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Pet Lovers

10/11/2021

The Hazards of Flying with Pets

Have you ever had to fly with your pet, or fly your pet by themselves on a commercial airline? How…

Have you ever had to fly with your pet, or fly your pet by themselves on a commercial airline? How was your experience? Hopefully, your pet arrived at its destination calm and unharmed. There have been way too many reports of pet injuries, or worse, when traveling with pets on U.S. commercial airlines. I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories. It’s a big deal, especially to pet lovers like ourselves.

In an article in Forbes magazine this year, it was reported, “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.” That is totally unacceptable, not to mention incredibly heartbreaking.

Take into account that the above statistic was over a period of 10 years. Changes have been made. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that in 2019 there were 19 incidents: 11 deaths, 8 injuries, and 0 lost pets. It’s still not good. Airline travel should not be such a dangerous affair for our furry friends.

After years of unfortunate incidents involving pets, many U.S. Airlines have made great strides in pet travel safety. United Airlines developed a program called “PetSafe”. PetSafe is specifically designed for transporting pets that are not eligible to travel in the cabin. American Airlines (and I’m sure there are others) has also gone to great lengths in addressing the safety of pets flying in cargo. American Airlines’ pet policy and regulations regarding the shipment of pets are quite exhaustive.

Sometimes it is necessary for us to fly with our pets. What do we do? How do we know if our pets will be safe? Can we trust the airlines to provide the kind of care we would expect? What is the best airline to travel with pets?

Can my pet fly with me in the cabin?

There are only two places a dog or cat can be placed in a commercial airplane – in the cabin or inside the cargo. If your pet does not fit in an airline-approved carrier underneath the seat in front of the owner, they must go in cargo. In reality, there really isn’t that much room underneath the seat. I have a 15-pound Lhasa Apso, considered to be a small breed. Even at his size, airline regulations for pet carriers would not allow him to be placed underneath the seat in front of me.

To place a dog under the seat in front of you, an airline-approved hard-sided carrier must be 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high. Soft-sided carriers must be 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high. The pet must be able to stand up and turn around comfortably. Only toy breeds or puppies/kittens, and some cats would find that size carrier comfortable for a flight. So that leaves only one other option: the cargo. (Que in dramatic music)

What’s wrong with cargo?

Cargo areas are generally not all that comfortable for pets. It’s dark, loud, the temperature is unpredictable, and the pressure inside cargo is precarious. I would think the whole process would be downright terrifying for a pet. Regardless of how careful the airline might be in stowing your pet in cargo, just think of how frightening it would be.

Imagine this. After being separated from your owner (as if that is not upsetting enough), your dog is jostled around in its carrier for several minutes (or longer) before being stacked and strapped in a strange enclosure. The human that has been working inside the enclosure leaves. The door is closed – shutting out the light and fresh air. This produces an annoying pressure in your dog’s delicate little ears. It’s pitch-black inside, and scarily quiet. Then, suddenly, a very loud noise occurs. They feel movement as the plane/jet accelerates and they are pressed up against the back/side/front (depending on how they are packed in) of their carrier during take-off. Then for the duration of the flight, their sensitive ears pop as the plane adjusts altitude. It remains noisy. Luggage and packages stacked nearby (or even beside) the carrier shake and rattle. Sometimes these things shift.

Can you imagine how your pet feels if the plane experiences turbulence? Frequent fliers have surely experienced the “drop” when an airplane works its way through irregular air patterns. During times of intense turbulence, the ongoing dropping, bouncing, and swaying, which would correlate to tumbling around in their crate… would be so horrifying when a pet doesn’t understand what is happening. And they could even get hurt during such an episode.

No matter how caring the airline staff is while handling your dog on and off of the airplane, the dog would have to be very confident, brave, and able to calm itself with this kind of confusion and distress. All of these unpredictable elements can make it challenging to fly with a dog. Flying in general, whether it’s in a carrier at your owner’s feet, or in a crate in cargo, can be very unpleasant.

Are the airlines to blame?

Statistically, most pets make it through a flight without harm. But just because the pet was not hurt or killed does not mean that the trip was comfortable for them or that it didn’t scare them half to death.

Could the airlines be more careful as it pertains to pet travel? Maybe so. Are they doing the best they can? I have to trust that airlines are doing the best they can to ensure a pet’s comfort, as they claim. People typically have a real soft spot for animals, so I believe most airline employees are sensitive to the needs of a pet traveling. My issue is solely with the safety and comfort of the dog or cat, and the fear and risk involved in cargo travel for pets, under current travel regulations regarding animals.

