Sunday, November 16, 2008

Problems When a Dog Goes on a Commercial Flight

Put simply, a lot of things can go wrong when a dog goes on a commercial flight. Most problems occur on the ground, not during a flight. Here are some of the more common problems you should be aware of before you ship a dog.
  • The dog escapes from a cage. This can lead to tragic results, as it did in 1988 for a small dog named Loekie. Loekie, on a TWA flight from Dallas to Los Angeles, got out of his cage during a stopover in St. Louis. The dog was killed by a car on an airport road.
  • The cage gets tipped or crushed during transport. Sturdy travel kennels alleviate this problem to some degree, but mishandling—for example, putting a pet carrier on a regular baggage carousel—can toss an animal around.
  • The plane is delayed on the ground, with the dog in it. During flight, the cargo area in which pets travel is pressurized, and the temperature is controlled. But on the ground, no fresh air gets in, and the temperature can fluctuate dramatically in a short time. If you’ve ever sat in a hot, stuffy plane during the summer, waiting to take off or pull up to a gate, you can imagine how an animal feels in the even hotter baggage compartment.
  • Baggage handlers remove the dog from the plane during a stopover and then forget to load it on again. Animals are shipped in a compartment near the door of the plane where baggage is loaded. Unknown to the owner sitting on the plane, they may be removed during a stopover (so that other baggage can be unloaded more easily) and inadvertently not re-loaded.
  • The dog is shipped to the wrong place. Just like a suitcase, a dog can end up in the wrong place. Because few airports are equipped to handle animals well, a dog flown to the wrong destination can have a bad or even life-threatening experience waiting for another flight or for you to show up and claim it.
  • The dog is left in the heat, cold, or rain. An animal left outside at an airport may be subject to extreme heat or cold. An English bulldog died of apparent heat stroke in 1984 during transport; the dead dog was sent out on a conveyer belt with other baggage, where it was found by the owner.1 Many airlines no longer accept pets during the summer, and federal regulations prohibit shipping animals if they will be exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees for more than four hours.
  • The dog is left unattended, without food or water, in a “lost luggage” storage area. Because most airlines don’t have special places for live animals, animals can sometimes end up abandoned with misplaced baggage. Usually, employees care for the dog as best they can. But if a dog is scared and snappish, as it may well be, it may get little care. Employees may not even know a pet is there.

Even if you plan carefully and everything goes as planned, air travel is frightening and stressful for a dog. And you often can’t cope with problems as they come up, because you and your dog are separated during the critical times.

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