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"Guaranteed on Board" with American Airlines

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When Lauren Burniac walked by the Union Square Petco in New York City, the store announced that in five minutes it would draw the winners of a raffle for a promotional, roundtrip, all-expenses paid vacation to Miami for some lucky pet parents and their pet. When she entered and won, she and her five-month-old Pug, Olive, had to scramble to be ready to leave that very day.

The trip marked the launch of the first Guaranteed on Board pet travel program with American Airlines (AA), as well as new pet travel carriers. AA has joined a growing number of airlines that participate in the program developed by The Sherpa Pet Group.

Fliers who purchase any one of the various sized pet carriers branded by AA are guaranteed to board U.S. domestic AA flights with their pets as long as they fill out the Guaranteed on Board form accurately and comply with the terms. Each participating airline has its own pet carrier requirements.  Anyone denied boarding will be refunded the price of both the customer and pet airline ticket.

As the limo whisked Burniac and Olive to the airport, she wondered how her puppy would adjust to air travel. Burniac had never flown with a dog before. She didn't have to worry. "Olive got used to the Sherpa bag pretty quickly but had to keep popping her head out to see what was going on," said Burniac.

Their first stop was the AA dog walking area. "She's a puppy so she doesn't understand the whole ‘holding your bladder thing' ", Burniac said. After an uneventful trip through security, they proceeded to the flight gate.

"They let us board early with the kids. The bag fits right under the seat in front of you," said Burniac. After taking her seat, Olive slept through takeoff ... and the rest of the flight.

At home, Burniac reports that Olive still enjoys hanging out in her new carrier and traveling the New York subway. "She thinks of it as a safe Olive place."

The other lucky winner of the raffle was a more seasoned pet traveler. Real estate broker Christine Traina and her 12-pound Poodle Shuga Pi won a trip to San Francisco. Shuga Pi traveled the trolley to Fisherman's Wharf on a cable car in the bay, and the ferry to Sausalito in her Sherpa Bag. Pet-friendly restaurants provided gourmet doggie dining.

"She had a blast," Traina said. "She doesn't know she's a dog."

Priority - Pet Passenger Comfort and Safety

As more people travel with their dogs and cats, airlines are scrambling to provide safe accommodations. To provide more piece of mind, AA decided to partner with The Sherpa Pet Group, which created the first soft-sided carriers for airline travel nearly 20 years ago.

Tim Ford, chief executive officer of Sherpa, reports that anxious pet owners contact the company daily, looking for a guarantee that they will be able to board an airplane with their pet and not encounter problems.

"A lot of people will run out and buy a carrier that says ‘airline approved.' If you look closer, there are also a lot of disclosures," Ford said "We knew there was a huge education issue out there about the different rules for each airline."

Each airline has its own specifications. The Sherpa bags were designed to exact specifications to fit comfortably under an AA seat and provide maximum comfort to the animal.

Ford was surprised to find that 25 percent of flights were booked by cat owners. "The biggest issue with cats is that they don't leave the house. They can claw and fight to get out of the carrier if they haven't gotten used to it," he said.

No matter which airline you fly, Ford offers some practical advice:

  • Prepare your pet for the flight. Start with some road trips.
  • Put an old T-shirt or something with familiar smells in the carrier.
  • Learn how to properly go through security.
  • Find out if you need any vaccination or health certificates from your vet.
  • Carry a complete health history with up-to-date information about your pet's medications, shots, etc.
  • BE PATIENT. Allow some extra time. Don't go to the airport at the last minute.
  • Think carefully about traveling with older pets.
  • If you have any concerns about whether your pet is healthy enough for the trip, check with your veterinarian.

Ford's own Poodle, Teddy, is a veteran flier. "We just unzip the bag, turn our backs, and he's in the bag ready to go," he says.

As for Olive, her next flight is to Michigan for the Thanksgiving holiday.


Sherpa-branded pet carriers are available in three approved sizes for the Guaranteed on Board program at select PETCO locations and online at www.petco.com. For more information about the carrier, Guaranteed On Board program and participating airlines visit www.sherpapetgroup.com.


Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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