Image: JetPaws carrier
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JetBlue's new JetPaws pet carrier, co-designed by Cindy Adams, and travel kit availalable on JetBlue's Web site.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/7/2009 3:27:49 PM ET 2009-01-07T20:27:49

At JetBlue, the skies are going to the dogs. In an effort to take the lead as the top pet-friendly airline, JetBlue Airways recently launched its new JetPaws in-cabin pet program.

“With more than 80,000 pets traveling on JetBlue each year, the JetPaws program is designed to make traveling with pets smooth from start to finish,” said Kim Ruvolo, JetBlue's brand manager. “We know that our customers are passionate about their pets and very emotionally connected to them so this program ensures that our customer service extends to our four-legged customers too.”

For $100 each way, regardless of the travel route, the low-cost carrier welcomes up to four pets in the cabin per flight.

Additional amenities, such as a stylish, custom-designed carrier and a special travel kit, are available for purchase. There is also the added incentive that pets can earn two bonus points for each flight that accrues to their owners’ TrueBlue frequent flyer account allowing them to earn free travel awards faster.

Part of the traveling family
“We have a lot of guests travel with pets and when they arrive at the airport you can tell they are pet-travel pros as they are well equipped with the carriers and pet travel accessories,” said Abby Lunardini, JetBlue's director of corporate communications. “Los Angeles to New York is a very popular pet route. At this stage we are exploring our options regarding introducing a formal pet program.”

“People traveling with pets don’t consider what they are doing as a luxury or an extravagance; they simply view it as traveling with a family member,” added added John Clifford, a luxury travel consultant for San Diego-based International Travel Management.com.

According to a travel trends survey for 2007-2008 — published by the Travel Association of America — 29.1 million Americans have traveled with a pet in the last three years.

“Business has doubled in the last year,” Clifford confirmed. “This has a lot to do with hotels and tourist places adopting pet-friendly policies. And when airlines also come on board with value added benefits its just another way of stimulating the demand that is definitely out there.”

“Eventually we plan to extend the program to pets themselves by setting up special travel accounts for them with promotional offers and special newsletter e-mails,” Ruvolo said.

Staying ahead of the competition
“It’s a very bright forward-thinking program that clearly addresses the needs of travelers with pets,” said Clifford, who has a list of clients who travel both locally and internationally with their pets. “Lately both other low-cost airlines, as well as standard carriers, have been moving in the other direction and charging fees for things that were previously free. This new program is adding extra value for the traveler with their pet.

Southwest, widely considered JetBlue's direct competitor, has a no-pets policy (except for service dogs). “In fact, the only other airline that has a similar and competitive pet program is Virgin Atlantic on their international routes,” Clifford said.

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Virgin America, which launched in August 2007 and is headquartered in California, also charges $100 per direction with no limit to the number of pets allowed on board.

Continental Airlines, meanwhile, offers its OnePass Frequent Flyer Program. Pets that travel “Cargo Class” with the airline’s PetPass Program also help to boost their owner’s mileage account towards free award trips in the future by earning an additional OnePass mile for every dollar spent on pet travel.

Midwest Airline’s Premier Pet Program allows cats and dogs to earn one free roundtrip for every three paid roundtrips. Midwest Miles members can also redeem 20,000 Midwest Miles for a free roundtrip for a pet to travel under the seat in the passenger cabin and 15,000 for a free trip for their pet in the below-cabin pet compartment.

Designer bag included
The airline teamed up with Cindy Adams, a New York Post columnist and owner of Jazzy Park Avenue Pet Products, to design the navy and orange bag that sells for $45. Adams also had a hand in planning the welcome kit which includes, a blanket, bowls, a rubber bone and some treats — and, of course, a different toy for cats.

“Traveling is a big part of my life and my work and I always love bringing my sweet babies Juicy and Jazzy along when I can,” says Adams. “I incorporated all the elements that are important to me as a pet parent into the design such as excellent ventilation, a soft comfortable lining and lots of pockets for basic travel essentials that open easily because when you travel you very often only have one hand to manipulate a bag. The carrier is extremely lightweight and is designed for pets up to 20 pounds. My Yorkies are tiny and I can get them both into one bag.”

The specifications of the bag were also specially designed to fit comfortably into the space allotted in the airline’s new planes.

On check-in, customers are handed their own boarding passes and a special tag for the carrier that states “Check me out; I’m checked in.”

“It’s all part of giving pet parents and their pets travel status,” explains Ruvolo. “We also issue them with a wallet-sized card with basic petiquette tips about policy and procedures to making it smooth transition from the terminal to the plane.”

Other JetPaws program elements include a special welcome e-mail for pet owners within one week of their booking and complimentary access to a downloadable e-booklet highlighting pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, parks and animal hospitals in some of JetBlue's top cities, including Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Calif., New York, Orlando, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

In-cabin service only
“We only offer an in-cabin service,” says Ruvolo “We don’t fly any animals in the cargo area at any time. There is a standard pet fee of $100 each way regardless of the travel route.”

While the airline services 51 destinations, Ruvolo says that most of the pet travel is currently focused along the East Coast particularly between New York and Boston, and to destinations such as West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. Long Beach is also becoming a popular pet destination.

The airline recently opened a new terminal at JFK and once again with Adam’s expertise there are plans underway to create a designed “play area” for pets where they can be taken if they are delays instead of having to remained cooped up in their carriers for additional long hours. The airline also hopes to eventually have a doggie toilet area too.

“A play area is essential,” says Adams. “I always travel with puppy pee pads and taken them into the ladies restroom at the airport or even in the toilet on the plane for my dogs to relieve themselves on them with no mess and no fuss. But having somewhere for them to be able to hang out if they are delays is certainly a wonderful facility for pet travelers and will be another first.”

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications.

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