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Few pets experience trouble on airlines

By control on August 5, 2013

Two pet chinchillas died Feb. 8, 2012 after “they were mistakenly loaded in the baggage bin with a shipment containing a small amount of dry ice,” Delta reported. The airline responded by notifying all load supervisors of the incident, and new local procedures were instituted in Anchorage, the flight’s origin city, that the operations office must check that shipments with dry ice are not comingled with live animals.

Russell Cason, Delta spokesperson, declined to comment for this story in an email.

“Because pet transport can sometimes be a sensitive subject,” he writes, “we’d prefer not to offer an interview for this story.”

Of the 46 reported incidents in 2011, Delta was responsible for just over half.

When it comes to flying a pet, preparation is key to ensuring that the trip is as smooth as possible. Most pets travel on planes when their owners are relocating.

“Pet travel is still is a bit of a stress for the animal,” Brozius of IPATA says.

People interviewed say pet owners must prepare their animals as much as possible for flying. Get the travel crate or kennel ahead of time so the animal can become used to it. The kennel must also be large enough for the animal and have plenty of water.

Brozius advises to book direct flights whenever possible to reduce offloading and transit times for the animal.

Depending on the pet’s destination country, it may need certain vaccinations. For instance, Randgaard says Japan, Korea and many European Union countries require special vaccinations for U.S. pets because those areas don’t have rabies.

United, with the 110,000 pets it transports every year, has one of the largest live animal programs in the world, and has a dedicated 24/7 Pet Safe desk and 47 temperature-controlled Pet Safe vans.

Any airline or forwarder staff in the world that handles animals must take a course with the International Air Transport Association to learn the IATA Live Animal Regulations. Most airlines also require their employees to receive specialized training in pet transportation.

Heitmann of Lufthansa says keeping an eye on the pets’ behavior is important.

“We need to observe when we accept them here for transportation that they are fit for travel,” he says. “It’s very important that they are in good health, that they’re well awake, that they don’t have any tranquilizers – which is not good for animals – that they can observe what’s happening around them.”

Lufthansa, which has multiple transport centers for animals, carries 110 million live animals per year, though only 15,000 are pets.

Heitmann says a veterinarian must approve animals to fly.

“If you compare that to the passenger airlines, we don’t usually go to a doctor before and say, ‘Well, can I travel to the United States on a 10-hour flight?’” he says.

Lindsey of Alaska writes that brachycephalic cats and dogs such as bulldogs have more difficulty with flying and are only accepted for travel at the owner’s risk. The skull bones of brachycephalic animals are shortened in length, giving the face and nose a pushed-in appearance that can create breathing problems.

Though the Humane Society of the U.S. recommends people not fly their pets, Heitmann says air travel is one of the safest modes of transportation for animals.

“Compared to other modes of transportation, I think that the risks attached are rather low because usually the transport times of flying are, in a European flight for example, are usually less than transporting them on the road,” Heitmann says. “Once they are in the air and then put in the belly of the aircraft, it’s usually nice and quiet and not too much going on around them.”