Unfortunately, few airlines allow beloved pets to fly like the above first class dog. The attached report of the NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit does an excellent job of discussing a serious problem—the safety of movement of pets as checked baggage or cargo.
Many pet owners successfully fly their dogs, cats and other pets as either checked baggage or unaccompanied cargo. According to one source, less than 50 animals were lost, injured or killed in 2011. The NBC report suggests that the number is grossly understated in that the DoT only requires disclosure of problems incurred in the main cabin. The internet has a number of sites in which much information about individual airlines’ rules and performance can be found; checking that information is essential to your pet’s flight. Note some airlines have exclusions on certain breeds of dogs and cats based on some bad history associated with them.
The federal government’s last serious review of pets in air transportation was a Civil Aeronautics Board proceeding called “The Live Animals Investigation” in the 1970s. That economic review of the tariffs and rules of carriage could not adjudicate on the safety of the airlines’ practices, but the expert witnesses discussed many of the concerns.
Here are some of those observations:
- Air transportation has been known to be stressful to human passengers. Animals cannot be forewarned about the sensation of lift, the significance of turbulence, the meaning of the noise of an engine or any of the other disturbing occurrences in the course of a flight. With knowledge, humans have problems; the impact on animals is magnified.
- The pet’s passenger lounge is the cargo area of an airport. It is a noisy place with the screeches of the tugs that pull the baggage cart. It is frequently space open to the elements—hot/cold, rain/snow and the fumes from the nearby airplanes.
- The transfer to/from the airplane’s cargo hold further exposes the animal, even inside a well-designed portable carrier, to the elements. The airline personnel TRY to be aware that the next item to be put on the plane is an animal. Usually, the time-pressured baggage handler moves the pet carrier with the same care (not much) as he/she throws the luggage onto the belt lifting items into the belly of the plane.
- The dog or cat, within its travel kennel, is subjected to jolts and severe bumps as the box makes these transitions into and out of the plane problematic, plus there may be inflight severe movements.
- The cargo hold is pressurized and temperature-controlled from air that bleeds from the main cabin. That means that the atmosphere is not quite as comfortable as the passengers’ experience. Additionally, the cold of the exterior of the plane as it reaches altitude may be a greater influence on the ambient conditions in the cargo hold. The belly has no lights; so when the hatch is closed, it is extremely dark. The stress mentioned above is possibly compounded by this area’s conditions.
- Transfers add to the variables. If the pet is not on a non-stop flight, the pet carrier is moved from one airplane to another and again is subjected to the weather at this point. If there is time between flights and if the cargo handlers think of it, the pet may get some water while on the ground.
Your dog or cat, through no malice, experiences a range of potentially disturbing events in a normal flight. If a connection is missed or the departure is delayed, the potential for negative impacts are compounded, especially when traveling to/through/from locations with severe weather.
There once was an airline which only carried pets, but it failed for economic reasons. Failing that option, the choice of placing your pet as baggage on airlines should be very carefully considered.Share this article: