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Old December 9th, 2002, 03:50 PM
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Pampered pooches to get first-class ride

Pampered pooches to get first-class ride
Companion Air will allow pets to ride in cabin -- for a hefty price

Nicholas Read
Vancouver Sun
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Companion Air, a Florida-based airline that provides pet-friendly travel, hopes to be flying soon.

The sky is now the limit for people who love their pets.

Beginning early next year, a new pet-friendly airline will be flying into Vancouver International Airport. Called Companion Air, it will specialize in making air travel a lot more comfortable for that much-loved pooch, parakeet or Persian.

Instead of keeping pets in the cargo hold, which is where most major airlines carry them, Florida-based Companion Air will allow pets in the cabin with the passengers although they still will have to be kept in secured carriers.

It is only the latest in a growing number of pet-friendly products and services for pet lovers with deep pockets.

Earlier this year, General Motors announced special pet-friendly versions of its SUVs and Saab cars.

A number of Vancouver hotels, including the Pan Pacific and Sutton Place, now offer their pet guests special menus featuring steak and/or caviar, and gifts.

Last year, a Paris-based perfumery introduced Oh My Dog, a perfume created especially for dogs, and in October, Vancouver-based Modern Dog magazine was launched for well-heeled dog owners and their four-legged friends.

Companion Air is still applying for certification under the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, but president Rick Roof hopes to get the company, and the inaugural flight, off the ground by spring of 2003. It is now in the process of leasing its first aircraft, a Swiss-made Pilatus PC 12 turbo prop, equipped to carry six people and about as many pets.

"It depends on the mixture of pets and people," Roof said.

Roof hopes to add another plane to Companion Air's fleet each quarter, bringing the total number of aircraft to 20 within five years.

Initially, Companion Air will restrict its routes to Western destinations in the U.S. and Canada, including Vancouver and Calgary. The first flight will be out of Long Beach, Calif., but Roof can't say where it will go.

He also couldn't say when the first Vancouver flight will take place because Companion Air will not be a scheduled carrier. It will operate on a charter basis.

But whenever that first flight does occur, it won't be cheap. The top price for a round-trip ticket to San Francisco for one person and one pet will be $2,264 U.S. That would be for someone who has an inflexible schedule and wants to charter a seat, or seats on a particular day.

The price of a seven-day advance ticket, where the travel date is flexible within a day or two, would drop to $1,509.

Tickets to Long Beach will cost $2,750 and $1,833 respectively.

But even at those prices, Roof and his wife, Diana, believe Companion Air will make a go of it.

"Our research tells us that there are 44 million pets travelling within the U.S. in any given year," Roof said in an interview from Boca Raton, Fla.

"About one-third of Americans own a pet, and surveys by travel magazines say a quarter of those people would like to take their pets on vacation with them."

Then there are dog-show clients who will go to almost any lengths to pamper their pets.

The company, he says, has already received "dozens of e-mails from people who are extremely passionate about their pets and very grateful that someone's going to give them a travel alternative."

Although current statistics are unavailable, two years ago it was estimated that 500,000 animals travel by air within the U.S. each year. But of those 500,000 animals, 5,000 are routinely lost, injured or even killed en route.

On Companion Air, that number will drop to zero, Roof says.

The idea came to Roof -- an executive with a number of technology and information companies for the past 18 years -- and his wife, a marketing specialist, because they like to travel with their four-year-old mongrel, Murphy. Roof is a licensed pilot so they're able to use a private plane to get around with him.

"But we wondered 'How do others travel with their pets?' " Roof says. "Diana wanted to know if there was a way to create a business that would provide that kind of travel."

Roof won't say how many millions have been invested in Companion Air so far, but he expects it to be in the black within 15 months.

"If anything, we think we're underestimating the volume of traffic. That's clearly the feedback we've received already."

There also won't be any immediate restrictions on the type of animals permitted. Dogs, cats, rodents, reptiles and fish are all fine, says Roof, though the company will reserve the right to consider the suitability of more unusual animals on an individual basis.

There also won't be any food served, except to Companion Air's human passengers.

Source: Vancouver Sun
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