New figures show how safe it is to fly with your pet

New figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) show that pets had a better than one-in-ten thousand chance of emerging unscathed from a flight aboard a U.S.-based airline last year.

While the DOT began monthly reporting in the 1970s on the number of pets that were injured or died en route or that were lost, figures released under a revised rule passed in 2014 provide some context for those numbers. That rule, “AIR-21” or Public Law (P.L.) 106-81, mandates the reporting of the total number of pets each carrier transported during the year.

The air transport of an animal covers “the entire period during which an animal is in the custody of an air carrier, from check-in or delivery of the animal to the carrier prior to departure until the animal is returned to the owner or guardian of the animal at the final destination of the animal,” according to the revised rule.

Throughout 2016, 17 airlines reported transporting a total of more than a half-million pets. Of those 17, seven airlines reported a total of 48 incidents of animals that were injured or died in flight, translating to one incident for approximately every 11,000 pets transported. No pets were reported lost during 2016.

Callie crated for travel

Full-year figures were also published in the DOT’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report for animals transported in 2015, the first year for which such figures were required, and the numbers were similar. During 2015, 17 carriers transported more than 534,000 pets. That year, nine airlines reported that 63 animals had been injured, died, or were lost, translating to one incident for approximately every 8,500 pets transported.

Most of the nation’s smaller airlines including many contract carriers transported no pets at all during the past two years.

Of those airlines that transported pets, Seattle-headquartered Alaska Airlines (NYSE:ALK) had the best record in 2016 on a percentage basis, with just two pets dying and one more sustaining injuries out of more than 112,000 transported. Hawaiian Airlines (NYSE:HA) had the worst record, percentage-wise. Three animals died while under its care of the 7,500 it transported last year.

ExpressJet Airlines, a wholly-owned subsidiary of SkyWest, Inc. which partners with American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL), Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) and United Airlines (NYSE:UAL), reported one animal death out of nearly 28,600 transported. American had four animals die and one become injured of nearly 81,000 transported. On SkyWest Airlines, which operates flights for American, Delta, United and Alaska Airlines, two animals died and one was hurt; nearly 43,000 were transported.

Delta Air Lines experienced five deaths and five injuries of more than 81,000 transported. However, as of March 1, 2016, Delta no longer accepts pets for transport in the cargo holds of passenger jets. Instead, as previously reported by TheTravelPro, pets must travel on Delta Cargo flights. United Airlines saw 9 deaths and 14 injuries among the more than 109,000 pets transported.

DOT publishes the reports it receives on incidents involving the loss, injury, or death of animals during air transportation in its monthly Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR), which is publicly available at Full-year figures are contained in the reports detailing December activity, which is issued around the middle of the following February.

More informative than just the raw numbers are the reasons pets perished or were hurt, and the ATCR includes links to copies of the incident reports. Although the reports are redacted to remove identifying information about individuals, including the owner of the pet, there is often sufficient information to indicate that the mishap was not the fault of the airline.

For example, the report on one of the two deaths aboard Alaska jets indicated that a necropsy showed a twelve year old female mane-coon cat likely died of chronic heart disease with no fewer than nine underlying medical conditions. In another incident, a male dog injured his gums and a tooth during a likely attempt to chew his way out of his kennel while in flight.

DOT also forwards the reports to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which enforces the Animal Welfare Act.

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Photo by Carl Dombek
Callie appears courtesy Paws in the Park Pet Supply, Normandy Park, Wash.
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