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Pets to fly in style on new airline

Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2003

Companion Air, a new airline preparing to take flight, intends to provide a safer, more compassionate way for pets and their owners to travel.

"I would never put my dog in cargo," said Diana Roof, who co-founded Companion Air with her husband Rick. "I thought other people should have the same option."

She said their dog Murphy, a 5-year-old golden retriever mix, goes where they do.

"Murphy's got more hours in the air than most people do," Roof said.

The Florida-based couple began Companion Air in 2001, believing there had to be a better way for pet owners and their animals to travel.

Each year an estimated 5,000 animals are lost, injured or killed during travel on commercial airlines from exposure to extreme heat or cold, lack of oxygen or rough handling by untrained baggage personnel.

As a result of these incidents, many airlines are starting to "ground hounds" by banning breeds or refusing to accommodate pets.

Companion Air promises to offer a better alternative with its specially configured planes and animal experienced crews.

Pets travel in kennels in the rear of the plane's cabin during take off and landing. Owners can ride with their pets and walk back and visit with them once flights are under way. Depending on turbulence, pets may be allowed to roam freely in the cabin. There are attendants on board to monitor pet health.

On the ground, pets are kept in climate controlled environments to ensure their health and safety.

Word of the new airline is spreading fast, according to Roof.

"We haven't even begun marketing or advertising yet and it's already been amazing. We're getting incredible amounts of support from phone calls, letters and e-mail. Once the dog show people got wind of it, they went crazy. The demand is everywhere," she said.

A specific date hasn't been set as to when flights will begin, but it is expected to be soon.

"We're in the final stages of FAA certification," said Roof.

Initial flight operations will service the West Coast of the United States. This region was selected due to the high population of people who already cater to their animals with numerous hotels, restaurants and resorts for pets.

"Although we're starting in one region, we hope to expand as quickly as possible," Roof said. "Alaska will definitely be one of the areas we will expand to service."

Roof was unclear as to what cities would be serviced, when and if Companion Air were to expand to Alaska.

Companion Air offers a three-tiered pricing system and fares are competitive with those of other airlines. There also is a discount to registered rescue organizations to aid in delivering these animals to their new homes.

Anyone interested in learning more about Companion Air can do so on the Web at www.companionair.com. The site has detailed information on flight schedules, fees and a more detailed history of the company's inception.

Joseph Robertia, is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at clarion@alaska.net.



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