New airline Pet Airways' only passengers to be four-legged

The 1900 won't fly as fast or as far as a jet. But unlike time-conscious humans, dogs and cats shouldn't mind. Making more frequent stops for fuel actually is a good thing for animals. It'll give attendants time to get the animals out of the plane for a walk and potty break.

With all its passenger seats removed except those for in-flight pet attendants, the 1900 can hold up to 50 small animal crates, though typically it will fly with smaller numbers of what the airline calls "pawsengers."

"It's a completely novel idea that is fascinating to me," Gallup says. "The more we talked to Dan and Alysa about it, the more we came to see that they've done their homework."

Pet comfort and owners' peace of mind are what Pet Airways is selling more than the transportation. It's a lesson Binder and Wiesel learned from experience.

In 2005, the couple moved from California's Bay Area, where they'd been successful recruiters for and consultants to several venture-capital groups and tech start-ups. They figured that Zoe, their 17-year-old Jack Russell terrier, was too old to make the cross-country drive to Delray Beach, Fla., comfortably. Zoe traveled in the dark belly of a jetliner.

Zoe survived the flight better than Binder and Wiesel, who fretted while their dog was in transit.

"We thought there had to be a better way," Binder says. That was the genesis of Pet Airways.

Owners' fear bigger than risk

Few of the estimated 1 million or more animals that fly annually are lost, injured or die during air travel. In 2005, the first year that airlines had to report those numbers, 102 pets died, 48 were reported injured and 30 more were lost. In 2008, only 31 pets (dogs, cats and birds) died in transit on airlines, with only eight injuries and four animals reported as lost, according to the website PetFlight.com.

But it's not necessarily statistics that matter most to owners. It's a perceived lack of comfort, the sometimes hassle involved in transporting live animals by air, and a fear that their pets will be harmed that spark anxiety.

There are commonly quoted, but hard-to-substantiate, statistics from various animal welfare groups that suggest more pets are harmed in transit than the officially reported numbers indicate. Pet Airways itself quotes a study by the San Francisco SPCA that estimates that about 5,000 animals are injured, out of an estimated 1 million to 2 million that travel by air each year.

It's Pet Airways' goal to ease those concerns by convincing owners its service is safer.

"We're going to provide a level of care that will both keep your pet comfortable and make you comfortable with the whole process of transporting them," Binder says.

Not the only way to fly

Pet Airways isn't launching its service into a competitive vacuum. Although their policies vary widely, all the USA's biggest passenger airlines allow at least some type of pet travel.

Even Southwest luv, which had never allowed pets onboard, announced last month that it would let cats and dogs in the cabin if their approved carriers fit under a passenger's seat.

In recent years, two airlines, Continental cal and Delta dal, have created special operations aimed at treating animals better. The few available statistics don't prove conclusively that their approach is safer or more successful, but their goal is to make people comfortable with the idea of putting their pets on planes, thereby giving the owners greater reason to fly on them, too.

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