Is it better for your pet to fly in the passenger cabin?

Flying with your dog or cat with you in the cabin of an airplane is obviously a better choice. It is still very stressful for them, and many pets do not react well to the changes in air pressure, the noise, and just the unfamiliarity of the entire situation. The confinement of a small kennel, and the inability to leave that kennel for any reason, can be distressing.

Dogs and cats thrive on familiarity and structure. Deviating from their comfort zone does not make for a happy pet. They will not rest well; their mealtimes may be “off”; they may struggle with anxiety as they don’t really know what’s going on… and what if they have to potty?

Not all dogs and cats respond adversely to flying.  My niece just flew her Yorkie, Lilly, in the cabin from the U.S. to Italy with absolutely no problems. That’s not to say Lilly didn’t wonder what in the world was going on, but she is a very confident, well-adjusted, easy-going pup. As long as she is in the company of her mom and dad, life is good! Some dogs are just that way.  They tend to be comfortable in nearly any situation.

What options do you have if you need to get your pet from point A to B safely?

Because of the public’s growing discontent with commercial airlines and their handling of pets on flights, many dedicated pet transportation businesses have emerged. These services cater only to flying pets, offering a more gentle and caring flight environment than the cargo of a plane. Some of these services offer in-flight monitoring (by trained pet attendants), well-lit cabins, water, treats, fresh, cool air, and even veterinary service. Many of these services will arrange or provide overnight boarding before or after the flight and/or delivery to your pet’s new residence.

Pet Airway’s “claim to fame” is that they transport animals in the cabin of the plane, not the cargo. They have pictures of pets lined up in crates in the plane, being checked by an attendant. Pet Air Carrier LLC has a great video of the preparations leading to a pet’s flight, showing the care they offer. The Spruce Pets published a helpful article, “The Best Pet Transportation services of 2021” Do your research before you trust your pet to any dedicated pet transportation service. Apparently, there is a lot of scamming… I’ve seen several warnings about it online.

Why does your pet need to fly?

What is your purpose for flying your pet? Is it because you want to take your dog on vacation with you? Is it a matter of a long-term stay where flying across the country is necessary? Or are you moving a great distance? Sometimes flying with your dog or cat is inevitable. However, evaluate your reasons for flying your pet and consider the possibility that your dog or cat might be happier if they were not subjected to the unfamiliar and daunting aspects of air travel.

At Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we completely understand the desire to have your pet with you at all times. Believe me, we feel the same way. But many times, it’s much better for them to stay where they can be more comfortable, unafraid, and catered to.

Let your pet stay with us

Every day at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we are focused on the safety, comfort, and joy of our furry guests. We have a lot of fun activities that they can enjoy while staying with us, from swimming to playtimes, enrichment, and so much more. Maybe your dog just wants to sit outside in the fresh air with one of our well-trained staff and enjoy some belly rubs. We will happily do that. The point is, the care of the pet is our main goal. Everything we do centers around their wellbeing. Consider that your pet may be much happier staying with us than facing the rigors of air travel.

Preplanning

If you have a need to fly with your pet, do some preplanning at least a few months before traveling.  Here are some good places to start:

  • First, a health check-up with your veterinarian is always a good place to start. Your vet will help you determine if your pet is healthy enough for air travel.
  • Familiarize yourself with your particular airline’s restrictions, pet policy, i.e., breed restrictions, weather restrictions. When do you need to board your pet?
  • What kind of paperwork do you need to complete? Do you need a health certificate, or proof of vaccinations, or an acclimation certificate?
  • Are COVID 19 embargos for pet travel still in place with your airline?
  • Make sure your pet has current ID tags containing your name, address, and phone number. Consider microchipping. A travel ID should also be considered, indicating where to reach you (hotel, another residence) while traveling.
  • Take pictures of your pet. Attach one to their carrier and make sure you have a current photo on your phone.
  • Shop for the best airline-approved kennel/carrier.
  • If you’re traveling to another country, read up on possible quarantining requirements.

Then come visit our facilities and decide for yourself what would be best for your furry friend!

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If you would like a tour of our facilities, please call and make an appointment. For our Glen Allen resort, please call 804-672-2200. For our Midlothian resort, please call 804-794-5400.

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  • Monday through Thursday: 7:00 am – 1:00 pm, and 3:00 – 7:00 pm
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