Fur Flies: Behind the Pet Airline Class Divide
That was before Wallace found Pet Airways, a luxury airline specifically for pet passengers—no humans allowed. Discerning pet owners agree their four-legged friends deserve to be treated like people, and Pet Airways obliges them—for a fee.
Unlike most airlines, which fly pets as cargo alongside baggage, Pet Airways’ “Pawsengers” fly in a temperature-controlled main cabin specifically designed to securely hold up to 80 animal carriers. Every 15 minutes, a “pet attendant” circulates and “monitors and checks the comfort” of the animals (peanuts and beverage not included). If they are traveling cross-country, like Wallace’s pups, they are unloaded and taken for walks when the plane touches down in Denver and Chicago, two of the eight locations Pet Airways serves. Pets are also given potty breaks before and after flights, and owners can even track their pets' progress online at Pet Airway’s website. Depending on the size of the pet and the duration of its journey, a one-way ticket can run up to $1,500.
“When I dropped him off he was panting, he was so stressed,” Neidhart says. “The place I dropped him off [at LAX] is literally the jankiest office by baggage claim called the Global Priority Shipping Center. It was a little unnerving showing them my I.D. then saying, ‘Okay, here’s my cat. I don’t know anything about you but I hope he gets there.’”
But a few airborne pets must contend with more than the contents of their bladder. The Humane Society of the United States recommends against pets traveling by plane at all unless it is absolutely necessary due to continued reports of animals being lost, injured, or killed during flights. From July 2005 through August 2011, 195 animals were reported dead after a flight, with Continental Airlines leading the count with 49 deaths; in that period, 77 more animals were injured and 40 lost. Those numbers don’t include Jack the cat, a highly-publicized feline found October 26 after being lost by American Airlines in New York's JFK airport for almost two months.
Even if a pet can survive the chill, select pet owners are willing to pay up to avoid leaving an animal out in the cold. In the end, Pet Airways customers are paying for more than just a dedicated pet attendant—they’re paying for the luxury of pet personhood. “There’s one thing Zoe is certainly not, and that’s cargo,” Pet Airways’ founders say of their Jack Russell Terrier. Zoe, who died in 2010, is now said to look over the airline’s other Pawsengers “from heaven.”
Photo of Monkey courtesy of Lily Spottiswoode and Phoebe Neidhart