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Should Our Dogs Be Afraid to Fly Delta?

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Most of us -- with the rare exception of certain candidates running for the office of President of the United States -- have a great deal of concern over the safety of our pets during travel. While it’s not exactly the diarrhea-inducing journey of horrors of being strapped to a station wagon roof rack during a 12-hour cross-continental road trip, riding in the dark cargo hold of a passenger aircraft can nonetheless be a stressful and dangerous situation for a pet.

According to an Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) report, conducted following the August 2010 deaths of seven puppies on an American Airlines flight from Tulsa to Chicago, air travel poses serious risks to our pets’ safety. “[D]ogs, cats and other animals can easily succumb to the compartment’s extreme temperatures.” Poor ventilation, lack of oxygen and rough handling can also be blamed for injury or death.

And though the above incident happened on an American Airlines flight, last year was a better one for the carrier in terms of pet safety says a new US Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report. Of the 35 animal-related deaths on airplanes, American claimed only five. The overwhelming majority belonged, instead, to Delta (DAL). Nineteen pets perished in the checked baggage cargo holds of Delta planes in 2011 -- which is three more than the airline lost the previous year.

Alaska Airlines (ALK) was responsible for four deaths, Continental had three and two pets died on both Hawaiian and United (UAL) flights last year. Delta spokesman Anthony Black attributed the bigger number to a higher frequency of pet travel on Delta due to the airline’s broader route network.

“The loss of any pet is unacceptable to us,” Black said. “We are working to improve the processes and procedures to ensure that every pet arrives safely at its destination.”

These incidents, while upsetting, are relatively rare. Of all the pets that air traveled last year, under 0.2% died or sustained any kind of travel-rated injury. Human passengers, by comparison, die in flight by a rate of 0.000014% or one in seven million.

Although our flight conditions are, arguably, slightly more hospitable.
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