (their cutesy term, not ours) would have regular visits from attendants and bathroom breaks during layovers. Naturally, employees would be animal lovers. (Some are even former veterinary technicians, according to the Baltimore Sun.)

It took four years to get the new airline up and running, but the response from pet owners thus far has been extremely positive. (Flights between the five "inaugural" cities served -- L.A., Denver, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. -- are booked solid for the next two months, and the company's website frequently features an "over capacity" message and encouragement to check out the company's Twitter and Facebook pages instead.) 

The airline operates out of small regional airports, so far only in cities with major airport hubs. (Binder and Wiesel hope to expand to include about 20 additional cities over the next few years.)  Because this often means pets fly out of a different airport than their owners, logistics can be tricky; adding to the trickiness is the fact that Pet Airways flights take longer to reach their destinations than "human" flights. (A trip from New York to L.A. takes about a full day, the Associated Press reports, but that includes an overnight stop in Chicago.)  Despite some inconveniences, pet owners seem to be lining up for the peace of mind the airline offers. 

But not everyone is so optimistic about the new airline. Rachel Farris, of the website PetRelocation.com, discussed Pet Airways on the Huffington Post, questioning the fact that it is not a member of a group called the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Assn. and noting that most pet deaths in airplane cargo holds can be traced to a preexisting medical condition rather than any safety issues inherent in shipping animals as cargo. But, after the Huffington Post item was published, Farris later wrote on her own blog that "We look forward to seeing how PetAirways works out." 

Introductory fares begin at $149 for a one-way trip, although Binder says a typical fare is more like $250.  Pet Airways' commercial appears below:

Some human-friendly airlines such as Southwest Airlines and Air Canad recently have expanded their service to allow small pets to fly in their cabins rather than stowed underneath their planes. Pet rescue website Petfinder recently ranked its top five pet-friendly airlines. (Because it was published before Pet Airways' launch, the all-pet airline didn't make the list.)  In order from first to fifth, its picks were Continental, JetBlue, Airtran, American and United. 

Canadian Lung Assn. takes aim at Air Canada's new pet-friendly policy
Air Canada to allow small pets to ride in cabin
Small pets to be permitted on Southwest Airlines flights
On JetBlue's planes, pets are precious cargo

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A dog waits in a kennel during a training session for Pet Airways in Omaha, Neb. Credit: Dave Weaver / Associated Press

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