Four-Legged Frequent Fliers

ByABC News
March 18, 2005, 4:06 PM

March 21, 2005 — -- When Jackie Fogel travels, she's more concerned with her travel companions' comfort than her own. That can make life difficult, because those companions are often traveling in the cargo hold.

Fogel, a professional dog handler, flies four to five times per year to dog shows around the country with her champion-caliber dogs. She's been showing dogs for 25 years, and in that time she's learned some valuable lessons on what to expect when traveling with animals.

In the past it was not uncommon to see kennels arrive at destinations looking beaten up or even broken. And one dog flown to her Wisconsin home for breeding disappeared for several hours when it was accidentally sent to Minneapolis instead of Milwaukee, Fogel says. She now refuses to fly into Los Angeles' LAX with dogs because of a mishap years ago with the top-ranked Bedlington terrier in the country.

"We don't know what exactly happened, but he was so shell-shocked that he slept for 17 hours straight the next day. I couldn't even show him," she said.

These days, Fogel sticks with Midwest Airlines because she believes the carrier exercises great care in handling her dogs. And due to a recent addition to the company's frequent-flier program, she earns extra miles and bonuses for traveling with her dogs.

Midwest is one of two airlines, along with United, to give frequent-flier benefits for animal travelers. The pet benefits were added early this year as airlines across the industry revamped their fare structure and frequent-flier programs amid an industry-wide earnings slump.

The Midwest program awards pets one free round-trip ticket for every three paid round-trip flights. Members of the Midwest Miles program can also cash in 15,000 miles in exchange for a free round-trip pet fare. United's program offers travelers 1,200 bonus miles when their pets travel with them.

Both programs went into effect in mid-January, and Fogel has already earned two round-trip pet tickets on Midwest, flying three dogs to a show in Denver and two to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York. Fogel said she no longer worries about their care, as Midwest pampers the dogs in heated rooms before boarding them onto planes and treats them to in-flight carob-chip doggie cookies emblazoned with the Midwest logo.