Pets are people, too
May 22, 2009 5:16 PM   Subscribe

Now preparing for departure: PetAirways, an airline exclusively for animals that begins service to five US cities in mid July. Entrepreneurs Dan Wiesel and Alysa Binder came up with the idea of catering to the in-flight comfort of your four-legged friend, using specially modified cabins with pet attendants. Will it take off? The most recent APPA National Pet Owners Survey estimates that US pet owners spent $45.4 B on their animals in 2009.
posted by woodway (42 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Airlines for people can hardly stay afloat. I have my doubts about an airline that's just for pets.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:22 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

This would be a lot cooler if I could travel with my pets.
posted by mrnutty at 5:26 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm strangely excited and intrigued by this concept... I wish they had pictures of the cabin, though. Could anyone find pictures of the cabin?

Anyway, at $300 round trip, it's kind of pricey, but I can see it making sense for a cross-country move or a longer vacation where the only other option is an expensive stay at the kennel...
posted by mr_roboto at 5:26 PM on May 22, 2009

This is one of the most ill-timed business ventures I've ever laughed derisively at., anyone?
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:27 PM on May 22, 2009

Are there enough rich idiots to support this? I only ask because it's already possible to ship pets via some regular airlines.

Traveling is already traumatic enough for some pets -- I think I'd rather get some pet tranqs and ship 'em quickly instead of pretending it's going to be fun in the sky for Fluffy and Scruffy.
posted by Never teh Bride at 5:29 PM on May 22, 2009

Airlines for people can hardly stay afloat.

US Airways 1549 did a pretty damn good job.
posted by gman at 5:31 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine did this 7 years ago. It didn't last then, either.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:37 PM on May 22, 2009

There seems to be a photo here, which makes it seem like a marginally less ridiculous idea, although still exorbitant. I'm still annoyed, though, that it's restricted to dogs and cats. Because, really, in comparison to other animals, transporting dogs and cats isn't that hard. If you own a small mammal or a snake or, god forbid, a fish ... yeah, an airplane isn't happening.

What I wish we pet owners had were standardized shipping/travel options for pets, whether they be furry, feathered, scaly, squishy or exoskeletal, whether they need air or water to breathe, that will get them quickly, safely and as cheaply to their destination as possible, without putting their lives at the whims of a postal service that just isn't designed to handle living creatures. No more writing "LIVE ANIMALS: FRAGILE" on the box only to have some well-meaning postal worker put your tropical fish delivery near the air conditioning vents. No more last minute panic at the airport even though you bought legitimate cabin tickets for your gerbils in their carrier, because the TSA official at your security checkpoint has rodent phobia.
posted by bettafish at 5:56 PM on May 22, 2009

This is the most inane thing I've seen since the Snuggie. What's next?! Snuggie: Pet Edition?
posted by litterateur at 6:10 PM on May 22, 2009

Pets are the new children.
posted by exogenous at 6:42 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I wish they had pictures of the cabin

There's a commercial here that shows the pets stacked inside the cabin.

If I did want to fly my dog say from New York to LA, this is the way I would do it. I've heard too many horror stories, some from the baggage handlers themselves, about pets in cargo with regular airlines. Good luck Pet Airways!
posted by duncan42 at 6:51 PM on May 22, 2009

Anyway, at $300 round trip, it's kind of pricey

Unfortunately, that's the same price as putting your small pet under the seat on Northwest, Delta, and cheaper than United which charges $175 each way. And they don't even get their own seat or large cage.

Bad thing though, it's not the same airport you're going to in most areas.
posted by ALongDecember at 6:52 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Parody, anyone?
posted by fellorwaspushed at 7:06 PM on May 22, 2009

If Joey Skaggs isn't behind this, it just may be David Blaine's most dangerous trick ever.
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:15 PM on May 22, 2009

It's actually priced very competitively, and you don't have to worry about setting off allergies, etc. I wish I'd had this last time I moved cross country.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:16 PM on May 22, 2009

If Hooters Air couldn't succeed...
posted by JaredSeth at 7:36 PM on May 22, 2009

Yeah, bad timing, but the need makes sense to me. Shipping pets as cargo doesn't make a lot of sense and is super scary. I had a conversation with a friend just few hours ago where they had to receive two cats from their ex and it wouldn't make sense to book two seats and fly both ways to go get them as well.
posted by Skwirl at 8:03 PM on May 22, 2009

US pet owners spent $45.4 B on their animals in 2009.

Wait...what year is it now?
posted by LionIndex at 9:02 PM on May 22, 2009

There is no question that this is a workable model. I've got to think the true profit here is derived from the pre- and post-flight kenneling, not in the flight itself.

2nding ALongDecember that this service is no more expensive than a traditional carrier--which, incidentally, won't take a dog that doesn't fit under your seat.

