But Will He Get Frequent Flyer Miles?

In the United States, an estimated 5,000 animals are killed, injured or lost during transportation by commercial airlines each year. Animals, treated as mere baggage, are mishandled by baggage personnel, exposed to extreme heat or cold, and denied sufficient oxygen while in the cargo holds. Despite vehement opposition from the airline industry, legislation has been adopted by Congress to help address this dire situation.

The new law, the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act, requires airlines to report the loss, injury or death of animals. This information must be made available to the public on a monthly basis by airline companies, where it can be used to help concerned citizens make educated, humane decisions about when, and if, to transport their animals by air. In addition, the legislation mandates improved training for individuals involved in the handling of animals during air transport.

A not-so-surprising change in the treatment of animals has occurred since the new law holds airlines accountable for the care of animals during transport. The case of Dakota, a 10-year old Basenji, is but one example. He was mistakenly loaded into the unheated cargo hold of a plane that departed on a nearly five-hour flight from Washington, D.C.’s Dulles Airport to San Jose, California. After the plane was en route, an airline employee discovered the problem, and the pilot was informed that the dog was likely to freeze to death in the cargo hold.

Dakota’s owner, passenger Mike Bell, was taken to speak with the pilot. “He indicated he was not sure if my dog had survived to this point,” Bell said, “However, he was hopeful. If he were alive, the dog would not make it to San Jose under these conditions. So in the best interest of the dog, he was going to divert the plane and land in Denver.”

The plane landed in Denver and to Bell’s great relief, Dakota survived the freezing temperatures. Bell re-boarded the plane with his dog and carried him to the back row of seats on the plane, as passengers cheered. Dakota sat with Bell for the final leg of the flight. Parents brought their children back to pet the dog, who was wrapped up in blankets to warm him. Dakota is lucky to be alive.

In response to the new law, some airlines have prohibited transportation of pets as checked baggage or have implemented restrictions during the hot summer months. Animals are still transported in cargo holds, so despite these changes, we encourage pet owners who can avoid air travel with their animals to do so.

Photo, Thanks to the pilot's humane decision, Dakota is fortunate to have survived the negligence of the airline. (Mike Bell)