The Jack Russell Terrier was a little too big to fit under an airplane seat, which made traveling harder for Zoe’s parents, Alysa Binder and Dan Wiesel. Pets like Zoe are relegated to the cargo compartment of most airlines.
Wiesel and Binder didn’t like the idea of Zoe sharing space with luggage. The Florida couple found other dog parents who didn’t want their canine children in the cargo compartment and possibly enduring extreme temperatures.
Rather than lobby airlines on behalf of their dogs, Binder and Wiesel decided to form an airline for four-legged passengers, and the concept for Pet Airways was born. The company is new among a number of travel organizations that cater to animal lovers.
Pet Airways will launch its first flights on July 14, but already the airline has flights that are booked solid and have waiting lists, said Alyse Tognotti, director and company spokeswoman.
“We’re overwhelmed,” Tognotti said. “We’re wait-listed for flights. We’re amazed at how the pet community embraced us.”
The “pawsengers” will ride in the climate-controlled main cabins of Beech 1900s that have had their human seats removed. Pet parents can’t fly with their dog or cat, but specially trained pet attendants will tend to furry passengers at the airport and throughout the flight. Flights are as low as $149 each way.
All pets will have their own secured carriers that face the aisle. Dogs and cats are placed in separate sections and enjoy regular potty breaks. Animals don’t have to deal with human airport terminals because they have their own special “pet lounge” at the airports.
Customers include show-dog parents, military personnel who are moving and animal rescue groups sending a creature to a forever home.
The airline’s fleet of more than 20 planes will fly to Los Angeles, Denver, Washington D.C., New York and Chicago. Each plane can hold up to 50 passengers, depending on size. Company officials are planning to expand to other states in the next two years, and people in the Bay Area of Northern California are clamoring for the service, Tognotti added.
Pet parents who want to nix the crate and sit next to their pup can charter planes through DogTravel Company LLC. For two years the company has offered members access to dog-friendly flights, trains, cruises, vacation packages and other services. The company tailors trips for customers, and members can choose to go between any two airports in the world. Members can book anything from an executive jet to Boeing 737s and Boeing 757s.
“We believe there is no safer way of traveling than when the dog is with you,” said Chris Shoulet, founder of DogTravel Company. “The dog is under owner control at all times.”
Shoulet started the company after she helped rescued pets stranded in the Gulf Coast in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. She had trouble finding a plane that would carry the animals, and learned other hazards of flight for pets who must ride in the cargo hold.
Cargo holds in planes might be pressurized and have climate control, but they aren’t pressurized like the main cabin, Shoulet said. The pilot needs to adjust the air pressure in the cargo hold. Before buying tickets, pet parents should ask airlines if the cargo hold is pressured like the main cabin, Shoulet advised.
She said dogs, such as those from shelters, would be stressed out by traveling in crates in the cargo hold because they would think their parents were leaving them.
DogTravel flights can be for groups of four to more than 300, according to the DogTravel Company Web site. Canine passengers settle into an airplane seat with a special dog seat belt and get to be with their parents through the entire trip.
DogTravel customers run the gamut of celebrities, bi-coastal commuters, dog-show parents, relocating families and people adopting a dog from another country, among others. While chartering flights can cost thousands of dollars, DogTravel members can join a forum with many other members so the expense is reduced to nearly the price of regular airfares.
Dog parents looking at regular airlines must work out travel logistics. Some airlines will permit a limited number of smaller animals in the cabin and may charge fees for transporting them in the cabin or as cargo.
If an airline does permit a larger animal in its cargo compartment, that airline will have restrictions on carrying a pet in the summer or winter months when temperatures in the compartment can become unbearable.
Temperature controls for animals in cargo compartments present a major problem, said retired American Airlines pilot Captain Jim Gridley.
“Airplanes are all different,” he said. “On most airplanes, if you get stuck waiting for takeoff in the summer, you may be a little warm in the cabin but the temperature in the cargo area could be much higher. In flight, it’s just the opposite problem, keeping the cargo area heated.”
Once in the air, the cargo compartment can be too cold, said Gridley, who is now a flight instructor for Flight Safety International.
Some flight crews mistakenly place dogs in the unheated area of the cargo compartment, Gridley said. One airplane crew flying from Virginia to California had to make an emergency landing in Denver because a dog was loaded into the unheated cargo area. The crew worried that the dog had frozen to death, according to a June Slate article. But the crew found the dog in good condition, and the dog flew the rest of the way with the humans.
Since 2005, the Department of Transportation has required all commercial airlines to report pets that were injured, lost or had died during flight, according to DogTravel Company. But airlines are not required to report animals that were not pets in the United States, or that were traveling on foreign flights, all-cargo planes or unscheduled flights, or animals that escaped.
Organizations such as Petflight and the DogTravel Company list airline pet casualities on their website and provide advice for pet parents.