You pull up to Midway Airport in Chicago and park at the terminal area. Then the driver, who is dropping off a passenger two hours before a flight, helps the passenger to the check-in lounge. At the check-in counter the driver says goodbye to the passenger as the passenger heads to their flight where they will board the airplane cabin. Scenes like this are repeated countless times every day across America.
Only in this case, the passenger is actually a “pawsenger”, a dog or cat, and the airline is the new Pet Airways which began flying in July 2009. Pet Airways is an airline for pets only, with the exception of their human flight attendants. The initial cities served are New York, Baltimore/Washington, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles. Fort Lauderdale was added in October.
If you take a dog or a cat on a regular airline, if your pet is small enough (usually about 10 pounds or less) then they may be permitted in a carrier but must remain under your seat. For the vast majority of dogs who are too big to fit under a seat being checked as cargo in the cargo hold has been the only option. There are many reasons that pet owners are unwilling to send their dogs in the cargo hold and we at DogFriendly.com do not recommend sending pets in the cargo hold unless there are no other options. Pet Airways is another option and should be considered by dog owners as an alternative when best friend needs to fly.
Say you need to go from Los Angeles to Chicago with your dog for the holidays and want your dog to be safely transported in the cabin of an airplane. You can visit Pet Airways website at petairways.com and you will recognize an online booking system very similar to those found on other airline websites. You enter the cities and the depart and return dates with the help of their automatic calendar letting you know what days are available. We selected December 17, with a return on December 30, 2009. The form will give you the pricing which depends on the size of the pet, the date traveling and other factors. In our example the pricing was $449 each way for a 60 pound dog. You may also upgrade to a larger size kennel when booking. The airline often seems to be booked solid a few weeks out so it is advisable to try to book early. Before your flight make sure that your pet is up to date on the following vaccines which are required: For dogs (Rabies, DHLPP, Bordetella, and a Negative Fecal examine) For cats (FVRCPP). You would also want to book your own flights to coincide with your dog’s flight so that you can meet them at Chicago. Pet Airways website has a link to allow you to book your human air travel on other airlines. If you are taking this route then you should drop your pet off two hours or more before their flight. In Los Angeles the Pet Airways lounge is at Hawthorne Airport which is about 1 mile south of Los Angeles International (LAX). You can then proceed to LAX or any other airport for your own flight to Chicago. You can then meet your pet at Chicago’s Midway airport about 12 hours later. During the flight you can track your pet’s travel on the Pet Airways website. The return flight is the same in the other direction.
So how does your pet fly on Pet Airways? Each airport lounge has a potty area and the attendants will see that each dog has a chance to go. The dogs are led to the plane by leash and placed in the appropriate kennel on the plane. The plane is a Beachcraft 1900 which normally seats 19 people but has been configured to hold up to 50 pets. One flight attendant accompanies the pets and are constantly checking on them. The attendants are Certified Vet Technicians so they can recognize medical or other issues. They can handle medication needs as well. According to Alysa Binder, a co-founder of Pet Airways and the Executive Vice President, many pets will sleep on the plane. Some will be more anxious or will bark. During stopovers (such as in Denver on the way from Los Angeles to Chicago) the dogs will generally be left on the airplane unless the attendant thinks that they may need to go out for a walk. The stopover in Denver is usually quite short. If your pet is flying from LA or Denver to NY, Washington or Florida an overnight stay in Chicago may be required. Dogs will be in kennels in the overnight lounge. There are always attendants with the dogs at the overnight lounge in Chicago.
Pet Airways has flown over 1000 pets on it’s initial flights. They have added Fort Lauderdale to the cities that they serve. The objective, according to Binder, is to serve 25 cities in about 2 years in the U.S. and Canada. There are no current plans for overseas or Hawaii flights. Flights are currently weekly but may ramp up to more frequent schedules as the traffic grows.
Ideally, we would all, of course, like to fly with our pets seated next to us. Currently, however, options of that sort are very expensive, running in the many thousands of dollars for longer chartered flights. For many of us, cargo holds are not an option. Pet Airways seems to be a very safe alternative for many pets. It can be used for people moving to new houses or for vacation or other travel that lasts more than one week. As time goes on, hopefully there will be more and more city options and flights that don’t require overnight stays on the coast to coast routes. This is a new idea but it seems to have been very well thought out by the company. More information is available at the Pet Airways website.
* DogFriendly.com may receive commissions from this company.