Fur Flies: Behind the Pet Airline Class Divide

On Pet Airways, every animal gets the first-class treatment—for a price.

When Bob Wallace relocated to Los Angeles from New York City, he brought Baron Dieter von Riverside and Molly McButter along with him. He considered packing Riverside, a Daschund, and McButter, a Bischon Frise, in the car and driving them 3,000 miles from Manhattan’s Upper West Side to their new home in Bel Air. What Wallace knew he couldn’t do was fly. “I wasn't going to ship my dogs in the baggage of a commercial airliner,” says Wallace, a former executive editor of Rolling Stone. “You wouldn't do that to your kid. Why would you do it to your dogs?”

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.

Not every pet owner can afford the best. When Lily Spottiswoode, Wallace’s stepdaughter, moved from L.A. to New York, she wanted to give her cat, Monkey, the Pet Airways treatment. She and her former roommate, Phoebe Neidhardt, thought they had purchased Monkey a ticket on the premier pet airline until, just one day before his scheduled trip, they realized they had mistakenly booked him a ride through the similarly named Pet Air instead. “We thought we were sending him on the most glitzy, ridiculous airline, and we’d been telling people for weeks,” Spottiswoode says. Instead, Pet Air had organized for Monkey to fly in the cargo area of an American Airlines plane—no pet attendants, check-ins, or walks. The ride cost $228.

“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.’”

When Spottiswoode retrieved Monkey in New York, he had peed on himself, but had otherwise survived the flight with no lasting effects. “He’s not acting as though he’s traumatized,” Spottiswoode says. “He was totally fine on Pet Air.”

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.

Airlines attempt to mitigate the damage by requiring pets to pass certain medical tests before hitting the tarmac. Before Monkey could be cleared for flying, Neidhart secured a health certificate and proof of shots, as well as an acclimation certificate ensuring the cat could survive in temperatures as low as 45 degrees (the temperature the baggage cabin can hit during flights) for up to four hours.

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.”

“We got [Monkey] when we were both going through breakups and he’s become nothing less than a child,” Spottiswoode says. “If I were at a place in my life where I was looking to spend $1,000 on my cat, then yeah, I would spend the money on Pet Airways."

Photo of Monkey courtesy of Lily Spottiswoode and Phoebe Neidhart

via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
Me Too Kit

The creator of the Me Too kit — an at home rape kit that has yet to hit the market — has come under fire as sexual assault advocates argue the kit is dangerous and misleading for women.

The kit is marketed as "the first ever at home kit for commercial use," according to the company's website. "Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice. Every survivor has a story, every survivor has a voice." Customers will soon be able order one of the DIY kits in order to collect evidence "within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety" after an assault.

"With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator's involvement with sexual assault," according to the website.

Keep Reading Show less

Villagers rejoice as they receive the first vaccines ever delivered via drone in the Congo

The area's topography makes transporting medicines a treacherous task.

Photo by Henry Sempangi Senyule

When we discuss barriers to healthcare in the developed world, affordability is commonly the biggest concern. But for some in the developing world, physical distance and topography can be the difference between life and death.

Widjifake, a hard-to-reach village in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a population of 6,500, struggles with having consistent access to healthcare supplies due to the Congo River and its winding tributaries.

It can take up to three hours for vehicles carrying supplies to reach the village.

Keep Reading Show less
via Keith Boykin / Twitter

Fox News and President Trump seem like they may be headed for a breakup. "Fox is a lot different than it used to be," Trump told reporters in August after one of the network's polls found him trailing for Democrats in the 2020 election.

"There's something going on at Fox, I'll tell you right now. And I'm not happy with it," he continued.

Some Fox anchors have hit back at the president over his criticisms. "Well, first of all, Mr. President, we don't work for you," Neil Cavuto said on the air. "I don't work for you. My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you, just report on you."

Keep Reading Show less