Beloved Pets Are Dying on Routine Flights. Here’s How to Keep Your Pet Safe.

Imagine if you had to endure a flight, but you had no idea what a plane was? There are constant scary noises, scary changes in pressure and scary shaking. What we as humans hate about flying and traveling has to be ten times worse for our pets who don’t know what’s going on. While our pets are extensions of our families, most airlines see and treat them like cargo objects.

This type of disservice is injuring and killing beloved and healthy pets aboard household name airlines.

Flying With Pets Is Risky Business

As reported in The Seattle Times, since 2010, 62 seemingly healthy animals have been injured, lost or discovered dead on Alaska Airline flights. Even though a concerned passenger tried to save Harley the Bulldog through cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Harley died at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. At Boston Logan International Airport, Daunte the Cat escaped from his kennel; Daunte was struck dead on a ramp vehicle.

Flying isn’t enjoyable for any species. The director of pet care issue for the Humane Society of the U.S., Kirsten Theisen, told Smithsonian Magazine that she recommends leaving pets at home with someone you trust. As pet-friendly as an airline appears, airline conditions aren’t always safe or comfortable for pets, so check the airline’s website for more information.

Certain breeds have no business flying. According to Smithsonian Magazine, many airlines refuse to carry brachycephalic dogs and cats. Cute pets with snub- or pug-noses have breathing problems because of their short noses. They also don’t seem to handle stressful conditions, like a plane, well and are vulnerable to “in-flight suffocation.”

From 2005 to 2011, of the reported 189 flight-related deaths, 98 were brachycephalic breeds. Brachycephalic dogs include: English bulldogs, pugs, chow chows, boxers and many more breeds. Brachycephalic cat breeds include: Burmese, Persian, Himalayan and exotic short-hair. On one occasion, a flight attendant told a pug guardian to keep the pug under the seat for a 45-minute delay. The pug began panting in its small carrier under the seat and died.

Alaska Airlines isn’t even the worst airline offender. The Seattle Times reports that Delta Airlines wins that title. The nation’s busiest airline reported 74 pet-related incidents to the Unites States Department of Transportation (DOT). But Alaska Airlines did have more pet-related incidents in the first seven months of 2014, even though Delta Airlines has six times more “passenger traffic.” The reasons are still unclear, but some suspect that it has to do with geography. Alaska Airlines services the state almost exclusively; there are few options for passengers to travel with their pets in and out of Alaska. To accommodate everyone and their pets, Alaska Airlines might be accepting more animals than the airline can handle.

Ironically, Alaska Airlines does try to make the experience enjoyable for pets. While airlines like JetBlue, Southwest and U.S. Airways say no to pets, even as cargo, Alaska welcomes them with their “pet-friendly” policies, e.g. the Fur-st Class Care. Bobbie Egan, a spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines, told The Seattle Times that the “company ferries some 80,000 pets annually” and that airline employees follow federal guidelines because transporting a pet is like “transporting a family member.”

How to Keep Pets Safe While Traveling

Pets can die or suffer injuries on airplanes. The number of casualties seems small in context of the two million animals who travel on commercial flights every year. Understand that flying with pets does carry a risk. If you have to travel with your pet, then follow these tips to keep them safe:

  • Consult your vet to determine if your pet is healthy enough to fly.
  • Avoid flying during extreme weather, especially heat.
  • Fly direct as much possible.
  • Check if you can purchase a passenger cabin.
  • Remind handlers in baggage hold that there’s a living being in there and ask that your pet be in a well-ventilated space with water.

If you’re thinking of traveling with your pet — whether by plane, car, ship or train — the Humane Society of the United States has extensive tips on how to keep your pet safe.

Do you have any tips for traveling with pets? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Andrew Wales


Jim Ven
Jim V3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

Delta used to be "known" for their animal handling. I guess things change over the years.

Angev GERIDONI4 years ago

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Thank you for sharing

Angev GERIDONI4 years ago

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Angev GERIDONI4 years ago

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Betty Kelly
Betty Kelly4 years ago

I have made 2 flights with my dog without any problems. My pet was in the cabin with me ,; When changing planes I took him outside; let him walk to 2nd plane; during takeoff & landing I talked to him and inflight held his carrier on my lap. He remained calm and happy on our 6hour journey.

Sherri S.
Sherri S4 years ago

I would never put my dog or cats in cargo! I want to be with them. Think of how scary it must be for them!

Tammy D.
Tammy D4 years ago

I've taken my cats with me on two international moves and it was a nightmare. It's amazingly complicated and stressful. Some countries and airlines require all animals to go in cargo. This really is not as bad as it sounds. Taking your cat/dog into the cabin of the plane, where they will be kept in a super cramped space, with all the people, lights and noise, is not necessarily less stressful for the animal. The cargo space is climate controlled, quieter and unchanging in light and noise. Given my druthers, I would choose cargo for myself.

I cannot imagine travelling by air with pets just for a short trip. There is just no need.

Rike Wesendahl
Rike Wesendahl4 years ago

Just don't take pets on plane rides - it's as simple as that to keep them safe from the dangers mentioned in the article above.

Lisbeth Alvarado Sanchez

Thanks for sharing.