New Airline Is the First to Cater to Dogs and Cats ... The New Frequent Fliers?

Learn how to get your pet safely off the ground and on vacation with you.

June 10, 2009 — -- Time for summer vacation! And the whole family's flying off to an adventure … well, everyone except for faithful old Buddy.

Poor Buddy -- his problem is, he's an 80-pound Labrador and the big boys aren't allowed in the cabin unless they're service dogs. Face it, the only service Buddy's been providing for the past 10 years is tennis ball destruction.

And who wants to stick their animal in cargo? It's dark, scary, and while it's rare, dogs can and do die there. So what to do?

Well, you might want to give Pet Airways a try.

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Pet Airways, which begins flights next month between five cities, is exactly what it sounds like: an airline just for pets. But before boa constrictor fans get any ideas, passengers are currently limited to dogs and cats.

Nobody flies in cargo on Pet Airways -- it's first class all the way for Fluffy and Buddy in the cabin of the airlines' Beechcraft 1900. The plane normally seats 19 humans, but there are no seats for pets, just straps to hold animal carriers (supplied by the airline). The plane holds about 50 average-sized animals, two pilots and one pet attendant. Mind you, the pet need not be "average-sized." Back in April, the Pet Airways people told me how thrilled they were to get their first reservation for a Great Dane.

Initially, the airline will fly between seven major cities mostly in the Northeast to Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles.

Animal lover and Pet Airways co-founder Alysa Binder says, the comfort and safety of pets is all that matters to them. "Pets will enjoy all the amenities we do," she said, laughing, "except for cocktails!"

And, you won't see any Dachshunds quaffing daiquiris aboard Southwest either -- though you will start seeing small dogs and cats beginning June 17.

The no-frills airline is reversing its longtime "no-animals" policy and saying yes to cabin pets. That's winning the airline some new fans -- but, it's also annoying allergy sufferers -- one of whom complained about Southwest's new policy to the Denver Post, saying "They are catering to the Paris Hiltons of the world." Gosh, could this mean the heiress and little Tinkerbell will no longer fly Southwest?

Well, whoever flies Southwest will get something of a bargain for pet transportation: the charge is a comparatively low $75 each way -- still, that revenue will no doubt come in handy for the Southwest, since the carrier continues to say no to first and second checked-bag fees.

Pet Airways has a somewhat heftier price tag: your dog or cat's ticket will cost from $149 to $199 each way, but -- get this -- your pet will earn frequent flier miles. Even better these "pet miles" never expire. Now if we could only get this kind of deal on the human airlines …

Okay, you're ready to fly and so is your furry pal. Here are some important tips.

Find the Right Airline:

Decide on Cabin or Cargo: Figure out what's best for your animal but do not assume the airline you scored cheap tickets with accepts pets. Read the Web site carefully before you buy.

Make Pet Reservations: This is especially true for cabin travelers. Many airlines accept only five or so pets per flight.

Breed Alert: Some airlines will not carry certain dogs in cargo especially short-snouted breeds like pugs or bulldogs.

Weather Watch: If you're traveling to frigid cities in winter or hot spots in the summer, check the airline's pet policy. Some won't carry animals in cargo during weather extremes.

Preparing for the Flight:

ID and Paperwork: Be sure you know what the airline requires in terms of health documentation and bring the paperwork with you. And plaster your animal's name and your contact info on every piece of paper and on the pet carrier.

No Drugs: The American Veterinary Medical Association says "no" to sedating animals that are going to fly, and Pet Airways for example, will not accept any animal that appears to be drugged (it can adversely affect balance and equilibrium, as well as create respiratory and cardiovascular problems).

No Food: It's generally recommended that animals travel on "an almost empty stomach."

Carrier Notes: Your pet's carrier must be large enough for the animal to stand up in, and turn around in or the pet won't be accepted by the airline. And make sure your pet is familiar with the sensation of actually being in a carrier. Non-crate trained animals may balk and bark.

Finally, ask yourself if Buddy really wants to go on vacation with you. He might just be happier staying home and destroying a few more tennis balls.

But if he is the adventuresome sort, it's nice to know there are more options today. And nice to know your best bud can frolic on the beach with you that is, when he's not busy racking up his frequent flier miles.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.

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