- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) | One trip for their Jack Russell terrier in a plane’s cargo hold was enough to convince Alysa Binder and Dan Wiesel that owners needed a better option to get their pets from one city to another.

On Tuesday, the first flight for the husband-and-wife team’s Pet Airways, the first all-pet airline, took off from Republic Airport in Farmingdale, N.Y.

All commercial airlines allow a limited number of small pets to fly in the cabin. Others must travel as checked bags or in the cargo hold - a dark and sometimes dangerous place where temperatures can vary wildly.

Mrs. Binder and Mr. Wiesel used their consulting backgrounds and business savvy to start Pet Airways in 2005. The past four years have been spent designing their fleet of five planes according to new four-legged requirements, dealing with FAA regulations and setting up airport schedules.

The two say they are overwhelmed with the response. Flights on Pet Airways are already booked up for the next two months.

Pet Airways will fly a pet among five major cities — New York, Washington, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles. The $250 one-way fare is comparable to pet fees at the largest U.S. airlines. The company, which will begin with one flight in each of its five cities, is looking to add more flights and cities soon.

For owners, the big difference is service. Dogs and cats will fly in the main cabin of a Suburban Air Freight plane, retooled and lined with carriers in place of seats. Pets (about 50 on each flight) will be escorted to the plane by attendants that will check on the animals every 15 minutes during flight. The pets are also given pre-boarding walks and bathroom breaks.

The company will operate out of smaller, regional airports in the five launch cities, which will mean an extra trip for most owners dropping off their pets if they are flying, too. Stops in cities along the way means the pets will take longer to reach a destination than their owners.

Amanda Hickey, of Portland, Ore., is one of the new airline’s first customers. Her 7-year-old terrier-pinscher mix Mardi and 2-year-old puggle Penny are taking their first flight soon.

Ms. Hickey said the service was a welcome alternative to flying her dogs in cargo when she transplants them from her soon-to-be Denver home to Chicago to stay while she and her fiance travel to Aruba to marry. “For a little bit more money, I have peace of mind,” she said.

Among the big U.S. carriers that offer pet services, AirTran, Spirit, Southwest and JetBlue only allow pets to fly in the cabin. Most U.S. airlines charge between $100 and $125, but Delta and Northwest charge $150 for cabin trips. The charge is more to fly in the cargo or check-baggage holds.

Anne Banas, executive editor of SmartTravel.com, questions the viability of an airline with such a specific niche, though she noted the service’s popularity could spike in peak summer or winter months when airlines in some areas don’t allow pets to travel.

“I’m not sure how sustainable it is,” she said. “But if people are trying to go for a first-class service, it could make sense.”


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