This is an unpaid and unsolicited review of Sleepypod’s new Air pet carrier. Sleepypod sent me a carrier, at my request, to try out and review. The company has also generously given me a second, unused Air carrier to give away to one lucky reader. The giveaway will start on Monday, March 29th, and will be co-hosted by Dog Jaunt and by Edie Jarolim’s blog Will My Dog Hate Me. Check back on Monday to learn how to enter!
Sleepypod first caught my attention with a combination pet bed/carrier (the “Sleepypod”) that I praised in one of Dog Jaunt’s first posts. When I learned last fall that the company was introducing a carrier specifically designed to work for in-cabin pets (the “Air”), I was intrigued — and asked for a sample to review.
We’ve now used the Sleepypod Air on two separate trips involving several flights on different kinds of planes. It’s an outstanding carrier in ways that I’ll describe below, but it’s revolutionary in one particular way: It’s designed to compress in length from 22″ to 16″. A carrier’s length is always its Achilles heel — you want a long carrier so that your dog has room to sprawl, but U.S. airlines typically require your carrier to be only 16-19″ long (depending on the airline). The Sleepypod Air’s ends and interior padding are structured so that they can be folded up to fit the carrier lengthwise in a 16″ space (if you only fold one end up, it fits in a 19″ space). Once the flight is underway, you can pull the carrier out and turn it around under your legs — the ends fall back down, giving your dog an unusually large amount of room to maneuver.
Please note that you can still only bring a small dog onboard — the carrier is just 10.5″ tall and 10.5″ wide — but she’ll have room to stretch, and that’s rare.
Here’s what we like: The carrier is made of a sturdy ballistic nylon and lined with a thick, easily-cleaned nylon. The zipper runs completely around the perimeter of the all-mesh top and ends, allowing the carrier to be collapsed when it’s not in use and allowing the top to be flipped off at the end of a journey, so the sides and bottom can function as a comfortable travel bed. Because the top and ends are all mesh, your dog has plenty of ventilation and you can see her easily from above (there are no privacy panels, so if your pet prefers cavelike solitude, this may not be the carrier for her). If you want to have the carrier mostly closed, but have one of the ends open, each end flap has a snap that can attach to the bottom of the centrally-located handle.
The bottom pad is cushy and washable. If you’re using the carrier as a travel bed for a pet you really want to pamper, you can buy a warming pad from Sleepypod that slips into the carrier’s bottom pad. But what about the cord (leading to either a car adapter or a wall adapter)? Sleepypod has positioned a large grommet in a bottom corner of the carrier, through which the cord threads. Genius!
There is a long pocket on one of the sides — there’s one on the other side, too, but it’s also the slot through which your suitcase handle passes, so I tend not to keep anything on that side. The handle and shoulder strap are both padded and comfortable. There is a harness tether — in another clever move, you can unclip it from the carrier if you prefer (most tethers are not removable, and cry out to be chewed off by a bored dog). The carrier is quite light (4 lbs.), which turned out to be a blessing — Chloe was weighed for the first time in the Air carrier, and easily came in under Jet Blue’s 20 lb. maximum.
Here’s what we didn’t like: Theoretically, it’s not a problem that there’s no dedicated access zipper, since you can position the existing zippers at the top of the carrier and sneak your hand in between them when you need to pat your pup. In practice, that doesn’t work so well, because the edges of the carrier components are fairly rigid. Another side effect of the carrier components being so structured is that this carrier doesn’t easily lose height (this is one place where Chloe’s SturdiProducts bag comes out ahead).
When I looked at Sleepypod’s drawings of the Air carrier, I got the impression that when you wanted to shorten the bag, the ends flipped up and stayed up. In fact, they don’t. They flip up, but only as long as you’re applying pressure to them (as you would be when you’re wedging your dog’s carrier under your seat). [12/17/10 A reader just pointed out that Sleepypod’s web site now directs you to fold and unfold the ends several times when you first use your carrier; “I remember reading your Sleepypod review and mentioning that the ends wouldn’t stay up during your testing. As per the instructions on the Sleepypod web site, I worked folding and unfolding the end flaps several times prior to my trip and the end did go up and stay up when I folded it for our flight.”] It’s not immediately obvious, therefore, that the bag has the ability to be shorter. With that in mind, I’ve kept the explanatory card that comes with the Air bag and tucked it into the side pocket, so that if a ticket or gate agent is concerned about the bag’s length, I’ll have the diagrams to show them. They’re just diagrams, so they’ll work in any country.
It’s just as well that I’ve kept the explanatory card, because I need it every time I have to attach the carrier to a seat belt. Sleepypod has come up with an ingenious set of buckles that fasten the carrier securely to a seat belt, but without the diagrams, I’m lost.
Our last complaint? The carrier slips over the handle of a rolling suitcase by way of a panel on one of the long sides. Double-ended zippers at the top and bottom of the panel allow it to be a pocket when you want, and a slot when you want. So far, so normal. However, the Sleepypod Air panel is 14″ long! I assume the designers thought I’d like to have the option of having a 14″-wide pocket when the slot is not needed — and when the slot is needed, I can close the zippers tightly against the handle of my suitcase. It’s a great idea, but the zippers sometimes shift, allowing the bag to swivel around on top of the supporting suitcase. Happily, Chloe is a dog with a sunny outlook on life, and doesn’t lose sleep over sudden swoops. I suggest looking back frequently as you roll along to make sure everything’s in place. [1/3/14 See Nomad’s comment, below, for a really clever fix to this problem — thanks, Nomad!]
Please note that the Air comes in five colors. I asked for a sample in Orange Dream, because I’m a total sucker for orange. As always, I recommend that you get your carrier in a dark color (Jet Black or Dark Chocolate) so that it looks as small as possible. That said, however, we took our high-visibility Orange Dream carrier on JetBlue and Virgin America and neither airline turned a hair over the carrier’s size.
Dog Jaunt’s review policy requires me to give away freebies valued at over $50, and the Sleepypod Air has a retail value of $149.99. I can’t give the carrier I’ve been testing to a reader because it’s been thoroughly Chloe-fied by now. I don’t want to give it away, period, since I like it so much. My solution? I’m sending Sleepypod a check and adding it to Chloe’s Collection of Carriers.
Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier