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Posted on Fri, Aug 6, 2010 : 11:30 a.m.

Recent American Airlines tragedy puts focus on pet air travel safety

By Lorrie Shaw


flickr photo courtesy of bravoinsd

With pets being such a big part of our lives, it's no wonder that they are included in our travel plans as well.

Many hotels and rentals tout themselves as pet friendly, and there are usually a few relatives or friends who are welcoming to their guests' pets, too. With that part of the travel planning planned somewhat effortlessly, there's always the bigger issue if you're not driving to your destination: the thought of putting your pooch into a portable pet carrier and into the cargo area of an aircraft, if they are not welcome in the cabin of the plane.

For most folks, it's not a common thing to do. But, if it's an extended, far away vacation or a cross-country move and driving isn't possible, flying with your pets may be the only option.

Several puppies died this week on an American Airlines flight from Tulsa to Chicago. Cause of death for the puppies will be known once an investigation and necropsy reports are completed. The U.S. Department of Transportation releases reports throughout each year with regard to the number of animal deaths that occur while being transported via air. Read the most current report.

The tragedy that occurred begs the question: what are the guidelines for animals if you're considering flying them someplace? How can pet deaths be prevented when riding aboard an aircraft? Who is in charge of dictating how animals are cared for while aboard a plane?

The Animal Welfare Act of 1966 regulates transport of dogs and cats in aircraft cargo bays. It was put into place to regulate the treatment of animals and is enforced by the USDA. A factsheet from the USDA's Animal Health Inspection Service can help you understand what guidelines are in place.

First and foremost, your pet should be healthy enough to do so—and their temperament should lend itself well to flying. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, some airlines also require an acclimation certificate—a document filled out by a federally accredited veterinarian stating that your pet is well enough to travel and that they are not showing any signs of illness.

Flying early in the morning or later at night—when temperatures are cooler, can mitigate the risk of heat-related death and illness. Flat-faced pets, like pugs, bulldogs, and Japanese Chins, have a higher risk of death due to heat-related issues. The AVMA gives more great tips and things to consider about airline travel with your animal here.

Are there alternatives to pets flying in the cargo area? As it turns out, there are two airlines that pet-friendly: Companion Air, where the pets ride in the cabin with their owners, and Pet Airways. Other major airlines also allow certain pets to fly on board. Check out Petfinder's 2010 list of most pet-friendly airlines.

Lorrie Shaw is the owner of Professional Pet Sitting as well as a regular pets contributor on She also blogs frequently on More Than Four Walls and enjoys finding solutions regarding pet wellness and behavior as well as social issues related to pets. She can be reached via e-mail.


Lorrie Shaw

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 : 6:01 p.m.

BobbyJohn, I appreciate you taking the time to explain. I can understand that the word "tragedy" evokes quite a powerful feeling for you and has a sense of specificity. Thank you for clarifying your position.


Tue, Aug 10, 2010 : 8:35 a.m.

Lorrie, I said that the death of the animals was sad. And of course the airlines should do what they can to take proper care of all their cargo as well as they can. But I am talking about proportionality. I just do not see using the word tragedy in the way it was used in the headline. It is the same way I feel when a headline called what is happening to prisoners at Guantanamo in Cuba a holocaust. Loss of human life may be called a tragedy, but to call it a holocaust takes away from the real meaning of the word and minimizes what happened in Nazi Germany and what happened in Rwanda. Again, it is about being proportionate.

Lorrie Shaw

Tue, Aug 10, 2010 : 8:15 a.m.

Kathryn: Food for thought. Thank you for pointing that out! BobbyJohn: I think that this topic has different facets: a number of "pets" and "animals" die each year or are lost as a result of airline travel. These creatures do not make the choice to get on an airplane and fly in the cargo area. We humans do. That being said, I think that we have an inherant responsibility when making decisions across the board about the physical and mental welfare of animals. All senseless deaths are tragic, regardless of the species. It IS tragic when humans die as a result of plane crash - but the vast majority of those individuals made the choice, save for children - but animals do not get to make those choices. Obviously the idea of airline travel needs to be realigned with an animals' best interests in mind, no?


Sun, Aug 8, 2010 : 4:35 p.m.

It is sad that people lost their pets, but I don't believe that the word tragedy is appropriate to use for the loss of several animals, unless the term personal tragedy is used. I have had a number of pets die over the years and of course miss them, but tragedy and airlines in the same sentence should be reserved for people dying in a plane crash. It's about being proportionate


Fri, Aug 6, 2010 : 11:08 p.m.

This breaks my heart. At least once a week I ship boxes at Metro airport, and it saddens me every time I see a loved pet in a carrier, terrified and whimpering. It's really a frightening ordeal for a pet to go through. The packages I ship often have dry ice in them, which as it evaporates changes the carbon dioxide levels in the oxygen and can suffocate a small animal. The airlines do their best to monitor how much dry ice we ship, but personally, for many reasons, I will never put my dog on a plane. We'll take the train if we have to. There simply aren't "nice doggie friendly accomodations" in the cargo hold of an airplane!