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August 3, 2004 > Air Bowser? The Not So Friendly Skies

Air Bowser? The Not So Friendly Skies

by Nancy Lyon

OHS recently had a request to help facilitate the cross-country flight of a homeless man and his dog. Research turned up a multitude of regulations from official agencies and dire warnings regarding the hazards of transporting a companion animal by air.

The message from national animal welfare organizations was very clear - transport your animal companion by air only when there are no alternatives, and then only with great forethought and preparation. Considering that the Air Transport Association reports more than 5,000 animals are killed, injured, or lost on commercial flights each year, this advice should be taken very seriously.

Why? Because our beloved animals can face risks including excessively hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation, scarcity of oxygen, and rough handling when flown in the "cargo" area of a plane.

Remember that most airlines treat live animals as baggage, transporting them in cargo holds not designed for life support. Because of this, in 2000 Congress passed the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation adopted regulations in 2003 to address the dangers.

The Humane Society of the United States strongly recommends the following before you make plans to travel with your pet:

  • If you plan to bring your pet on vacation, consider driving instead of flying. Neither Amtrak nor Greyhound allows pets. If this isn't possible, consider leaving your pet behind under the care of a pet sitter or boarding kennel.
  • IIf you are relocating across the country, consider using a company whose primary business is to transport animals.

    If you must transport him by air, your first decision is whether you can take him on board with you, which is your best option. If he is a cat or small dog, some airlines will allow you to take an animal on board for an additional fee. Call the airline well in advance of your flight, because there are limits to the number of animals allowed in the cabin area.

Remind them the day before the flight.

When you contact the airline, be sure to find answers to these questions:

  • * Does the airline allow you to take your small animal on board with you?
  • If that option isn't available to you, does the airline have any restrictions on transporting him as cargo?
  • Does the airline have any special animal health and immunization requirements?
  • Does the airline require a specific type of carrier?

If your pet must travel in the cargo hold, you can increase the chances of a safe flight for your animal by following these tips:
  • Use direct flights. You will avoid the mistakes that occur during airline transfers and possible delays in getting your animal off the plane.
  • Always travel on the same flight as your animal. Ask the airline if you can watch as they are being loaded and unloaded into the cargo hold.
  • When you board the plane, notify the captain and at least one flight attendant that he is travelling in the cargo hold. If the captain knows that your animal is on board, he or she may take special precautions.
  • Never ship pug-nosed animals such as Pekingese, Bulldogs, or Persians in the cargo holds. These breeds have short nasal passages that leave them especially vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke.
  • If travelling during the summer or winter months, choose flights that will accommodate the temperature extremes. Early morning or late evening flights are better in the summer; afternoon flights are better in the winter.
  • Fit him with a collar that can't get caught in carrier doors. Affix two pieces of identification on the collar-- a permanent ID with your name and home address and telephone number, and a temporary travel ID with the address and telephone number where you or a contact person can be reached.
  • Affix a travel label to the carrier with your name, permanent address and telephone number, final destination, and where you or a contact person can be reached as soon as the flight arrives.
  • Clip his nails to protect against their hooking in the carrier's door, holes, and other crevices.
  • Give him at least a month before your flight to become familiar with the travel carrier. This will minimize his stress during travel.
  • Only use tranquilizers prescribed by your veterinarian who understands that the prescription is for air travel.
  • Do not feed him for four to six hours prior to air travel. Small amounts of water can be given before the trip. If possible, put ice cubes in the water tray attached to the inside of his kennel. A full water bowl will only spill.
  • Try not to fly with him during busy travel times such as holidays and the summer. He is more likely to undergo rough handling during hectic travel periods.
  • Carry a current photograph of him. If he is lost during the trip, a photograph will make it much easier for airline employees to search effectively.
  • When you arrive at your destination, open the carrier as soon as you are in a safe place and examine him. If anything seems wrong, take him to a veterinarian immediately.

    Remember that any inconvenience you might experience while researching and looking for safe travel options for your animal friend is minor when weighed against the risk of losing your companion forever. Above all, when making travel decisions, please consider what is best for them.

    For detailed information on health requirements and travel restrictions contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture at 1-800-545-USDA;
    HSUS summary of airline pet-transport policies:
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