2012 Update on Pet Airways
As of Spring 2012, Pet Airways has shut down operations across the US. The airline's website is no longer functional.
What is Pet Airways?
Pet Airways, which began service in July 2009, bills itself as a pet-only airline. The airline flies from New York (Republic Airport in Farmington) to Baltimore (Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport), Chicago (Midway Airport), Denver (Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport) and Los Angeles (Hawthorne Municipal Airport), heading eastward on Tuesdays and westward on Thursdays. Pets flying past Chicago in either direction will spend the night at a Pet Airways-affiliated pet resort in Chicago before continuing their journey.
Pet Airways was created as an alternative to flying pets in airplane cargo holds. Animals flying via Pet Airways must still travel in pet carriers (provided by Pet Airways), but they are the only passengers on the climate-controlled Beech 1900 airplane. An attendant gives your pet a potty break before and after the flight and checks the pets every 15 minutes while the plane is in the air. The flight attendants are trained to work with animals and can even give your pet medication if you provide written instructions.
Pet Airways may also be a good choice for pet owners who must travel during extremely hot or extremely cold months. Some airlines will not accept pets in their airplanes' cargo holds when outside temperatures are very low or very high.
How Much Does Pet Airways Cost?
Pet Airways doesn't come cheap. The website advertises one way fares "as low as $299" from New York to Los Angeles, but pet airfares depend on your pet's height and weight as well as your departure date. Flying my small (under 10 pounds) male cat to Los Angeles from Baltimore in September would cost me $249 each way plus tax, while flying my hefty female cat from New York to Los Angeles in October would set me back $349 each way plus tax because she needs a medium-size pet carrier. My friend could fly her Doberman, Pluto, from Baltimore to Los Angeles in October for $349 each way plus tax, although she might want to upgrade her pet carrier size to "giant" for an extra $50 so Pluto could be more comfortable.
You can also purchase insurance for your pet; Pet Airways offers $500 of accidental death insurance coverage at no cost, but you can increase this amount if you are willing to pay extra.
If you can't pick up your pet when the airplane arrives, you can add a night at a pet resort near the airport to your pet's ticket for an extra charge. When I checked lodging rates for my cat and my friend's dog, the Pet Airways website quoted a rate of $49 per night for each animal.
Pet Airways has a contract of carriage, which reads very much like a standard cargo shipping agreement.
Is This for Real?
It looks that way. I contacted Pet Airways a few times to ask for an interview but did not hear back from them, so I drove up to their Baltimore office to see what it was like. The office was open (it was a westbound flying day) and I noticed a gentleman walking a dog outside the office. When I went inside, I saw a clean reception area with a desk. A well-groomed, polite woman wearing a Pet Airways uniform greeted me and told me that I could not, unfortunately, interview anyone at the Baltimore office. I asked if I could visit the pet reception area (you have to drop your pet off two hours before flight time) and she told me that no one could see it, not even clients. Apparently all interviews go through Pet Airways' press office and, I was told, the owners are traveling and giving interviews constantly because of the recent launch of the airline. I hope to be able to interview someone from the airline in the near future.
Would I Use Pet Airways?
I don't know. Air travel takes its toll on cats, as I learned the hard way when I brought two pets from California to Italy to Virginia. Driving isn't fun for cats, either, and they definitely don't like traveling by train. Dogs seem to handle car travel better (perhaps because they actually enjoy going on walks), but most dog owners I know say their dogs don't like to fly.
Having said that, I would consider my schedule and my pet's needs equally when making a flight decision. If I owned a dog that was too large to fit under an airplane seat, I would probably drive to a city as close as Chicago rather than send my pet by air. I would also seriously investigate driving across country with my dog instead of flying, unless I was dealing with a family emergency.
I would prefer to keep my cats with me in a car rather than fly them. We move frequently and I know my cats are okay with half-day drives as long as I am the driver. If I absolutely had to fly, and my route brought me near a Pet Airways destination city, I would seriously consider using Pet Airways rather than carrying my cat in the cargo hold of my own aircraft. Why? Because I have retrieved my cats, carriers covered in ice and snow, from winter flights, and because I have tried to give them tranquilizers in Italian airports after a four-hour car trip (guess how that went?). If I could spare my cats experiences like those and not extend my trip by several days, I would prefer to fly them in comfort, not in the cargo hold.