In an effort to make itself more pet-friendly, Delta is stopping one of the most dangerous methods of flying for pets: As checked baggage.
According to the Department of Transportation, a total of 76 animals died aboard Delta flights over the past 10 years — the highest of any U.S. airline.
The last reported death happened on Nov. 28. Somewhere between Atlanta and Pittsburgh, a Mini Dalmatian puppy died in the cargo hold of a Delta flight. The puppy was flying from Albany, Georgia: After a three-hour layover in Atlanta, it was loaded onto the Pittsburgh-bound flight. When gate crew unloaded the plane, they found the puppy was unresponsive.
This most recent death of a checked pet on a Delta flight will be the last, if the airline can help it. Delta will no longer carry pets as checked baggage starting March 1.
The airline will still allow pets to be transported in the cabin, if they are small enough to fit in a carrier under a seat, or shipped via Delta Cargo's pet shipping Variation Live program.
The Humane Society recommends that pet owners "do not transport your pet by airplane unless absolutely necessary," and to choose keeping the pet in the cabin if possible.
"We want consumers to be well-informed about the risks of flying," KC Theisen, director of pet care issues at The Humane Society of the United States, told Mashable. "Cargo hold is not the passenger cabin, just a floor down."
"Cargo hold is not the passenger cabin, just a floor down."
Cargo is where the majority of animal incidents happen, usually on long distance flights or flights with several different legs, Theisen said.
Brachycephalic, or short-snouted, animals, like bulldogs, pugs or Persian cats should never be shipped in cargo, according to the Humane Society. These animals can easily overheat or have difficulty breathing in environments that are not temperature controlled. For this reason, many airlines will only allow these breeds as carry-ons.
The steps that pet owners should take before travel:
- Crate train: It's important to crate train pets well before travel, Theisen said. By mimicking travel conditions and building up the amount of time a pet stays crated, owners normalize the experience and help pets understand that they will eventually be let out.
- Talk to the airline: For those about to fly with a pet, the best thing to do is get "in serious contact with the airline well in advance," according to Theisen. Because every airline has different regulations, it's important to find out well in advance what options are available:
- American Airlines permits pets as carry-ons, cargo or checked luggage — excluding brachycephalic dogs and cats, which are not allowed as checked luggage.
- United allows cats, dogs, rabbits and household birds in the cabin, in addition to carry-on luggage, for $125. Certain United aircraft come equipped with special "PetSafe" compartments that are pressurized like the passenger cabin, for transporting pets in cargo.
- Alaska Airlines will transport pets as cargo or as a carry-on for $100. Brachycephalic are not allowed for cargo travel.
Talk to your vet: Theisen recommends talking to a veterinarian as soon as travel plans are made to get recommendations for a food and water schedule. A veterinarian can tailor advice to specific breeds and help make the experience low-stress, important for both pets and their owners.
"The vast majority of pets arrive safely and in good health, but it's important that pet owners are aware of the risks," Theisen said. "The best thing you can do is just protect against risk and take preventative measures."
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