June 4, 2005

Airlines to Begin Tallying Pet Casualties

WASHINGTON -- Plenty of vacation guides list camps that allow dogs or rank pet-friendly hotels, but until now there's been no way to know which airlines are safest for four-legged travelers.

That's about to change. Starting June 15, airlines must report how many pets are killed, lost or injured on their flights.

The government estimates 2 million animals fly commercially every year. Many airlines allow small pets to travel in portable kennels under seats, where the owners are responsible for their safety. Larger pets travel in cargo holds, where they can be exposed to extreme heat or cold and loud noises from plane engines.

Nobody knows how many pets are killed or injured. Lisa Weisberg, spokeswoman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, suggested 1 percent, which would mean 20,000 animals per year. The airlines say that's far too high.

But no one disputes that accidents do happen.

When Sarah Stano's husband was transferred from Portland, Ore., to Greensboro, N.C., she chose Delta Airlines to fly them there because it was the only carrier that would let her carry her three cats in the cabin.

But at the airport she discovered one of the containers was too big to fit under the seat. Hereford, a fluffy white cat with black spots, had to go in the cargo hold.

"I'll never forget the look he gave me when they took him away," Stano said.

When Stano and her two children arrived late at night in Greensboro, they found out Hereford had died from either cold or lack of cabin pressure. "We were really kind of devastated about the whole thing," Stano said.

Stano sued Delta and reached an undisclosed settlement.

Delta spokeswoman Benet Wilson said the airline does its best to accommodate pets but doesn't comment on individual cases.

Weisberg's organization pushed Congress to pass the law requiring the airlines to report animal casualties. Supporters wanted it to cover animals shipped to zoos and those used for research and breeding, as well as household pets, and to require that cargo holds be temperature-controlled.

Airlines fought the effort, and lawmakers ended up approving a rule that requires tallying injuries and deaths of household pets.

Jack Evans, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, said the requirement could produce misleading information because the data will not include a casualty rate. An airline that carries many pets may appear to have a worse record than an airline that carries far fewer because it will have a higher number of injuries and deaths, said Evans, whose organization represents major airlines.

David Stempler, president of the Airline Travelers Association, said the new requirement may make some airlines reluctant to carry animals.

"Be careful what you wish for," Stempler said. "Some carriers might do what Southwest does, which is not carry pets at all."

Southwest spokeswoman Edna Ruano said the airline can't guarantee that animals would be comfortable and safe because it doesn't have extra staff to take care of them between flights. Like most airlines, Southwest does allow seeing-eye dogs and other service animals in the cabin.

United Air Lines transports all types of animals, from household pets to silverback gorillas and beluga whales. It even has awarded extra frequent flier miles to people who bring their pets with them.

"A lot of our customers enjoy traveling with their pets," said United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski. As more hotel chains offer perks like pet massages and dog walkers, more people are bringing their animal companions along on trips, she said.

Tips For Taking Your Pet on the Plane

"¢ Check with your airline first before bringing your pet to the airport.

"¢ Many airlines allow small pets to be carried in the passenger cabin, but make sure your kennel fits under the seat.

"¢ Before your trip, take your pet to the veterinarian for a checkup and make sure vaccinations are up-to-date. Do not give your pet tranquilizers unless prescribed by a veterinarian.

"¢ Don't feed your pet four to six hours before departure.

"¢ Make sure your pet is wearing a collar and an ID tag with destination information in case he escapes.

"¢ Book a direct flight and take the same flight as your pet. Avoid travel during busy travel times; your pet is more likely to be roughly handled then.

"¢ Don't ship pug-nosed animals such as Pekingese or bulldogs in cargo holds because their short nasal passages make them vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke.

"¢ Buy a shipping crate that's approved by the Agriculture Department and large enough for your pet to stand, sit and change position comfortably.

"¢ Write "Live Animal" in big letters on the side and top of the crate. Draw arrows to show the upright position. On top of the crate, write the name, address and telephone number of the pet's destination, and who is picking up the animal.

"¢ Tape a photograph of the pet on top of the crate in case it escapes.

"¢ Line the crate bottom with bedding to absorb the impact from an accident.

"¢ Freeze your pet's water so it won't spill during loading but will melt by the time the pet is thirsty. Tape a small pouch, preferably of cloth, of dried food outside the crate.


On the Net:

Transportation Department Airline Consumer Report: http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/reports/