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R.I.P.: Pet Airways pet airline

I’m updating this 7/12/09 post because it looks like Pet Airways has finally turned its face to the wall. Its website isn’t functioning, and its Facebook and Twitter pages haven’t been updated since Winter 2011. That’s a shame. They never did have any reported issues with the things I was concerned about (quality of kennels, possibility of escape from care). The comments I saw over the couple of years they were active objected to the expense of the tickets, but now owners of large dogs are back to the sad alternatives of checking their pet, shipping him as cargo, or making a long road trip.

On July 14, Pet Airways will make its first flight from the NYC area to Washington, D.C., Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles. Only pets will be on board, with flight attendants to care for them, because this is a pet-only airline (mostly dogs and cats, but PA is willing to consider any pet for transportation).

Here’s how it works: You drop your pet off at the Pet Airways “Pet Lounge” at least two hours before the flight (you can drop her off up to 72 hours before her flight, and PA will board her at a “PAWS Lodge” until flight time). She is taken to the plane and tucked into an appropriately-sized carrier secured on shelves in the main compartment — not in the cargo hold — and a flight attendant checks on her status every 15 minutes during the flight. After landing, she’s given a bathroom break, and either awaits you in the Pet Lounge or goes to another PAWS Lodge until you can meet her.

Until the airline expands operations, its flights will be of interest mainly to people living within a reasonable driving distance of  the Teterboro Airport (NYC, northern NJ, southern CT, and Philadelphia), the  Baltimore/Washington International Airport, the Palwaukee Airport (Chicago, Milwaukee), the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Denver, Colorado Springs), and the Hawthorne Municipal Airport (Los Angeles area, San Diego, Orange County).

The introductory fares are in the $149-200 range (one-way), which sounds like a lot but is actually about as much as you currently pay for your pet to travel in-cabin with you (see Dog Jaunt’s list of airline pet policies) or in the cargo hold. And your pet will be significantly more comfortable on Pet Airways: traveling in-cabin, Chloe is in a carrier not much larger than she is, and a dog traveling in a cargo hold must have a rotten experience in so many ways. On Pet Airways, Chloe would be in a roomier kennel, and the flight attendant will presumably see to it that she gets sufficient water, a comfortable traveling environment, and is handled in a kindly manner.

I don’t yet know what Pet Airways’ normal fares will be, but the insane prices the major airlines charge to transport pets give them some leeway. Delta, for example, charges $150 each way for an in-cabin pet, and $275 each way for a pet in the cargo hold. Given the extra perks PA provides, they could charge up to $300 and still be a contender.

The drawbacks? We won’t know until the flights begin, but a lot depends on the quality of care provided by the flight attendants. I would also like to know more about the quality of the “PAWS Lodges” (local kennels, I assume, that have contracted with PA), and how they are selected and monitored by PA. Another concern? Currently, you give your dog to an airline for cargo loading knowing that you’ve closed her into the best-quality carrier you can buy and she won’t be removed from it until you see her again, but in the PA scenario, your dog will be put in a kennel in the Pet Lounge, then taken from it and walked out to the airplane (and back off the plane after arrival), then walked to a bathroom break before being placed in another kennel in another Pet Lounge. There seem like plenty of opportunities for a dog, especially one stressed-out by the airport environment, to escape PA’s control. Pets escaping from carriers are a current problem for airlines, and these pets aren’t even in carriers. Yikes!

Well, my fingers are crossed. I really want this airline to succeed, and I want it to add Seattle to its list of flight cities. I also want PA to siphon off the pet transport revenues the major airlines are currently receiving, since it will be providing pet-friendly services and the major airlines aren’t. Go Pet Airways!

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