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First pet-only airline takes flight

ONE trip for their Jack Russell terrier in a plane's cargo hold was enough to convince Americans Alysa Binder and Dan Wiesel that owners needed a better option to transport their pets.

On Tuesday, the first flight of the husband-and-wife team's Pet Airways, the first all-pet airline, took off from Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York.

All commercial airlines allow a limited number of small pets to fly in the cabin. Others must travel the cargo hold - a dark and sometimes dangerous place where temperatures can vary wildly.

Binder and Wiesel have spent the past four years designing their fleet of five planes according to new four-legged requirements, dealing with FAA regulations and setting up airport schedules.

The two say they're overwhelmed with the response. Flights on Pet Airways are booked up for the next two months.

Pet Airways will fly a pet between five major cities - New York, Washington, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles. The US$250 one-way fare is comparable to pet fees at the largest US airlines.

Play time and dinner

For owners the big difference is service. Dogs and cats will fly in the main cabin of a Suburban Air Freight plane, retooled and lined with carriers in place of seats. Pets (about 50 on each flight) will be escorted to the plane by attendants that will check on the animals every 15 minutes during flight.

The company will operate out of smaller, regional airports in the five launch cities, which will mean an extra trip for owners dropping off their pets if they are flying too. Stops in cities along the way means the pets will take longer to reach a destination than their owners.

A trip from New York to Los Angeles will take about 24 hours. Pets will stop in Chicago, have a bathroom break, play time, dinner, and bunk for the night before finishing the trip the next day.

Amanda Hickey is one of the new airline's first customers. Her seven-year-old terrier-pinscher mix Mardi and 2-year-old puggle Penny are taking their first flight soon. Hickey said the service was a welcome alternative to flying her dogs in cargo when she transports them from Denver to Chicago to stay with family while the she and her fiance travel to Aruba to get married.

"For a little bit more money, I have peace of mind," she said.

Binder and Wiesel came up with the idea when they worried about their Jack Russell terrier, Zoe, in the cargo hold and couldn't check on her.


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