These days, almost every major carriers no longer allows pets in cargo, so you're SOL if Fido doesn't fit under the seat. I'd for sure drop $300 once a year for my 40-pounder to join me on the beach in Florida . . . and I'm not that crazy a dog person.
posted by eggman at 9:19 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am the proud owner of a world-traveling turtle. I've never understood why my little slider, who makes no noise and produces no allergens, can't travel with me. So I send her DHL, which was fine 90% of the time and the other 10% resulted in minor injuries. It's bad.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:43 PM on May 22, 2009

WestJet and Canadian Air both let people bring their damn pets on board. I keep telling myself I need to bring a damn goat on board. If we're gonna pretend we're in Marrakesh, let's do it right. Chickens, dogs, and goats, oh my.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:46 PM on May 22, 2009

Side note: if you have a very small dog/cat/pet of another flavor, before plunking down $100+, try just bringing your pet on board without disclosing that fact to anyone.

I worked for a major carrier for a few years and in a few cases and for a variety of reasons let people slide on paying the fee (actually, another side note--don't be shy about trying to get the customer service agent at the counter to waive your fee--as a dog lover myself I would do this often, for the most mild of reasons, primarily because I felt the fees are/were ridiculously high).

If you have a "kennel bag" that looks like a regular gym bag and your pet doesn't bark/meow, just walk on to the plane. If you get caught, play dumb. This works especially well when the airport/flight is busy. There are a few occasions when this could possibly backfire (i.e. most airlines limit the number of pets on a given flight) but frankly the odds on this happening would be very long.
posted by eggman at 11:06 PM on May 22, 2009

I will concede that I may have jumped to conclusions--many of you have brought up some great points. I suppose that in light of this new information, however, I would prefer to just see higher pet transportation standards in our current airlines.
posted by litterateur at 11:24 PM on May 22, 2009

If you have a "kennel bag" that looks like a regular gym bag and your pet doesn't bark/meow, just walk on to the plane.

I have been so tempted to do this, but never had the guts to possibly screw up my travel, despite sensing that the odds of getting caught are very low.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:31 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I tend to agree with comments upthread that this smells much like a hoax. I'd really like to see their business plan, having reviewed dozens of such documents. I've got a few observations :

The American Pet Products link in the FPP is very informative, especially the section Actual Sales within the U.S. Market in 2008 in general and the line item Pet Services: grooming & boarding $3.2 billion specifically, as it provides a rough idea of market size.

We'd be assuming here that a percentage of folks boarding their pets would chose instead to travel. We're also missing people that arrange house sitters for pets left behind, so let's assume the total market size at $3B.

Growth in their target market is a mere $200K pa (Estimated 2009 Sales within the U.S. Market projected at $3.4 billion). This implies either they've got some unique insight I'm lacking from my perspective (it happens) or they have an ambitious (i.e., expensive) marketing campaign in their business plan to grow the target market.

Now looking at the data, it seems the big growth areas are Vet Care and Food, at 9.90% and 3.57% yoy respectively. We've got two cats, and I have seen very sharp marketing from our vets (e.g., mails reminding us of vaccinations, periodic checkups, etc) that are done by third parties. So their business plan probably refers to this growth as something they could either target or achieve in pet travel.

But even so if their business plan assumes target market size of $3B with growth of 10% pa (respectable) its not clear how much of that market they can successful cannibalise. Not all pet owners necessarily want to take their animals with them. On the other hand, there will be folks relocating that aren't reflected in the $3B figure.

So lets assume the target market is 10% of the overall $3B spent in 2008 on boarding, or $300M. Now we've got an idea (very rough) of potential size of the revenue side of their business plan.

Looking to costs we see they are using Beech 1900s provided by Suburban Air. Almost certainly a charter, the only data I can find on a Beech 1900s operating costs puts this at roughly $325 / hour. This ignores crew costs, so lets guss it up to $500 / hour which should cover crew while in flight, and ground costs before & after.

The BBC article shows the cabin with 18 carriers (visible, might be more) installed on one side of the aircraft. So let's assume 40 carriers (excuse me, pawsengers) per flight.

If we assume a 50% Passenger Load Factor and a two hour flight time from New York to Chicago (just to pick one of their routes to analyse, and I suspect this will probably would be longer), with ninety minutes of ground prep time on either side we'd have

Sales: 20* $149 = $2,980
Costs: 5 * $500 = $2,000
Operating Profit = $980

If PLF rises to 80%

Sales: 32* $149 = $4,768
Costs: 5 * $500 = $2,000
Operating Profit = $2,768

Now that's per flight and ignores indirect costs (marketing, administration, insurance, airport fees, just for starters). How many flights can they run? What's the size of the market, on a city by city basis? Not really sure, but their own web site answers this question - one flight per week between New York and Chicago.

Let's put it this way: while I wish them well in their endeavour, they simply will not be running the animal equivalent of the Delta Shuttle with hourly departures, as the demand side just isn't there.

Curious: trying to book a fight generated this message Please Note: For the comfort and safety of our pawsengers, all our flights are overnight flights -- I wonder if they are subsidising the costs of each flight by carrying cargo? In which case the cost side could be essentially zero as cargo pays the way, and each flight would just be gravy.

But even so, in that case PLF would be key. At 50% they're only making $3K a flight.

