It's a Bird. It's a Plane. It's a.Bird on a Plane?
Send Fido across the country in a bona fide plane for pets.
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This story first appeared in the August 2009 issue of Entrepreneur. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.The notion of a pets-only airline calls up images of house cats and canines filing from planes and squinting into crowds, searching for placards that read "Shep" and "Cuddles." The animal ennoblement behind Pet Airways hasn't quite reached that level of personification; it's not as if Hotel for Dogs is showing in flight. But its mission just as nearly skirts the line between humane and human.
The empathy underlying this Delray Beach, Fla.-based enterprise, which took flight last month, is clear from the time owners arrive at the airline's pet lounge. "You walk your pet in; you don't need a carrier," says co-founder and executive vice president Alysa Binder. Pet Airways manages such arrangements by flying out of regional airports (Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.) where hangar space can play lounge host. The wayfaring creatures are fed an all-organic meal and walked before boarding a 50-passenger plane with secured carriers where reclining seats would normally be situated. On cross-country flights, the pets will have a "walkover." Says Binder, "Everything we're doing is for the individual 'pawsengers.'"
Pet Airways wouldn't exist if, a few years ago, Binder and her husband, Dan Wiesel, co-founder and president/CEO, hadn't been forced to load Zoe, their Jack Russell terrier, into a plane's cargo hold for a move from San Francisco. "We put Zoe in, and she didn't like it. She's a very happy-go-lucky dog. But when she came out, she was shocked--not herself." The experience inspired Pet Airways to offer America's vacationers, adopters and movers a more reassuring form of travel, starting at $149.
Hoping to eventually service 25 American and Canadian cities, the upstart began offering scheduled flights this year. "Pet Airways isn't different than any other airline or hotel," Binder says. "Profitability is determined by occupancy. If we can fill our planes to a level that covers the cost of the flights and the associated overhead, then we are profitable."
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