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 Gage Skidmore / Flickr

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