How pets fly with United Airlines

Some airplane travelers take their pets with them, and that's a worry for many pet owners.

FOX 32’s Larry Yellen has a behind the scenes look at how one major airline handles the travel needs of the animal kingdom.

On some days, the United Airlines PetSafe program resembles a Noah's Ark of sorts.

“We do get some mini-goats, mini-horses, occasionally, and then, we do get a lot of zoo animals,” said Sue Kazlaw-Nelson of the PetSafe program.

Checking in Tuesday, in addition to two swans, were dogs of all sizes and shapes, as well as a miniature pig and six boxes of mice.

The PetSafe center is located in a cargo warehouse at O’Hare. It's kind of an Admirals Club for animals. There are no lines at check-in, and the onsite kennel includes a dog washing tub and a washer and dryer for dirty blankets and towels. There's also an outdoor area for pets that need to relieve themselves.

But staffers say pet owners themselves can do the most to make sure their pet has a first class trip, by acclimating their pets to the travel experience ahead of time.

“A comfortable animal with a crate will have a great travel experience compared with one that is thrown in a crate that it's never seen before because someone ran out the night before and bought it,” Kazlaw-Nelson said.

One of the dogs on a flight Tuesday was just arriving from Tampa, Florida. It'll have a layover of about two hours, and then be brought back for boarding to Columbus, Ohio.

During the flights, pets travel in compartments that are pressurized and climate controlled, just like passenger cabins. They're transported to and from planes with a fleet of air-conditioned vans, especially equipped for carrying the crates.

“We treat our pets just like family members here. They're part of our family. All of our team loves pets,” said Jackie Barnes of the PetSafe program.

“I would have to say, given the lines at TSA lately, the pets are not waiting in any lines here, so they probably are getting a better experience right now,” Kazlaw-Nelson added.

United says that system wide, it moves on average about 550 animals every day. The vast majority of those trips run smoothly without any serious complications.