It’s heartbreaking. A family on a flight from Houston to New York City is asked to stow their dog away in the overhead bin of a plane by a flight attendant. The dog, left without air in what is essentially a small, closed coffin, barks for help, gets none, and slowly suffocates to death.
It sounds like a nightmare, but this tragic story is all over the news today even as one family mourns the loss of a 10-month-old pet. The airline has since issued a statement saying that it accepts full responsibility for the tragedy and will investigate the incident to “prevent this from ever happening again.” We can only hope so.
The loss of a pet is devastating, and never more so than when it could have been prevented. It is our hope that this tragedy proves to be a “Katrina” moment for the airline industry, akin to what the whole world learned in the aftermath of that 2006 hurricane disaster. After Hurricane Katrina, public agencies responsible for disaster relief embraced the inclusion of animals in disaster planning as an imperative, and things have gone much better for animals affected by disaster since then. People care about their pets, and institutions and corporations at all levels must adjust their policies to encompass such concerns. This terrible event is an opportunity for airline carriers, pet owners who want safe travel options, and policy makers to come together to ensure that when animals travel, they receive the kind of care and safety precautions that every traveler deserves.
According to the Air Transport Association, more than 5,000 animals are killed, injured, or lost on commercial flights each year. Pets can face risks, including exceptionally hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation, insufficient oxygen, and rough handling in the cargo bay.
In April 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act, a measure The HSUS strongly supported. Many airlines responded to this law by implementing restrictions on accepting pets as cargo. But there’s more to do in this area, and we’re going to take a good look at our public education, corporate reform, and public policy work with the aim of improving the situation for animals in commercial travel.
The HSUS recommends that pets travel in the cabin of the plane with their families, and they never be placed in areas where airflow is restricted or temperatures become too warm or cold.
When you make plans to travel with your pet, follow these suggestions:
- If you plan to bring your pet on vacation, consider driving instead of flying. If this isn’t possible, consider leaving your pet behind under the care of a pet sitter or boarding kennel.
- If you are relocating across the country, use a company whose primary business is to transport animals.
- Taking your pet on board with you is the best option. If your pet is a cat or a small dog, most airlines will allow you to take the animal on board for an additional fee. To explore this option, call the airline well in advance of your flight, because there are limits to the number of animals allowed in the cabin area. Make sure to ask several questions and get all the specific details so you can ensure a safe flight for your companion. We recommend you avoid transporting pets in the cargo hold if at all possible, and only use that method as an absolute last resort. If it is the only option, you can increase the chances of a safe flight for your pet by following these tips.
- Finally, do not hesitate to complain if you witness the mishandling of an animal—either yours or someone else’s—at any airport.
Pets are family members, and when you make travel decisions, their safety begins with you.