February 20, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Air dog

By |2018-03-21T18:37:25+01:00June 3rd, 2009|Lifestyle Archive|
Pet Airways: No more cargo hold.

wenty-five years ago, Pet Luxury meant the Sheba cat food commercial in which a pretty kitty was treated like a queen with silver platter service. I loved that commercial as much as I loved the idea that my dogs were royalty by proxy. At the time, pampering your pet meant a “groomer,” a pet-sitter who’d come around during work hours. It also meant a matching collar and lead, so I commissioned my mom to hand-sew plaid gilets for our Yorkies, Pepper and Paisley. Meanwhile, my sisters and I played “groomers,” and we often styled our own long manes with clips that matched our dogs.

While living in Los Angeles at the end of the 1990s, I noticed that pet pampering in the City of Angeles had gone well beyond my Philadelphia Story reach. Low maintenance L.A. pet owners sought out stylish neckerchiefs and took off afternoons for dog-park meet-ups. High maintenance ones had matching jackets with their pets, stylish coiffeurs and designer pet luggage. The rolodexes of personal assistant’s contained entries for Human and Pet chiropractors. When Mommy got a psychic reading, so did Poochie. Travel was never an issue, as private jets could fly Poochie and Kitty anywhere. When flying commercial, Los Angeles pet owners would use their powers of verbal “persuasion” to ensure their pet traveled with them in the passenger cabin.

The worst word you could say to a Los Angeles pet owner was “cargo.” No one enjoyed letting their pet descend into cargo for obvious reasons: No control and trés bourgeois. But after 9/11, pets were actually weighed at check in. No more sneaking under the radar. (This may have indirectly contributed to the rise in teacup-size pets). Airlines enforced more stringent pet travel rules and pet luxury travel items flooded the market.

It is safe to say that with the turn of the century, pets have begun to count, and I give secret thanks Paris Hilton. Her “celebutante” wave has produced hundreds, nay, thousands of pet amenities, good, bad and ugly. Designer clothing, hotels with pet programs (the Dorchester Collection is the most luxurious with its organic pet menus, designer beds, pet walkers and personalized dog tags), pet insurance, pet trackers and lastly pet-only hotels.

It’s the airlines that lag behind in pet trends. Unlike the rest of the “customer-comes- first”-market, pets are still very much cargo.

One important sentence, “Your pet will never be treated like cargo again…” became the slogan of Dan Weisel and Alysa Binder, who introduced Florida-based Pet Airways, an airline dedicated to animals who can’t ride in commercial cabins owing to size restrictions. 

As I’ve written before, cargo is an uncontrollable hell for pet owners. There are restrictions (size, breed, temperature), inestimable ticket costs, a minimum four-hour-in-advance pet drop-off rule, and no way of knowing just what’s happening down below. 

With that in mind, Pet Airways overhauled the interior of Beechcraft 1900 aircraft and outfitted it with large animal carriers (approximately 50) and a veterinarian-trained pet attendant. They’re idea was to create a more-than-pet-friendly cabin, and established a flat, equal-for-all ticket price regardless of breed or size.

Binder explains that the goal of Pet Airways is “safety, care and comfort,” which is why the carrier flies from smaller metropolitan airports, such as Teterboro, New Jersey and Van Nuys, California, where you can walk on to the tarmac to drop off and pick up of your pet. 

Pet Airways deliberately doesn’t fly direct. Pet Airways’ cross country New York-L.A. flight stops in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Denver to pick up passengers and lay over for dog walks. If you are delayed in arriving at the pet’s destination, Pet Airways arranges to take care of your animal. Mostly importantly, your pet has his or her own frequent flyer program — “My Pawpoints.”

For now, Pet Airways is planning on once per week flights for cats and dogs, with the hopes of more frequent flights in North American and a larger range of animals. The inaugural flight is July 14, Bastille Day or as Binder aptly states, “Independence for your pets.”

I await the inaugural Rome flight.

See the following sites for assistance and thoughts on pet travel. For many useful travel details Pettravel.com; Pet Airways; pet-friendly luxury hotels (check guest services in each hotel); and for entertainment, the 1980 Sheba commercial.

About the Author:

Erica Firpo wrote The American's pet advice column from 2006 to 2009. She is a freelance travel and culture writer who lives in Rome with husband, daughter and faithful sidekick Bella. She has worked for Fodor's Rome edition, Luxe City Guides and National Geographic Travel, as well as writing art reviews for Zing and other U.S.-based magazines.