Pet Airways brings animals out of the hold

A Florida company wants to make the skies a little friendlier for our four-legged friends. 

Pet Airways will begin offering first class air transportation for pets in five U.S. cities - alas not Philadelphia - starting in July. "Pawsengers" will ride in lighted, climate-controlled cabins of turbo-prop planes with an attendant to care for them.

Pet owners are not allowed to travel with their pets, but can monitor the flights on a Web site. The average fare will be about $250 each way, but special introductory rates start at $149.

The airline will serve Washington, New York, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles. More cities, including Philadelphia, could be added later if there is enough interest, airline founder Alysa Binder told me.

Some 76 million cats and dogs travel with their owners each year, most of them by car. Airline travel can be stressful, even deadly, for pets.

Horror stories of pets lost, injured and even killed while being handled by commercial airlines abound. Pets that are too big to fit under the seat are relegated to cargo, and often treated like baggage. In a 2008 report, Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Alison Young revealed that many pet deaths are not reported by airlines.

Some airlines are no longer accepting pets and those that do will not accept them when outside temperatures are below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees, limiting travel during the popular summer and winter holiday periods.