I'm still not convinced there is a business here. As I said, I'd really to read their plan.
posted by Mutant at 1:35 AM on May 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

In which case the cost side could be essentially zero as cargo pays the way, and each flight would just be gravy.

In that case, Mutant, their timing would be really bad, because the air freight market is in freefall.
posted by Skeptic at 3:15 AM on May 23, 2009

Pardon the use of past tense, LionIndex: APPA estimates that Americans will spend $45.4 B. Interestingly, the report's methology section indicates that the survey took place in late 2007. A Februrary 2009 press release claims that people who can afford to spend money on their pets will continue doing so, but I'd take that with a horselick-size hunk of salt. The organization's their Twitter profile states that their mission "is to promote, develop and advance pet ownership and the pet product industry and to provide the services necessary to help its members prosper." They make some good points, but a quick Google seach turns up plenty of news stories about people hit by the economic downturn who are foregoing vet services or even giving away their pets, including this one today in the LA Times.
posted by woodway at 7:32 AM on May 23, 2009

Bah, apologies for the typos -- it should be February, of course, and strike "their" before Twitter in line 4. I need more coffee.
posted by woodway at 7:36 AM on May 23, 2009

My cat (who is a dick) not only meowls (not a typo: contraction of "meow" and "yowl") INCESSANTLY when put in her cat-taxi, but she then proceeds to crap herself. It was hard enough to get her from PVD to Boston in a car, and that's only a 45 min. trip! If for some G-d forsaken reason I had to move her any great distance, I would want her on her very own plane and not screaming and crapping it up under my seat in a cramped human plane.

I think that everyone on the plane would agree.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:08 AM on May 23, 2009

Thank you, grapefruitmoon. No damn pet should be in the passenger section of an airplane.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:21 AM on May 23, 2009

I'd like to extend five fresh fish's ban to babies and small children.
posted by gman at 11:27 AM on May 23, 2009

I wouldn't go so far as "no pet" but certainly not MY pet.

I once saw this guy take a bird out of a cage on a flight and let the bird sit on his tray and peck at his food (this is back when they SERVED food on planes) and the flight attendants got very stern and told him to put his bird away. I felt bad for the guy - and the bird - it was really kind of charming. The bird wasn't squawking or anything, just chillin'. Eatin' some snacks. Being a bird.

Thinking about the possibility of a bird flying inside an airplane kinda made my head spin though.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:28 AM on May 23, 2009

I'd like to extend five fresh fish's ban to babies and small children.

I'd like to further extend it to all people other than me and the pilot. I shouldn't have to have other people (shudder) around me when I fly. It's rude.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:46 PM on May 23, 2009

Because, hey, pets are precious people, too! FFS.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:31 PM on May 23, 2009

Breeders and rescue groups could make excellent use of this service. I'm glad to have my cat, who is a rescued adult of a rare breed, but I still feel terrible guilt that, upon adoption, she was flown to the east coast from Oklahoma in the cargo hold, with no guardian aboard the plane. My fault for adopting from a distance, but something like this airline could have made her ride much more comfortable, and lessened my worries and those of the former owner.
posted by juniper at 4:47 PM on May 23, 2009

Or you could give the pet a sleeping pill, and it would be blissfully unaware of having travelled. Same goes for children.

And, for that matter, myself. Flying to Europe was a breeze, what with sleeping all the way. Plus when I got to the other side, no jetlag.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:33 PM on May 23, 2009

Actually, my vet says that sedating a pet for flying is a bad idea; when animals die while traveling, you can often trace it back to the sedation, which can actually make them MORE stressed, not less. Plus you can't monitor the sedated animal when it's in the cargo hold, so if the animal reacts badly to the sedative, it's out of luck.

This is apparently seconded by IPATA, a professional organization for companies that do pet shipping.
posted by OolooKitty at 8:13 PM on May 23, 2009

OolooKitty is right: if you sedate an animal that's being shipped cargo it's more likely to die. The baggage compartment's not pressurized, and it's easier for an animal to suffocate when it's unconscious.

And 'pet cargo' shipping is crap. They want 400 bucks, each way, and the pet *might* live. Maybe. *if* they get it to you in three or four days of your flight.

Sorry -- I fly Westjet because I can take my cat on the plane with me, for a reasonable fee. Oddly enough, most people don't even notice him.
posted by jrochest at 12:19 AM on May 24, 2009

I'm with five fresh fish about the sleeping pills. I think we should all get our tranquilizers like on the Dharma Initiative submarine.

Only, I hope I don't wake up on a strange island with a smoke monster. I'd be pissed.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:46 AM on May 24, 2009

Some pet owners are unbelieveably selfish.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:09 AM on May 24, 2009

Some pet owners are unbelieveably selfish.

Who the hell pissed in your outmeal? It's not even clear what you're so wound up about, here.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:41 PM on May 24, 2009

I don't know that I'd call wanting to fly with your pet "incredibly selfish" but I do tend to agree about animals not being in the passenger section of the plane. I know more than a few people who are horribly allergic to animal hair and dander.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:26 AM on May 26, 2009

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