- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

NEW YORK — SuNae Martz is a 10-year-old jet-setter who has crisscrossed the globe more than once. The catch: SuNae is a dog, a fluffy white coton de tulear, to be exact.

Her owner, Gayle Martz, takes her everywhere she flies, from Paris to New York to Los Angeles. However, SuNae doesn’t fly in the belly of the plane like common cargo. She goes first class, in the cabin under Miss Martz’s seat.

“I don’t check my jewelry, and SuNae is my most precious jewel,” says Miss Martz, a flight-attendant-turned-entrepreneur who created and sells a soft-sided pet carrier, the Sherpa Bag.

SuNae is one of a half-million pets that fly each year, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Not all airlines permit pets to fly in the cabin, and other policies vary, too.

Some airlines restrict the travel of short-nosed animals, such as Persian cats and pugs, which have short nasal passages that make breathing difficult at higher altitudes. Most don’t allow pets to travel as cargo in temperatures below 20 degrees and above 85 degrees.

Most mishaps, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, stem not from mishandling or a panicked animal getting injured or lost, but from sedation.

The association advises against giving tranquilizers to pets during air travel because the results are unpredictable and can be fatal.

“An animal’s natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium is altered under sedation,” says Patricia Olson, former director of veterinary affairs and studies for the American Humane Association.

“When the kennel is moved, a sedated animal may not be able to brace and prevent injury,” she says.

Continental Airlines requires passengers to sign a waiver saying their animal has not been sedated, but most airlines don’t have that rule.

All these different policies can be confusing. “It seems like it all depends on the mood of the person you’re dealing with at the airport that day,” says Eric Buss, a magician from Los Angeles who has traveled by plane with the doves and rabbits he uses in his act.

There are some rules that you and the airlines must follow. Here’s what you need to know about flying with your pet:

• Federal officials began making the pet-related travel statistics public last year for the first time as part of regulations imposed by the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act, which was passed by Congress in 2000 under pressure from animal rights activists.

Most air trips with pets are without incident.

Between May and September 2006, 14 pet deaths reported, plus four injuries and six lost animals.

• Most airlines require pets to be considered healthy, to weigh less than 100 pounds and be at least 8 weeks old.

• Pets are never allowed out of their containers, and, of course, the airline assumes no responsibility for their health and well-being. Many even state on their Web sites that crew members cannot perform lifesaving measures on ailing pets.

• Less traditional pets, such as potbellied pigs, primates and certain venomous reptiles, aren’t allowed. That usually means no snakes on a plane.

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates pet air travel, requires a health certificate from a veterinarian 10 days before traveling for animals flying as cargo, but not for those flying as checked baggage or carry-on. Miss Martz suggests carrying such certification in any case, just in case you are asked for it.

• Many airlines, such as Continental, United and American, suggest and apply the certification even for pets transported in the cabin because some states require it. (To learn which ones, visit www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/sregs.) Health certification also is required on most international flights.

• Fees vary. JetBlue and Delta charge $50 for a pet to fly in the cabin; Continental, $95; American, US Airways and Northwest, $80.

• American, Delta, JetBlue and many other airlines allow pets in the cabin. Frontier only allows them as cargo. Southwest won’t allow any pets except service animals to fly.

• Some airlines allow only one animal in the cabin per flight. American allows up to seven per flight (not per person). Sometimes certified service dogs count as pets; sometimes they don’t.

• American requires paperwork certifying that pets were fed and watered within four hours before delivery. Most don’t.

• Alert the airline of a pet when booking your flight to make sure there’s room in the cabin.

Beyond the rules, here is some helpful advice:

• Fly on weekdays, when airports are less hectic.

• Fly in the morning or evening during the summer and midday during the winter to ensure safe temperatures for pets traveling as cargo.

• Choose a nonstop, direct flight.

• Exercise your pet before leaving to help it relax and sleep.

• Do not feed or give water to your pet two hours before departure.

• Check in at least two hours before time and have all paperwork ready.

• Tape a note on the pet container with all relevant information: name of the pet, age, destination and flight number.

• Make sure the carry-on container will fit under the seat.

• Familiarize your pet with its carrier before leaving home and make sure the pet is wearing tags or is microchipped.

Of course, even when you take every precaution and follow all the rules, flying with pets can be challenging. Jen Fromm, a lawyer from Los Angeles who recently flew her cat from Boston, still has scars from where her cat clawed her in a panicked escape attempt while going through a security checkpoint.

The cat didn’t get away, but he cried during the entire five-hour flight.

She’ll never do it again. “I would rather drive with my cat for five days than go through five more hours of that.”

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