Where is Jack?

Making Air Travel Safe for Pets



Doing a google search about pet travel last weekend (because it’s really just about the only thing I think about now), I ran across a website that had the following statement: “Air travel is as safe for pets as it is for people.”   And again, I was back to my new favorite question:  REALLY?!?!?  Are you KIDDING me??

From the beginning of 2005 through the end of  2010 (72 months), 122 people were killed on commercial airlines in the United States.  In three of those years (2007, 2008, and 2010), there were NO human airline fatalities.  Obviously this is very  good news!!  During the period from May 2005 through April 2011 (72 months), according to DoT Pet Incident Reports, 188 animals were killed.  THAT MEANS 50% more PETS than humans died on planes!!  AND,of course that doesn’t even really tell the whole story.  Over 100 more animals were reported lost or injured during the same period.  And even that is not the whole story… as I wrote about earlier, this only covers the very narrow class of “pets” that the DoT is willing to recognize!!

The website where I found this erroneous statement about pet safety has a relationship with IPATA – The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association.  Now, as we all know, animals transported through IPATA members are not going to be covered by DoT Pet Incident reporting.  But, maybe these folks know something we don’t know… maybe their members (professional pet shippers) are able to create some form of safety for our fur-kids that we as pet parents are not able create because we are just “amateurs.”  Maybe Jack would have been safer if Karen had used an IPATA-affiliated shipping service instead of just caring for Jack and Barry herself??  I decided to read more about what IPATA is and see what they do.

This dog probably isn't having much fun, but is it better than flying as checked baggage?

And here’s what I found: IPATA is nothing more than an association for pet shippers.  They do not maintain specific “standards” for pet shippers beyond those required in the shippers’ country of origin for licensure and insurance purposes and completion of a webinar that they provide (which they call Pet Shipping 101).  If an individual is looking to transport a pet and wants to be reassured about the safety of this process, they direct the person to their FAQs page.  And this is where things get truly bizarre.

In answer to the questions “Are cargo holds safe for pets? Is it safe to ship my pets as cargo?”, IPATA replies “An Ann Landers column and comments in subsequent editorials, pretty well covers the subject.” That seemed a little strange to me – a professional organization presents not their own viewpoint, not academic research, but AN ANN LANDERS COLUMN to answer the most basic question a pet parent might have about their service????  Very strange.  But let’s see what Ann Landers had to say about the subject.

The columns they provide begin with a letter from “Animal Lover in Memphis,” who is defending the actions of a woman who snuck her cat onto the plane, saying “I wouldn’t send a cockroach by air cargo.”  The column was titled “Airline Cargo Hold is No Place for an Animal.”  IPATA then prints the response their past-president had to the column (Ann Landers does not print this).  Then they show the Ann Landers column that was responding to the first column, headlined “Cargo Hold Is OK for Pets.” In that column, Ms. Landers prints several readers who respond to the original writer, including “Pilot in Bainbridge Island, Wash.” who says “I am a pilot for a major airline. At least one cargo hold in every plane is insulated, and the temperature and pressure controlled. In most aircraft, that cargo compartment has the same ventilating system as the passenger compartment… Most of us have pets of our own, and so we take good care of those in our charge. I’ve never had to take a pet off the airplane for drunkenness or unruly behavior, which is more than I can say for some passengers.”

Wow.  That’s really great.  Some unidentified “pilot” (who could be just an airline shill) is reassuring Ann Landers that he takes good care of the pets in his charge.  That’s great!!  Now how do I make sure this guy is piloting my plane, and not some uncaring pilot??

And more importantly, how do I get this guy to go do baggage handling so I can make sure my pet makes it onto the plane?? It’s true – Barry was fine ON THE PLANE.  Too bad Jack never made it that far.

As you can read for yourself, Ms. Landers goes on to quote several more readers who wrote in to protest the idea that animals may not be safe in cargo.  But again, we have NO IDEA who these people are, or what their motive is for taking the time to write to Ms. Landers.

But still, even if we believe all these people are just well-meaning readers, look at the date of the column: August, 2000.  Since that time, 16 U.S. airlines have filed for bankruptcy.  And the airlines have been under tremendous pressure to provide increased security because of the effects of the terrorist actions of 9/11/01.  Have these changes affected the safety of pet travel??  I would hazard a guess that maybe they have, but it would be just a guess.  It seems to me IPATA might want to take the time to make its own statement on these issues, rather than just continuing to provide the unverified – and DATED – opinions of people who write in to Ann Landers.

