Is it safe to transport pets on airplanes? I wrote about the dead bunny earlier today and about a dead dog recently. Horrific stories indeed. But are they just outliers? Let’s take a look at the facts.
Each year the U.S. Department of Transportation requires that airlines submit a report detailing the number of animals transported each year and the number of corresponding “incidents”. Incidents can be either deaths or injuries. Stats for the previous year are due by 15 January of the current year.
In addition, DOT requires details about each incident. Redacted versions without names and other personal info are available to the public. It appears that only USA-based carriers must report.
2016 Stats: A Very Safe Year for Animal Transport
2016 statistics reveal that on average, transporting your animal in the cargo hold of a commercial airliner is very safe. Here’s a look at self-reported stats from U.S. carriers–
Statistically speaking, your biggest risk is entrusting your pet to Hawaiian Airlines. Although it transported only 7,518 pets last year, 3 died, giving it the worst rate amongst U.S. carriers. Given the logistics of heat and water in Hawaii, perhaps that is not surprising.
Look at United vs. Alaska. Both transported a similar number of pets but Alaska had two deaths and one injury compared to nine deaths and 14 injuries on United. What explains this? It could be Alaska is just more competent. But perhaps it is because United has a robust international route network and transports pets on longer flights. In looking deeper, however, that does not appear to be the case. Only two of the reported incidents in 2016 on United were on international flights: one from San Juan, PR and the other from Lima, Peru.
Perhaps just a bad year? Alaska and United reported similar stats for 2015. Delta and American also reported far fewer incidents than United.
The Smart Carriers: No Pet Transport
With risk there is reward, but I cannot blame carriers like JetBlue and Southwest for refusing to transport pets in the cargo hold.
Despite gristly headlines about puppy deaths, it remains extremely safe to transport your pet with a U.S. airline. While I still would not do it personally, that puts me in the same irrational camp as those who refuse to fly Turkish Airlines. At least statistically speaking, you are very safe entrusting your pet to any U.S. carrier, even United.