Fur flies as pet airline takes off

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The Independent Online

The world's first airline exclusively for pets has taken to the skies. The brainchild of dog lovers Alysa Binder and Dan Wiesel, US-based Pet Airways has been four years in the planning.

They said the response had been overwhelming and all five aircraft in their fleet were booked up for two months ahead.

Commercial airlines allow a limited number of small pets to fly in the cabin. Others must travel as in the cargo hold - a dark and sometimes dangerous place where temperatures can vary wildly.

Pet Airways will fly a pet between five major cities - New York, Washington, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles. The 250 dollar (£152) one-way fare is comparable to pet fees at the largest US airlines.

For owners the big difference is service. Dogs and cats will fly in the main cabin of a Suburban Air Freight plane, refurbished and lined with carriers in place of seats.

Pets, about 50 on each flight, will be escorted to the plane by attendants who will check on the animals every 15 minutes during flight. The pets are also given pre-boarding walks and bathroom breaks. And at each of the five airports it serves, the company has created a "Pet Lounge" for future fliers to wait and sniff before flights.

The company will operate out of smaller, regional airports in the five launch cities, which will mean an extra trip for most owners dropping off their pets if they are flying too. Stops in cities along the way mean the pets will take longer to reach a destination than their owners.

A trip from New York to Los Angeles, for example, will take about 24 hours. On that route, pets will stop in Chicago, have a bathroom break, play time, dinner, and bunk for the night before finishing the trip the next day.

Amanda Hickey was one of the first customers. Her seven-year-old terrier Mardi and two-year-old puggle Penny will take their first flight soon.

She said the service was a welcome alternative to flying her dogs in cargo when she transports them from Denver to Chicago to stay with family while the she and her fiance travel to Aruba to get married.

"For a little bit more money, I have peace of mind," she said.

It was a stressful experience in a cargo hold that spurred Binder and Wiesel to start their airline. Their Jack Russell terrier, Zoe, flew once in cargo they worried about how the dog was doing, but were unable to check on her or get information. The couple soon started looking for a better solution.

The company, which will begin with one flight in each of its five cities, is looking to add more flights and cities soon. In the next three years, Binder hopes to fly to 25 locations.