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.
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.