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

Continental's PetSafe program (Delta's similar program is called Pet First) features airport kennels at its hubs and temperature-controlled vans that deliver pets to planes moments before they push back from gates and pick them up immediately after a plane docks. That gives pets last-on/first-off treatment and reduces chances of prolonged exposure to temperature extremes on the loading ramp and potential hazards in cargo areas.

"We have specialized workers in our hubs who actually bid for PetSafe jobs. That's all they do, work with animals all day long," says Lisa Schoppa, manager of product development in Continental's cargo division. "Most importantly, they're empowered. If they see something wrong with a puppy, for example, they have full authority to pull that puppy off the flight line and take them to a vet if they think that's necessary."

In addition, there are about 300 independent pet travel specialists around the world who are members of the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association. These companies are best described as travel agencies for pets, says Gay O'Brien, IPATA's president and head of family-owned O'Brien Animal Transportation & Services in Foster City, Calif.

Pet travel companies help humans navigate the complex and often contradictory rules that govern animal travel.

Their services, which can include door-to-door service or other special handling arrangements, cost more than dealing directly with the airlines, even though most animals shipped this way wind up being on the same planes. But pet travel companies argue that their value-added services reduce owners' hassles, and are worth it.

TELL US: How do you usually travel with your pets?

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