Animals and Money: Hey desperate airlines, please gouge us dog owners

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The Airline industry is desperate. They've packed us in as tightly as they can, cut service and comfort to the bone marrow, crunched schedules and now they're charging for checking bags. (This week American announced it would charge $15 for its first checked bag. Last month American and other airlines announced they would charge $25 for the second checked bag.)

American also upped its fees for traveling pets. Just a few years ago they were $50. Now they're $100 each way in the cabin and $150 in the cargo hold, which is where dogs over 20 pounds have to go. But on behalf of dog owners everywhere, I'd like to say that all the major airlines are missing out on a huge new opportunity to gouge customers --- customers who would line up to pay exorbitant fees.

I'm talking about dog owners who would be willing to pay full-priced human fare to have a big dog fly safely in the cabin. The space of one seat could easily stack three or four crates. Hey, airlines executives and shareholders, are you getting excited yet? I'd eagerly pay hundreds of dollars extra. You could make me show up for a flight at 5 a.m. or 11 p.m. You could sit me in the middle seat in the last row behind a chatty family who reclines and between sales reps. You could offer up your most surly staff and flimsiest excuses for delays. And I'd still be thrilled if only I could get my 70-pound dog safely in a crate in the back of the cabin.For many dog owners the in-cabin flight is the holy grail of pet travel. There are 68 million dogs in the U.S. and least 14% of owners take their dogs on trips. I know of many people who would fly with their dog if only there was a safe way to do it. And safe means in the cabin.

When my dog Jolly was younger I flew him for trips home to Chicago. He was fine; I was a wreck. When airlines started having to report how many dogs they killed or injured, they suddenly made it a lot harder for any dog to get on the plane. They started enforcing the rule that it can't be below 45 degrees in either your destination or departure city.

Do you know how ridiculous that rule is? My dog is out for hour-plus walks every day all winter, but he's not supposed to be able to handle 30 minutes in 40 degrees? Dogs travel in a pressurized and heated compartment below first class. They're only out in the elements driving to the hold. It's not the equipment that's the problem; it's the airlines' lack of concern for the animals.

Now I'd never fly Jolly this way. Instead, we drive everywhere. A two-hour flight to Chicago becomes a two-day drive with an overnight hotel stay. With car rental, gas, roadfood, tools, and the occasional speeding ticket, we're well over $1,500. You can see why I'd happily pay hundreds of dollars for Jolly's ticket.

If you doubt the market for this service, look at the several versions of airlines that have been geared specifically to dog owners. At least two companies are following the model of offering seats on charter flights to people and dogs, hoping to expand to regular service. Companion Air, has been at it for a while. Dog Travel Company, which requires membership, now seems to be offering somewhat regular flights, albeit to a random assortment of destinations. Dog owners are paying thousands of dollars for cross-country flights and really high fares for shorter ones. In other words, dogs are like an untapped market of passengers who could rake in business-class fares.
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