August 6, 2010 / 10:10 AM / 9 years ago

Pets on holiday: flying luggage, pampered guests

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Airlines may charge a small fortune to transport animals in noisy cargo holds, but pets vacationing with their owners are finding that when they deplane, there’s a room with a treat waiting for them.

“It costs $200 one-way to transport your pet as checked baggage,” said Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor at Travelocity. “On the other hand, there are plenty of hotels that are pet friendly”

Sixty-one percent of pet owners traveled with their furry friends last year, according to a survey of 1,200 U.S. travelers by the travel website TripAdvisor.

Fourteen percent said they thought bringing their pet was more cost effective than boarding them in a kennel, according to Brooke Ferencsik, of TripAdvisor, who has taken his two Labrador retrievers on many road trips throughout New England.

Pet-friendly means more than throwing the dog a bone.

“Some hotels have pet sitting and pet walking services, grooming and even pet massage,” Ferencsik said. “But that doesn’t mean they stay for free.”

He said pet surcharges can run from $25 to $100 a night.

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, a nationwide chain of 50 boutique hotels, prides itself on extending hospitality to all companion creatures, great and small.

“We’ve had penguins at the Alexis hotel in Seattle, Washington, a kangaroo at the Monaco in Denver, Colorado, and a pot-bellied pig at the Muse in New York City,” said COO Niki Leondakis.

“We stock the room with welcome treats. We will babysit behind the front desk,” she said. “Non-human guests are greeted by a director of pet relations — usually the general manager’s dog.”

Leondakis said pains are taken to keep the tails of their non-pet-owning guests wagging as well.

“We have a deep clean methodology. We never, ever get complaints. We’ve sort of got this down.”

Only one percent of TripAdvisor respondents with pets cited air travel as the most pet-friendly form of mass transportation. Nevertheless 15 percent brought their pawed pals onto a plane last year.

“It’s best to avoid flying with pets,” Ferencsik said. “Extreme temperatures, noise, air pressure that changes. It’s especially tough for elderly or stressed pets.”

Alysa Binder and her husband were so stressed when the size of their Jack Russell Zoey consigned her to the cargo hold that they founded Pet Airways, a pets-only fleet of Beechcraft 1900 planes rebuilt so all cosseted critters can fly in climate-controlled main cabin luxury.

“We can take up to 50 pets on each flight,” said Binder. “There is always a pet attendant on board. It’s mostly cats and dogs. The smallest was a hermit crab.”

Pet Airways started out serving five U.S. cities but has expanded to nine.

“We consider pets family members or children. We want them to be safe, cared for and loved,” Binder said. “We are booked.”

Ferencsik says if you’re traveling with a pet, make sure you plan ahead.

“Research a kennel in advance in case of emergency, always have them wear I.D.s, and keep them leashed in a strange place,” she explained.

But if you’ve chosen to vacation creatureless, only to find yourself longing for your beloved dog, cat, or pot-bellied pig, Leondakis can provide small animal solace.

“For people who leave their pets at home, we will send a goldfish to the room,” she said, adding they call the service Guppy Love.

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