Nation's First Pet Airline Takes Off This Summer
For a one-way, $145 flight, pets can fly across the country on flights catered just to them. (Photo Courtesy of Pet Airways)
NEW YORK -- Airplanes just got a little bit furrier.
Pet Airways has announced it is launching the first pet-only airline service, with flights going to five major cities: New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
"We believe there is truly a need for this," said Alysa Binder, one of Pet Airways' founders. "Putting your pet in cargo, just isn't the ideal situation, and it doesn't have to be your only choice."
A one-way flight costs around $149, and Pet Airways is now accepting reservations for its first New York - Los Angeles flight, scheduled for July 14.
Pet Airways hopes to expand to 25 continental cities within the next few years, Binder says, and cater to exotic pets, as well as to dogs and cats.
Here's how it works: Pet owners flying out of major airports drop their animals off at a nearby, smaller facility. The pets spend time in a pet lounge before boarding a seat-free plane, which can hold up to 50 dogs or cats.
Animals are with "pet attendants" at all times, according to Binder, as they are then loaded into secured carrying cases on the plane. People are watching the pets at all times throughout the flight, though the animals are not allowed to roam at large.
Animals' flights are made to coincide with their owners' arrangements; after owners land in their destination, they collect their pets from a lounge.
"You don't have to worry about missed flights or connections," Binder said. "Someone will be with your pet at all times, until you are there to collect them.
"This is about the safety and comfort of your pet. We can't stress that enough. We are pet lovers, we are our own audience."
The company has been in the works since 2005, when Binder and her husband, Dan Wiesel, flew with their Jack Russell Terrier, Zoe. The dog exceeded most airlines' 15-pound or under requirement to fly under the seat, and was placed in cargo.
"She just wasn't right," Binder said of Zoe's reaction to the flight. "She was very uncomfortable, and we thought, 'There has to be another way.' "
Pet Airways is working in conjunction with Suburban Air Flight Inc., to utilize "several" Beechcraft 1900s, a twin-engine turboprop airplane. The barren planes will provide animals with a fully-lit and climate-controlled environment, Pet Airways advertises.
When animals travel in cargo, they stand against potential environmental risks. The American Veterinary Medical Association cautions owners that certain short-nosed breeds might struggle to breathe in such a setting.
It also advises people traveling with pets to fly in the early morning or late evening during summer months, and in the winter, to opt for midday flights. Administering tranquilizers is not a wise choice, it also says, even for some owners hoping to temper their animals' fears.
While one AVMA veterinarian notes that "you hear horror stories everywhere you look," he says he has never heard a negative story about a pet flying on a commercial airplane.
"Within the last 20 years, there has been a great deal of concern and care over the welfare of pets, and airlines are now very restricted for where they can keep the animals, the temperature of the environment, the length of the flight, and things like that," said Greg Hammer, DVM, of Dover, Del.
"I think they do a very nice job of taking care of the animals -- they have to."
Yet in a press release, Pet Airways cited a study by the San Francisco SPCA, saying that of the two million pets that fly in cargo each year, approximately 5,000 of them are injured in transit.
Having someone there with the pet at all time, monitoring the animal's health, as well as the security of their kennels, could prevent injuries and trauma, Binder says.
"Your animals will never be left alone," she said.
Pet Airways' prices are in line with what the majority of major airlines are asking.
American Airlines charges $150 for a pet to travel one-way, within the U.S., in the plane's cargo section, and $100 for the pet to travel in the main cabin. Continental Airlines' going cargo rate is $55, for cargo, while a cabin ticket for a pet costs $125.
When flying Delta Airlines, owners could expect to pay $150 when flying alongside their pets, and $275 if they have to check them in the cargo section.
Southwest Airlines does not allow any animals to fly on its planes, whether in the main cabin or cargo.
Binder says she recognizes that the economic climate might not be kind to a fledgling company like her own, but says she hopes the idea will still appeal to devoted owners.
"Yes, the economy is always a concern, but our pets are like family to us," she said. "You don't leave the baby at home just because the economy is weak. You'll want to take it with you, and to make sure that it is well cared for."
To learn more about Pet Airways or to schedule a flight, visit PetAirways.com
Amy Lieberman is a reporter for Zootoo Pet News. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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