The problem with shipping pets on aircraft is in the use of the word, “shipping”. I believe we can gauge people’s attitude about something by the words they use. You are handing over a loved companion animal to airline handlers who are, 99% of the time, handling luggage and other inanimate, dead objects.
I am sure airline handlers receive some sort of training with respect to animal handling and I am sure there are pretty tight rules about carriers and space etc. but you are still “shipping” an animal in the hold of an aircraft with luggage. This must carry risks that are not the sort of risks to a pet’s health that a good pet owner would wish. As an aside, 90% of wild cats, shipped illegally into the USA as pets die, in transit.
How does a good cat caretaker feel when they hand over their cat to an airline employee who takes their cat away from them to the tarmac and out to the noisy uncertainty of the hold of an aircraft? I would bet my bottom dollar (s)he would feel anxious. I know I would. I know I wouldn’t do it unless circumstance forced me to.
Personally, I wouldn’t trust airline staff to handle my cat properly. That is not being unduly critical of airline handlers. It is just that they cannot be expected to handle someone else’s cat as if the cat were their own. They are going to desensitized to handling animals because they are slinging around thousands of items of inanimate objects every day.
Animals are meant to be placed in a part of the hold that is pressurized and temperature-controlled. But things go wrong. Why did Maggie Rizer’s gorgeous Golden Retriever die of suspected heat stroke in the hold of an aircraft. She was told in a very off-hand way that her dog had died. Then the airline tried to fudge their way out of it. This does not promote confidence in the attitude and systems of airlines.
Elisa has reported on lost cats while being shipped on a couple of occasions. Can you image how you’d feel if your cat was lost in transit? It would be torture for me and very distressing for my cat. How high is the risk to health and welfare of loved companion animals when shipped by airlines?
Well, that is another problem because it appears that accurate statistics are not kept by the airlines or Department of Transport (in this instance I am referring to the United States).
However, thanks to Stanley Coren, Ph.D who researched the matter we do have a clue as to the risk involved. It is low (as expected). However, he compares pets lost or who died or injured to the number of passengers carried.
The worst US airline on his calculation is Alaska Airlines who lost 64 pets in their care over the period 2005 – 2012 while carrying 18 million passengers per year. However, I’d like to see the number of pets injured, lost, killed to the number carried in the form of a straight percentage and we don’t seem to have that information.
A straight tally of pets lost, injured or who died is as follows:
- Delta 105
- Continental 69
- Alaska 64
- American 53
- United 29
- US Air 4
US Air had the best (lowest) ratio of pet problems to passengers travelled.
Reporting appears to be inadequate. Mistakes get made. That is to be expected. Each cat owner will have their own feelings about shipping cats in planes. For my part, I wouldn’t do it because:
- the reporting is unsatisfactory so we cannot assess the true risks;
- putting a cat or dog in the hold of an aircraft is putting the animal truth a pile of stress and discomfort.
I’d try and find a different lifestyle that avoided shipping my cat.
Note: I realise you can give a cat tranquillisers and so on but that doesn’t help me feel better about shipping cats.