Aviation News

July 14, 2009

Pet Airways Takes Off from Republic Airport

AP photo
AP photo
AP photo

A Pet Airways employee prepares a canine passenger for his first flight. (Photo by Dave Weaver/AP)

With a full cabin of “pawsengers” on-board, Pet Airways launched its maiden flight today, taking off from Republic Airport in Farmingdale, Long Island en route for Los Angeles.

The world’s first animals-only-airline will operate twice-weekly cross-country round-trips, following the routing New York (Republic FRG) – Baltimore (Baltimore/Washington International BWI) – Chicago (Midway MDW) – Denver (Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport BJC) – Los Angeles (Hawthorne Executive HHR). The carrier uses a Beech 1900C cargo aircraft specially outfitted with about 50 pet carriers, operated by Suburban Air Freight out of Omaha, Neb.

Founded by a husband and wife whose own Jack Russell terrier had been freaked out one-too-many times while traveling on people-centric airlines, Pet Airways promises a more comfortable travel experience for dogs and cats. According to the carrier’s website, an on-board attendant checks in with the four-legged passengers every 15 minutes to ensure their comfort and potty breaks are given after every landing. Pets on-board for the full cross country trek, which takes about 24 hours, get dinner and playtime when they reach Chicago, where they bunk for the night before completing the journey.

Whether such a narrow niche airline can be successful, especially in a challenging economic climate, is still a huge question. The fares are comparable to, but still slightly higher than those charged by major airlines for carrying pets in the cargo compartment or under a seat. A New York-Los Angeles ticket costs $299, but upgrades are required if your dog is too big for a standard-size pet carrier. You can also upgrade to a larger compartment if you just want your pet to be more comfortable, just like their business class-flying human counterparts. There is also the limited route network, and the fact that chances are your flight will arrive at a different time and different airport than your pet. Three of Pet Airways’ five airports—Republic, Rocky Mountain and Hawthorne—are not served by commercial airlines, requiring some extra driving to drop off and retrieve your pet at both ends of your trip.

Despite these factors, and air travel of all types has plummeted during the recession, pet owners are notorious free-spenders when it comes to pampering their four-legged friends. This unique business model might not be for the dogs after all.