I called the company that owns the website that I referenced in the first paragraph, the one that said “Air travel is as safe for pets as it is for people.”  It’s a small company, and I spoke to someone there about the problems I had with what I had read, about Jack, about how any problem an animal has while in their care is not subject to any DoT reporting requirements.  She was a nice lady, and clearly an animal lover.  And she was shocked.  She said she was going to read the material on our website…but she wasn’t the person who could change the website.  She took my number and said her manager would call me after the first of the year.

I’ll be interested to see if they make changes.  I’ll report back in mid-January, after I talk to her supervisor.  All we can ask for, to continue to honor Jack, is that people have the opportunity to know the truth.  And the truth is this: unless your pet is with you at all times, pets are NOT AS SAFE AS PEOPLE when traveling by air.  In some circumstances, pet parents may have to take that risk.  But let’s not pretend the risk isn’t real.

17 thoughts on “The Fight Against MISINFORMATION

  1. Well done! Keep fighting. You may have found your niche.
    May you and yours enjoy a very peaceful and merry Christmas. (Or whichever holiday you celebrate)

    Rejoicing in the day,

  2. Your investigation is interesting. It seems you are going to leave no stone unturned.Jack is/would be proud as are many of us. Keep at it and don’t hesitate to ask for help from the FoJs. We also want to serve in Jack’s army.

  3. We at The Animal House Jamaica ship animals regularly to the US and Canada for adoption. We have been doing this for over fifteen years with great success. There are many improvements that can be made by many airlines but some airlines take very good care of the animals they ship. As for where they travel, I have seen the compartment on Airbus aircraft and it is temperature controlled and completely separate from the cargo hold. It is also accessible from the flight attendant’s station just behind the flight deck.
    BTW I have no respect for American Airlines but that is because of the way they now treat all of their customers – not just animals travelling. At one time, when we first started to ship dogs and cats they were wonderful to work with.

  4. Excellent reporting as always. I know he is retired now but I would be very curious to see what Captain Sully of the Miracle on the Hudson fame has to say about all this.

  5. I would love to hear Captain Sully’s thoughts on flying pets in cargo. It seems like I remember seeing a family photo that included a dog, so I am assuming he is an animal lover. I have, as usual, enjoyed reading your latest installment, Mary Beth. Poor Jack will never leave my thoughts. I want very much to help make change, so this never happens again.

  6. Lots of useful information. Especially like the truth is: Unless your pet is with you at all times pets are NOT AS SAFE AS PEOPLE when traveling by air. In defense of animals had an emergency alert in 2003. A warning: Do not transport your pets by air.
    They state “there are flagrant violations of the laws” by the airlines regarding pet travel.
    It is tragic so many people are unaware of this. Another great blog entry MB!!

  7. Captain “Sully” Sullenberger is a cat person.

    “It turns out that Captain Sullenberger has had a hand in other rescues too. People Magazine discovered that the Captain and his wife have been providing foster homes for dozens of cats and kittens through Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. They also raise puppies for Guidedogs for the Blind.

    “Sully’s the cat person. I’m the dog person,” said Captain Sullenberger’s wife Lorrie. Maybe that’s why Sully is so good at landing on his feet!”
    From blog post, http://art2u.com/critterblog/?p=1674

    (The article was originally posted 02/13/2009 on PeoplePets.com, titled “US Airways Pilot is an Animal Hero, Too!”. There’s a photo, but the text of the article appears to be missing, http://www.peoplepets.com/people/pets/article/0,,20492067,00.html)

    Captain “Sully” Sullenburger on “integrity” and the potential for doing good in the world:

    “I remember one day, I was driving my daughter Kate, who was about 9, to school. Out of the blue she asked one of those questions that no parent is ever fully prepared to answer. No, it wasn’t where do babies come from (she saved that one for Mom). It was, “Daddy, what does ‘integrity’ mean?” After thinking about it for a few minutes, I said, “Integrity means doing the right thing even when it’s not convenient.” Her eyes lit up, and she said that she understood that integrity meant training the puppies instead of playing with her friends, taking Twinkle for a walk in the pouring rain, and most importantly, saying goodbye to her puppies so that someone in need would have a Guide Dog by their side.

    Over and over since January 15th, people have remarked that the landing of Flight 1549 was a reminder of the potential for good in the world; that the things we believe and hold dear really do still exist; that there are reasons to be hopeful and that our values are still true. This is the same feeling I have when we place a puppy with a person whose life will be improved and whose horizons will be expanded with a well-trained Guide Dog. Raising Guide Dogs has given us the chance to teach our daughters about responsibility, integrity and community service, and I am grateful to Guide Dogs for the Blind for this opportunity.

