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Few pets experience trouble on airlines

By control on August 5, 2013

By Adina Solomon

Only a miniscule percentage of pets that fly experience an injury, loss or death.

Though statistics and data are difficult to find, Air Cargo World found that less than 0.01 percent of pets that fly have an incident. (This figure is based on U.S. airlines interviewed and U.S. Department of Transportation documents.) Even then, most incidents are due to a mistake by the pet’s owner, says Marcel Brozius, director Europe of the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA).

“Usually when something goes wrong and an animal passes away, it has to do something with either the animal wasn’t healthy already going onto the flight,” says Brozius, also owner of Zurich-based pet freight forwarder ACE Pet Moving. “Sometimes, owners give tranquilizers, which can be fatal because it interacts with their system. It lowers their blood pressure and so on.”

Other times, the animal is too old to travel, he says.

A graph illustrating pet incidents can be found at the end of this article.

Tony Randgaard, United Airlines’ manager of cargo marketing, says the airline transports more than 110,000 pets per year. In 2011, United reported two deaths, according to Air Travel Consumer Reports from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings.

The incident rate for United is 0.00180 percent.

Alaska Airlines flies more than 80,000 pets per year, Alaska spokesperson Marianne Lindsey writes in an email interview. In 2011, the airline reported seven incidents involving pets, four of which were deaths, according to the DOT.

That means the incident rate for Alaska Airlines is 0.00875 percent.

“Yes, there are some instances of a pet being injured,” Lindsey writes. “In the context of how many pets we transport each year, the numbers are extremely low. In the few instances of injuries or deaths, these have been extreme situations and many of them due to pet stress, i.e. them chewing out of their kennel and escaping.”

Axel Heitmann, Lufthansa’s director competence center animals and perishables, says the airline transports 15,000 pets a year through its Frankfurt facility, which is where the majority of animals go through. Heitmann says it is rare for a pet to have an incident.

Only U.S.-based airlines must report incidents involving pets.

“If we have the slightest doubt that an animal is not fit for travel, then we would reject and we would not take it on because we don’t want to take any chances,” Heitmann says. “Of course, with all those precautions, it still can happen because traveling for an animal and for a pet, there are some stressful things happening.”

Air Cargo World looked at airline’s 2011 and 2012 incident reports from the DOT, the most recent reports available. Most incidents were due to factors out of the airline’s control, such as pre-existing medical conditions and old age.

Many reported injuries are a result of pets cutting their mouths by chewing their kennel. Many losses of pets were due to the animal escaping by chewing through the kennel or because of faulty kennels that separated.

“There’s some really poor material crates that you can buy where a cat, for example, can escape and once a cat runs, it’s almost impossible to catch it again, especially if it’s in an airfield,” Brozius says

On Jan. 17, 2012, a kennel bottom half came unsnapped and dropped off during the unloading process from an American Airlines flight. The dog inside ran free on the tarmac and was later found dead.

An American Airlines agent had accepted a snap-together kennel, a type of kennel that AA policy prohibits “since the plastic snaps are prone to failure during shipping,” according to the report. After the incident, the airline released advisories to all personnel, revised the live animal checklist with a more precise description of a snap-together kennel and updated its training lesson for live animal acceptance.

Air Cargo World was unable to interview American Airlines before press time.

In 2012, Alaska Airlines started requiring nut-and-bolt locks on kennels for animals traveling in the cargo hold, Lindsey writes.

Delta Air Lines’ incidents included a dog that “likely died of possible hyperthermia” on May 17, 2012 and a dog that died of heat stroke on April 28, 2012.