Seven puppies died following an American Airlines flight this week, and by all accounts, the deaths could have been avoided had American enforced its own policy on shipping animals as cargo.
Here's what happened: A shipper checked 14 puppies in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a flight to Chicago. The flight was supposed to depart at 6:30 a.m., but was delayed due to weather. It was 86 degrees on the tarmac at 7 a.m., and 87 by the time the flight departed. When the flight arrived in Chicago, the puppies were in visible distress, and seven passed away shortly thereafter despite efforts from American employees and a local vet. All the dogs were set to make connecting flights from Chicago.
Most airlines restrict pets from the cargo hold when temperatures are within a certain range. Here's American's policy on maximum temperatures, verbatim:
Pets cannot be accepted when the current or forecasted temperature is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 degrees C) at any location on the itinerary.
There is zero ambiguity here, and considering the temperature on the tarmac and at the time of departure was above the 85-degree threshold, it's just as clear that these animals should not have been on board. American says it is investigating the incident and, so far, hasn't offered an explanation. The customer who shipped the dogs is also being questioned.
Shipping pets as cargo is inherently risky, and a small percentage of the several hundred thousand animals shipped each year do perish. Animals are also lost or injured along the way, and overall the experience is stressful on your pet. Most animal rights groups advise against shipping your pet as cargo unless absolutely necessary; some airlines, it's worth noting, have a better track record than others.
What makes this situation different, of course, is that very clear, simple rules were completely overlooked.
So what's a pet owner to do? If you are going to check your pet as baggage in the cargo hold ...
- Check those temperature restrictions. Most airlines will only accept animals when ground temperatures along the route are between 45 and 85 degrees.
- Make sure your breed of animal is allowed by your airline. Snub-nosed dogs, such as pugs and bulldogs, typically come with tighter temperature restrictions, if they are allowed at all.
- Take your pet for a thorough veterinary examination prior to flying. Ask your vet for advice about preparing your animal for travel.
- Make sure your kennel meets airline specifications, and includes an easily accessible water dish
As a dog owner, the American incident simply breaks my heart. I do not understand why these puppies were on the plane at all, and I hope, if nothing else, that this is a teachable moment for pet owners and airlines alike.
Readers, have you ever shipped an animal as cargo? What was your experience?