Deadly skies: Behind the rise in airline pet deaths

An 11Alive investigation has uncovered airline pet injuries, deaths and loses are on the rise. While the number of incidents are small in comparison to total animals transported by airlines, hundreds of pets have fallen victim over the past decade.

An 11Alive investigation has uncovered airline pet injuries, deaths and losses are on the rise. While the number of incidents are small in comparison to total animals transported by airlines, hundreds of pets have fallen victim over the past decade.

Christina Hill plans to fly from Atlanta to Detroit this week with her 2-year-old Boston Terrier-Shih Tzu-mix, Sadie. 
 
”She is just as much a part of the family as all my siblings. So, she’s coming back with me to have Christmas as a family,” said Hill. “I’m a little nervous, just because I’ve never flown with her before.”
 
Hill has good reason to be nervous. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, at least 529 pets died, were injured or lost on airlines since 2005.
 

2015 set a record with 35 deaths, 25 injuries and three pets that simply vanished while under the care of airlines.
 
In 2010, a family accused Delta of losing a German Shepard named Nala at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In 2014, Frank Ramano accused the airline of losing Ty, his pit mix. “I don’t know how they could lose a pet like that,” said Ramano.
 

 
So, what’s behind the increase? Airlines say the DOT instituted stricter reporting requirements. Airlines were once only required to report incidents involving pets. Today, airlines also must report all incidents involving all animals, including commercial shipments.
 
Jol Silversmith is a partner with Zuckert, Scoutt & Rasenberger, a law firm which represents airlines.

“So, it seems likely that the increase in the numbers for 2015 only reflects better reporting by the airlines. It doesn’t actually reflect that there are an actual number of problems for transportation,” said Silversmith. 
 
The Washington, D.C. based attorney says before Continental Airlines merged with United, it transported about 5,000 animals a month and never reported more than six incidents with pets.
 
”So, if you put that in perspective there’s a less than one in 1,000 chance of an incident of any kind happening to an animal being transported by airline. That’s actually a considerably better performance than airlines have in lost baggage,” said Silversmith. 

Some breeds don’t fly as well as others.  Flat-faced dogs, like pugs, often have a difficult time breathing.
 
“So, being in an airplane makes it more difficult for them with the changes in cabin pressure and the changes in temperature for them to be comfortable,” says Asha Prince, a veterinary assistant at the Atlanta Humane Society.

Airlines require all pets to obtain a clean bill of health within 10 days of flying. The Atlanta Humane Society recommends a full physical with blood work to help identify unknown illnesses before taking off.
 
If you can, the Humane Society recommends carrying the pet in the cabin of the plane with you.
 
That’s what Hill plans to do with Sadie. “I definitely feel more comfortable that I’m able to take her on the plane. I’m able to watch her, see her, to keep an eye out on her,” said Hill. 

2016 pet incidents appear to be down compared to last year, but the exact figures won’t be readily available until February or later. 
 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the standards for airline pet travel, like what temperature the cargo area has to be and size of crates.
 
Each airline has additional policies you’ll need to review before flying. Below are links to pet travel polices of several airlines: 
 
 
 
 
Southwest Airlines: https://www.southwest.com/pets/
 
 
 
 
 


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