Image: Traveler with pet
The Sherpa Pet Group
The Guaranteed On-Board Program is designed to eliminate the problems travelers have had with airlines and pet carriers.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/29/2009 6:33:37 PM ET 2009-09-29T22:33:37

Eight of America’s pet-friendly airlines today announced the launch of a new travel program that will put an end to the ongoing problem of travelers and their pets being bumped from flights because the pet carrier does not meet the airline requirements.

The airlines — American Airlines, Midwest Airlines, Continental, Delta, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines — have partnered with The Sherpa Pet Group, the originators of the in-cabin pet carrier bag to launch the Guaranteed On-Board (GOB) Program, a pet carrier insurance program that will guarantee members full reimbursement of the cost of their air ticket and their pet’s travel expenses if they are ever refused permission to fly.

In recent years, as the number of people traveling with pets has escalated, more travelers have been experiencing problems either being stopped at the gate or actually being asked to deplane because airline officials have deemed that the pet carrier doesn’t meet their standard safety approval.

The problems have been numerous, ranging from passengers not reading up on individual airline requirements to taking chances by bringing their pets on board in tote bags. There have also been instances where passengers have gone out of their way to meet requirements and still not been allowed to fly as airport ground staff are unsure and passengers have been asked to take another plane or leave their pet behind.

Top 10 pet-friendly cities of 2009The problem has been exacerbated because until now there has been very little standardization amongst the major airlines. The GOB program, via a new Web site called FlyGOB.com, now outlines the sizes of bags permitted by the airlines associated with the program so that pet lovers can purchase the correct bag and then go back online to register the bag and be given documentation to show to any airport official that will guarantee them on board.

Two airlines that are part of the scheme, American Airlines and Delta, have gone as far to put their logo on pre-approved bags to ensure that customers loyal to those airlines will never encounter a problem.  In addition, American Airlines has designed it’s own bags to meet its specifications to ensure that they fit properly under their seats.

“We have a long, proud history as a pet-friendly airline and work hard to deliver great customer service for both our two-legged and four-legged passengers and this is going to make things much easier for both our passengers and our staff,” said Mark DuPont, American Airlines Vice President, Airport Services Planning.

Top 10 hotel perks for pets“It’s certainly going to help eradicate last minute problems,” concurred Susie Kerwin Premier Pet Coordinator for Midwest Airlines.

One frequent traveler who was thrilled to learn about the scheme was Pat Dennis of Düsseldorf, Germany. Dennis, his wife and their Dachshund, Scruffy, were moving from Detroit to Europe incurred more than $8,000 in expenses when he was bumped off a flight.

Two months prior to his departure, Dennis, who has more than 1 million frequent flyer miles by loyally flying with the same airline, actually took both his dog and the carrier to the airline ticket counter at Wayne County International Airport to get assurance that the dog and carrier were approved. He was given the green light and proceeded to buy tickets and confirm his pet’s reservation. On the day of travel, the airline refused to allow his pet on board claiming the bag did not meet their approval.

Airline pet travel policies and fees“As you can imagine, I was absolutely furious. I had done everything right. And they were quite happy to accept my money. By now we had given up our home and apartment and I had to find somewhere to stay and arrange to fly with another airline. To add insult to injury they refused to refund the cost of our flight arrangements.”

“We constantly get letters from pet lovers wanting some kind of assurance that their carrier meets the requirements to fly in-cabin and this program is designed to give travelers peace of mind because it spells out all the exact specifications accepted by the airlines in the scheme,” explained Tim Ford CEO of the Sherpa Pet Group.

These are the in-cabin carrier sizes approved for the GOB Program:

  • Small – 16 in long x 10in wide x 8.5in in height – suitable for pets up to 8 lbs
  • Medium – 18in long x 11in wide x 10.5in in height suitable for pets up to 16 lbs
  • Large – 20in long x 11.75in W x 11.5in in height suitable for pets up to 22 lbs

This is what the individual airlines belonging to the GOB Program will accept:

Sherpa bags have their roots in their airline industry, as the company’s founder Gayle Martz worked as a flight stewardess for more than 20 years. When she searched unsuccessfully find a carrier to fly her Lhasa Apso named Sherpa, Martz designed one and lobbied the airlines to allow pets on board in the cabin.  The original Sherpa bag was the first pet carrier ever to be recognized by airlines and Martz is accredited for changing the airline industry to allow pets to travel in style.

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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