Despite proposed legislation and pressure from the ASPCA, airlines are not required to provide temperature control in the cargo holds where animals are stored. The Safe Air Transport for Animals Act passed this June now requires airlines to report all incidents of family-owned pets who are injured, lost, or killed while in the custody of airlines and airports. The numbers are concerning.
From May to October, the airlines self-reported 21 deaths, 16 injuries, and 3 losses. Monthly reports can be viewed at the US Department of Transportation website, http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/reports/atcr05.htm. The airline reports blame the majority of dog deaths on cardiac failure due to a pre-existing condition. However, all pets allowed to be checked as baggage have successfully passed a veterinary physical. They rarely if ever place blame for a death with the airlines. Dr. Heather Jenkins Brazzell points out that hyperthermia and hypothermia can cause cardiac failure in dogs, but she also notes that the airlines never cite temperature as a factor in these deaths.
Healing Springs will examine your dog and certify airline health certificates for healthy dogs. Be aware that the forms provided by airlines usually require a positive response to statements such as, “The pet can withstand temperatures below 45 and above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.” The implication is that temperature will range around 45 and 85. On the other hand, a literal interpretation of these statements means you are acknowledging temperatures could go well below 45 for extended periods and/or well above 85 for extended periods. The important questions here are “What extremes of temperatures will be reached?” and “For how long?” These are the questions that the airlines do not seem to be answering.
The numbers available in the DOT reports are in-and-of-themselves meaningless. While American Airlines seems to be a leader in pet deaths, we cannot say that they are better or worse than any other airline without knowing the total numbers of animals transported. For instance, if American Airlines flies twice as many dogs as Delta, it stands to reason that they would see twice as many incidents. What we need the DOT to provide is additional information on incidents expressed as a percentage of total animals flown. This would allow us to compare airlines. We also need the DOT to show airline pet mortality rates compared to general pet mortality rates to truly evaluate the safety of pets flying as baggage. In the meantime, considering the generally low numbers of pets that do fly in cargo holds, the raw data provided definitely gives rise to concern. Some statements on airline health certificates about cargo hold temperatures are also suspicious. Pet owners may want to think twice and check the latest DOT information before allowing their pets to be checked as baggage.