    These partnerships remind me every day of the potential in each of us to affect the lives around us. Thank you for making such a profound difference in my life and the lives of so many others through your generous contribution to Guide Dogs for the Blind.”

    from Guide Dogs for the Blind, http://www.guidedogs.com/site/PageServer?pagename=stories_captainsully

    Photo with guide dogs, http://guidedogs.blogspot.com/2010/03/flying-high-in-seattle.html

    – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    “Hero pilot Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger sounds the safety alarm over FAA budget cuts”

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1381701/Hero-Hudson-pilot-Captain-Sully-Sullenberger-urges-Congress-aviation-safety.html#ixzz1hJxHT8OT

    Video PSA about this, “Important Message from Captain Sully Sullenberger “,
    Dec. 15, 2010, about pilot fatigue. http://youtu.be/_Ha-mJGr0xI

    (New rules about this were passed within the last day or so, I believe.)

    – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    “Air and Space Magazine” article, “A&S Interview: Sully’s Tale “,

    “Long before he won instant celebrity for his cool handling of the ditching of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had thought a lot about airline safety procedures. ” http://www.airspacemag.com/flight-today/Sullys-Tale.html

  8. More about Sullenberger’s help with cat rescue:

    “Sully Sullenberger – Heroic Cat Guy,”

    “Lorrie and Sully care for the kittens until they can be neutered or spayed for adoption. Like many who foster, they ended up adopting one of their charges, the 2-year-old calico, Kitty (right).

    “(Sully) loves that cat,” says Lorrie. “He has a special affinity for that cat. He desperately wants her to be a lap-cat. Since the accident, she’s actually been leaning up against him.”

  9. “Happy Flight” shirts from Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation feature animals flying in and piloting a passenger plane! See Merchandise,


    Rally with the team and ARF.

    “Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal coined the phrase “Happy Flight,” to describe the upbeat atmosphere Cardinal team members experienced on flights out of town after a Cardinal win. Fans caught on, and were soon wishing the Cardinals “Have a Happy Flight!” before each game. Looks like it worked!

    Our Happy Flight design salutes the Cardinals World Series win with Torty, Rally squirrel and the gang from ARF.”

    Wow! What you can find using Google!

  10. If possible, it might be helpful to contact captain “Sully” Sullenberger. I saw an article where is was walking with his dog and there is a cat in the family too. Both animals were shown in the (I think) People article. I don’t know if his airline, US Air takes pets in cargo, but regardless, Capt. Sully is now lecturing and doing educational work about pilot training, airline safety, etc. He could be a great help.

  11. I did some research and we can contact the Sullenbergers through his wife’s website…


    And get this. The whole family’s avocation is animals. Woot !! Woot !! They are active with seeing eye dogs and animal rescue.

    Getting Captain Sully on board would give our cause tremendous support and publicity. Double Woot!! Woot!!

    • You love Jack and I love you, IloveJack! I am so going to Sully’s site and I agree he could be a great voice for us FoJs!

      MaryBeth~ As always my hat is off to you in your continued fight for animals flying cargo. You are an amazing woman, and I admire you every day. God Bless and in 2012~ JACK’S LAW will happen!
      Count on me to do whatever it takes!

  12. Mary Beth and Karen: On this Christmas morning, I wish you and all the other FsOJ a blessed holiday, whatever they celebrate (or if they celebrate). Please keep up the good work–I have been enlightened to an issue which would never have crossed my mind–until Jack. I am amazed at my love for that cat, whom I never met, and my connection to his human family. I think of him every day when I look at that sweet face (in the clothes dryer!) posted at my desk.

    Love and light to all from Marilynne, mom of little “Jackie.” (the JFK kitten duct taped in a box.)

  13. Chris H,
    Thank you for all that information. I think Sully is our man! Our mission (should we choose to accept it) for 2012 should be to develop a proposal to try to get Sully involved in the FOJ cause. I really believe it can be done.

    @Heidi 🙂
    FYI, I love Barry and Milly, too 🙂

  14. Thank you so much for a lot of interesting information! You are awesome, Mary-Beth and Karen! Lots of good wishes for the new year to you and to all FoJs…

  15. The memorial prayer blanket is absolutely beautiful (sniff, sniff). I just wish it had been a welcome home blanket for Jack, Barry and Milly to share.

    Wishing a Happy New Year to Karen, Mary Beth and all the FOJs.

  16. As of Monday, January 9th, the Ann Landers reference is still in the FAQ of the site. I’m seriously doubting that they’ll change that website.

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