You and your pet may have survived a year and a half of COVID-19 quarantine. But will Charlie survive his next flight on a commercial airline?
HonestPaws, which sells cannabidiol products, like CBD Oil for dogs, cats and horse, just released a report discussing what it called the 5 Worst Pet-Friendly Airlines, based on data from the US Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT requires that each U.S. airline submit a monthly report on the death, loss, or injury of animals during air transport.
HonestPaws says that between 2010 and 2020, over 250 animal ‘passengers’ died either during or immediately after airline travel. Another 170 sustained injuries, while 20 animals were actually lost by airlines.
While this may sound like a lot of animal deaths, by comparison over 4,400 people died on airlines between 2010 and 2020. (It’s unclear how many human passengers were “lost” by airlines.)
Nonetheless, HonestPaws listed its top 5 offending airlines by reported pet incidents including deaths, injuries, and losses. United led the pack with 138 incidents involving pets, followed by Delta with 119. Alaska followed with 83 animal incidents, while American Airlines had 55, followed by Hawaiian with 21.
HonestPaws says more animals died on Delta than on any other airline between 2010 and 2020, accounting for over 30% of all recorded airline pet deaths. More animals sustained injuries on United Airlines than on any other airline during this period, with UA accounting for over 32% of all recorded airline pet injuries.
But while any animal injury or death is unfortunate, statistically, it doesn’t happen that often.
According to the DOT, in 2019 airlines reported 11 animal deaths, injuries to eight other animals, and zero lost animals, for a total of 19 incidents. That was up slightly from the 17 total incident reports filed for calendar year 2018. But in 2019, a total of 404,556 animals were transported by airlines, for a rate of 0.47 incidents per 10,000 animals transported. In 2018, 424,621 animals were transported, for a rate of 0.40 incidents per 10,000 animals transported.
These are probably the most relevant recent statistics, as the number of both human and animal passengers plunged in 2020 due to the pandemic. For example, United flew approximately 120,000 animals per year via PetSafe. But United “pawsed” (sorry) its PetSafe program in 2020 and has not yet renewed it. With many planes parked and flights cancelle, United needed the remaining belly freight space for more critical cargo, like flying vaccines from Pfizer.
While understandable, United’s decision to halt flying cargo pets left PetSafe pet parents like Lewis Johnson in the lurch. Johnson is CEO of Alelo, an LA-based company that uses AI and roleplaying to hasten student learning. He and wife Kim breed golden retrievers. Unfortunately, Kim was stranded at the couple’s Hawaiian property during the pandemic, as they had no way to ship the animals back to the mainland.
“There still is no direct shipping service between Kona and Los Angeles,” Johnson says. “But we feel that United runs a safe operation for cargo pets and we look forward to the return of PetSafe.”
Similarly, while HonestPaws says more animals have died on Delta than any other airline, Delta actually was voted best at transporting animals by readers of The Points Guy. One reader said she was “very pleased” with Delta’s pet cargo. “It is climate controlled and well-regulated. We flew from Texas to Hawaii [during] the summer and they were able to accommodate us despite the heat because of air conditioned transport between the terminal and plane.” Another reader said “The crew verified our dog was on board before take off.” The Points Guy concluded, “If you have to fly with your pet in cargo, Delta may be the best airline for you.”
HonestPaws identifies issues that can impact your ‘cargo pet,’ including Separation Anxiety and Stress, Physical Injury, Respiratory Issues, Weather Conditions, Hearing Loss, Dehydration, Temperature Controls and Pressurization. Although airlines must follow strict USDA guidelines on shipping animals, HonestPaws says “Animals simply don’t understand the purpose of airline transport, much less why they’ve suddenly been subjected to a dark and frightening space for hours.”
So, if your beast won’t fit under the seat, HonestPaws recommends a pet sitter, driving (hard to do from Hawaii), flying privately, or taking rail or sea. (Pet Airways, an airline that specializes in flying pets, says they will return ‘post-COVID’, possibly in mid-2022.)
HonestPaw optimistically notes, “There are many options available when it comes to pet-friendly private yachts and ferries, not to mention the popular cruise ship for pets: Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. This luxurious ocean liner travels between New York and Southampton, England and provides only the best white-glove service to the ship’s four-legged passengers, including daily walks, freshly-baked biscuits, and playtime and exercise in a shielded, open-deck area.”
If the Queen Mary is out of your budget or isn’t sailing to your pet’s destination, the rest of us will no doubt be studying airline sites like American’s Pets & Animals page on aacrago.com, with its Rate Calculator. Good thing my 65-pound Lab mix Bodhi isn’t much of a world traveler—it would cost $419 to ship him from LA to NY.