While some of us may get anxious about flying, it’s pretty common and known to be generally safe for people — but what about for our pets?
If you’re thinking about traveling with your pet, do some research before boarding the plane.
Also, know that every carrier is a little different in what they allow and don’t allow, and some don’t have great track records when it comes to animal injuries or deaths.
Know Your Airline’s History
With a few clicks of the mouse, you can see just how many reportable animal injuries or deaths each airline has had.
The U.S. Department of Transportation publishes Air Travel Consumer Reports regularly.
These reports include complaints levied against each airline as well as how many animal injuries or deaths have occurred with specific airlines. Before choosing an airline, check out these reports.
In 2016, there were 26 animal deaths and 22 animal injuries on flights with carriers that allow animals either in the cabin or as cargo, for a total of 48 animal-related incidents.
Out of those 48 incidents, United Airlines reported 9 deaths and 14 injuries – making United responsible for reporting a whopping 47.9% of animal-related incidents. Alaska Airlines had 2 deaths and 1 injury in 2016.
It’s a good rule of thumb to check out individual airlines’ histories with animal incidents before purchasing your tickets.
Pets as Passengers
Some airlines allow smaller pets to travel in the main cabins.
- Your pet container must be small enough to fit underneath the seat without blocking any person’s path to the main aisle of the airplane.
- Your pet container must be stowed properly before the last passenger entry door to the airplane is closed in order for the airplane to leave the gate.
- Your pet container must remain properly stowed the entire time the airplane is moving on the airport surface, and for takeoff and landing.
- You must follow flight attendant instructions regarding the proper stowage of your pet container.
- Your chosen carrier may have other requirements to follow. Check with your chosen carrier before the day of your flight.
Note that service animals are not required to follow these guidelines.
Service animals are not considered pets — they are working animals. This policy does not at this time cover emotional support or therapy animals – only service animals.
Watch this dog get a kick out of flying in a plane:
Pets as Cargo
Some pets cannot fly in the cabin and must be checked in as cargo or baggage.
The Department of Transportation states that animals must be flown in appropriate carriers that “meet the minimum standard for size, ventilation, strength, sanitation and design for safe handling.”
Animals also must be flown in pressurized holds and cannot be exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees F (unless a certificate is issued by a veterinarian that states the animal can handle said temperature). Puppies and kittens must receive food and water every 12 hours and older animals must receive water every 12 hours and food every 24 hours.
However, this is where the majority of incidents happen with our pets.
According to the Humane Society (HSUS), most animal injuries or deaths are due to “excessively hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation and rough handling.”
HSUS also warns to consider your breed when flying — it may matter quite a bit. “Air travel can be particularly dangerous for animals with ‘pushed in’ faces (the medical term is ‘brachycephalic’), such as Bulldogs, pugs and Persian cats. Their short nasal passages leave them especially vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke.”
Preparing to Fly With Your Pet: 10 Tips Before Your Trip
When preparing to fly, take these steps to help guard against pet injuries or death:
- Talk with your veterinarian. You will likely need to get a health certificate for your pet before flying, so this is the perfect time to discuss health concerns. Discuss sedation if relevant, as well as microchipping.
- Make sure vaccinations are current and get a copy of any records you may need once your vet confirms your dog is safe to travel.
- Research airline carriers to evaluate their history of pet-related issues.
- When planning your travel, try to keep the flying time to a minimum. Ideally, you’ll avoid layovers and book short, direct flights in moderate weather.
- Spend a few weeks at home helping your pet become accustomed to the carrier. Let them lie in it, give them treats in it, etc.
- Make sure the carrier is clean, safe, secure and large enough for your pet to stand up in and turn around.
- On the day of travel, close the carrier to secure it, but do not lock it — airline personnel may need to open the door in the event of an emergency. Include a favorite toy or item of yours so your pet will have familiar smells and feel safe. Line the bottom of the crate with pee pads for accidents and cover them with a blanket or old shirt. Include an extra leash (for dogs) and snacks, and attach food dishes and water bottles if possible.
- Write down medical and pertinent information about your pet and tape it securely to their carrier. Keep a couple more copies: one for you and the other for airline personnel.
- The ASPCA recommends taping a paper to the carrier or travel kennel with the words “Live Animal” and an arrow to indicate which way the carrier should be placed (right side up).
- Call your chosen airline to discuss your concerns and ask any questions you might have about your animal’s transport. You can also view airlines’ individual animal policies on their websites.
Hundreds of thousands of animals fly every year with no issues — but it never hurts to be proactive when protecting our pets. They’re our family.