The Placement of Animals in an Airplane’s Belly should be Carefully Considered

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ARTICLE: Pet Owners Pressure Airlines to Stop Treating Animals As Cargo

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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.

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2 Comments on "The Placement of Animals in an Airplane’s Belly should be Carefully Considered"

  1. This would have to be the biggest load of garbage I have read. I have worked in Cargo dealing with animals for 2 years in airlines and your report cannot be any further from the truth and is just written to cause fear. The whole “Throw them on like a bit of baggage” is complete nonsense as dogs are transported in vehicles and loaded last so they are first off and are treated with extreme care. Also the weather outside the aircraft does not effect the temperature what so ever in the hold. If it is hot they are kept cool. If it is cold they are kept warm until loading. Write a report about something you actually know about or get yourself a new job. Absolutely flog of an article.

  2. I worked for an airline and worked under gate 37 at Vancouver international airport with 2 other employees. At the time an Air Canada flight had its luggage loaded outside and a dog was on top of all the luggage. There was an aircraft right beside with its engine running. The noise when we left our office was excruciating and a dog was screaming in pain. I worked with a German man who repeatedly called Air Canada and they totally ignored our calls to assist the screaming dog. We covered our ears and ran when we exited our office. At the time we all worked for Canadian Airlines and we had never experienced an aircraft running it’s engine like that unless it was taking off. The plane and the cargo ran for at least an hour and we all went home after our days shift with the dog still screaming and the engine still roaring and Air Canada calls to them still ignored. This was in 2000. To this day it haunts me that I did not run on the tarmac, call 911, or call my home phone number to leave a message to myself to show the intolerable noise that was coming from the airplanes engines damaging that poor dogs ear drums. Some pilots have also been known not to turn on the heat in the cargo unit while a flight is being taken and the pets have been known to freeze to death. This was not done intentionally but the pilot was not informed. Unless you are moving out of the country, do not take your pet. A dog will be better off in a kennel than to experience a life changing episode while you are on vacation. And the worst yet, you will never know because the poor animal can’t talk. This website says it won’t post because it is a repeat. I have never told my story before today!!!! Please post.

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