Long-distance, multi-leg flights can take a frustrating amount of time to get coordinated. A change in weather or a mechanical issue on a single leg can cause the whole thing to fall apart. Most PnP pilots seem to be VFR-only (requiring certain conditions to fly), and the majority seem only able to fly on weekends. The range of most seem to be 250-350 nautical miles; if a pilot flies a 350nm leg, he/she almost always needs then to fly 350nm back home (though you do sometimes luck into finding pilots who are flying long cross-country flights). Most easily arranged transports seem to be one- to two-leg, one day, <700nm.
For transports of more than 700-some-odd nm, the need for one or more overnight stays en route is entirely likely. This means finding a pilot willing to board or arranging for a volunteer boarder for one or more nights. I’ve been involved in a few lengthy transports in which the animals had to be boarded en route for up to two weeks (weather, mechanical issues, or simply between weekend legs).
I fly these missions because I love animals (I have five rescue dogs of my own). The well-being of my transports is paramount to me. Long multi-leg transports by air can be very stressful, and transferring between aircraft and ground vehicles is not without dangers (on my second PnP mission, a collie panicked while the handler was getting her out of the car, slipped the restraint, and ran back and forth across a tower-controlled active runway for an hour before we could corral her; it ended well, but it very well might not have). And boarding en route can be stressful, and sometimes difficult to arrange. The weather can be an issue, too. During the summer, many of the southern coastal states are prone to thunderstorm systems; during the winter, many mid and northeastern states are prone to sleet, icing and snow. These can result in one or more legs being delayed or cancelled. And, in the summer, there can be a heat risk for the animal passengers, especially the very young or those with medical issues. Most piston general aviation aircraft are not air-conditioned. At cruise altitudes, things are generally comfortable. But on the ground, during taxi and take off, on descent, on approach, in the traffic pattern, and upon approaching to land in busy airspace like Houston, the temps can get mighty high, mighty quick, and remain there. For a single- or two-leg transport, it might not overly stress the animal passengers. For multi-leg, multi-day transports, the risks from heat are multiplied.
I would urge you to consider and weigh all the options for long-distance transports, including ground transport and transport by commercial air, or a combination of PnP and ground transports. I know the latter can involve an expense, but . . . . I adopted my latest rescue dog from San Bernardino CA animal control. She had been adopted long-distance by a young woman in the Washington DC area, who tried to arrange transport through PnP. I signed up. After a couple of weeks with some legs unfilled, the woman got frustrated and backed out. The San Berdoo pound already had my name and number, and called to tell me that the pooch was going to be put down. I adopted her. Originally, I planned to fly to pick her up and bring her back, then I ran the numbers: 19 flight hours (solo, that meant two days there with an overnight stay en route, an overnight stay in CA, two days back with an overnight stay en route, three stops for refueling each way, and more than $1,000 in avgas). I was game, but I decided it would be too stressful for a dog right out of the pound. Found a ground transporter to pull her, and flew her to Houston via Continental’s PetSafe (still can’t bring myself to say United). Girl arrived in Houston in <4 hours, happy, tail wagging, and ready to meet the other four. Think it cost me $400. And it was best for her.
You know you can search on PnP, too, for commercial aircrews who are willing to transport gratis?
I certainly don’t mean to dissuade or disencourage you, because these things CAN work. I’ve been part of them. I’d just like to kindly suggest that you consider the stress and risk for our furry friends, and all of the alternatives. I'll certainly do anything I can to help you and your animals-in-need, and will happily fly.
Stephen Wade Roberts
N20223, Cessna 177B Cardinal II
Pearland (TX) Regional Airport (KLVJ)