Yesterday, we recognized and honored the second anniversary of Jack “going missing” – an understated way of saying that American Airlines illegally stacked the crates that he and Barry were traveling in, Jack’s crate fell and opened, and he took off and went into hiding. Since that day, a huge amount of my time has been devoted to learning about all the ways that air travel is currently unsafe for animals, and thinking about ways to change that.
Over the course of the last 2 years, we have learned that there are not one, not two, but at least FOUR relevant players in creating safer air travel for pets:
- Airlines: they were our first focus and they continue to be extremely important, especially for pets who are flying in cargo. (And yes, I believe that no animal should fly in cargo, but we’re nowhere even close to that point.)
- There is NO AIRLINE ACCOUNTABILITY for the vast majority of animals who currently fly in cargo. These animals are flown as “commercial cargo” – generally by commercial breeders who have sold their animals either to an individual or to a retailer (read: puppy store). If one of these animals is lost, injured or killed, the airlines do not report the incident under the law as it is currently written. These laws are currently being reconsidered and Where Is Jack? Inc. has weighed in strongly on this matter. The bureaucratic wheels are turning slowly, but we know that all comments have been read and the Department of Transportation is moving forward toward changing how airlines report on animals lost, injured and killed while in their care.
- In many cases, it is not actual airline employees but SUBCONTRACTORS who handle animals who are flying in cargo. As was made clear in the case of Lynn Jones in Reno, most baggage is handled by employees of smaller companies – thus relieving the airlines themselves of the requirements of training workers and insuring that any LIVE ANIMAL who is transported via checked baggage or cargo is handled appropriately. This makes our work much more difficult – it is not just a few airlines we need to deal with, but literally hundreds of small companies hired by the airlines. The companies themselves are frequently changed, and there is high turnover within each company (as is generally the case with minimum wage jobs). Advocating for high quality animal transport within this system turns out to be extremely difficult.
- Airport Management: before Jack went missing, I had never even given a thought to who – if anyone – manages the airport as a whole. Turns out this a a whole industry unto itself!! And guess what — it’s even more complicated than the airline industry!!! Airports can be managed by quasi-governmental organizations (like the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which manages JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports); they can be managed by cities (like the Philadelphia airport); they can be managed by private companies; and they can be managed by some combination of all of these (example: JFK airport is managed as a whole by the Port Authority, but Terminal 4 is managed by a private company (JFKIAT, LLC). Why does this matter? If you have an animal lost anywhere in the airport, you are going to have to deal with airport management. And some management structures are much easier to deal with than others.
- TSA: The Transportation Safety Administration screening process is THE SINGLE ENTITY THAT EVERYONE TRAVELLING WITH A PET is going to have to deal with, whether your pet is traveling with you in-cabin or flying as checked baggage or cargo. And TSA has absolutely positively no responsibility if something goes wrong and your pet gets loose during the screening process. We first learned about this hazard with the case of Xiaohwa, and this has been a focus of our attention for most of the last year. We have been in contact with TSA, advocating that they change their procedures so that private screening is mandated for all animals. We also want everyone to know that this is a vulnerable point for anyone travelling with an animal, and we seek to educate travelers so they can take appropriate action to keep their pet safe during the TSA screening process.
- The Federal Bureaucracy (especially the Department of Transportation (DoT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Justice (DoJ, which implements the Americans with Disabilties Act): The DoT determines the reporting requirements for airlines transporting pets – thus (currently) giving the airlines the ability to obfuscate how many animals really are lost injured or killed. The FAA will let you buy a seat for your cello, but won’t let you buy a seat for a dog crate that won’t fit under the seat. The Americans with Disabilities Act governs the rules surrounding not only service animals but emotional support animals – which allows many people to travel with animals that are too big to fit under the seat. In short – there are many parts of the U.S. national government which have some say in how animals are treated when they fly.
And when we put all this information together, what we learn is this: it is very difficult to get anyone to take REAL RESPONSIBILITY if an animal is injured or killed while flying. And if an animal is lost – like Jack was – it’s going to take incredible effort to just get through the bureaucracy to search.
What We Can Do
Where Is Jack? Inc. has evolved into a small core group of volunteers who do two things:
- We EDUCATE and ADVOCATE. We provide instructional materials for pet guardians who are traveling. We write this blog to keep the issue in the public eye. We contact vets with information they can provide to their clients to help keep traveling pets safe. We contact airlines, airport managers, government agencies, and other animal-welfare organizations to expose current problems and suggest solutions. We contact the media with information and stories. We do everything we can to make sure that no one involved with traveling pets – from pet guardians to the Department of Transportation – thinks pets and air travel is something to be taken lightly.
- We ASSIST IN EMERGENCY SITUATIONS. If an animal is lost, injured or killed, we want to help. Most of the time, this means making the story public – and after two years, we have media contacts in a wide range of markets who know that we are very serious about the issue of pet air travel safety. They take our calls, and they listen. We can also assist if an animal is lost at an airport – we have experience contacting airport management at a variety of locations, and should the situation warrant it, we have many “tracking dog” contacts. We can ask the army of FoJs to come out and create awareness by passing out flyers about the lost animal. We want to help in any way we can!! (Interestingly, though, one of the big lessons we have learned since Jack was found is that the pet guardian his- or herself is the most important person in the search process, and we can only go as far as that person is willing to go. In several recent cases, pet guardians have been unwilling or unable to pay for things like making flyers or hiring a tracking dog [which can cost as much as $3000-5000] – and we simply can’t do more than the pet guardian is willing to do.)
Make no mistake – FLYING WITH AN ANIMAL IS COMPLEX. We’re trying to make it simpler, and most importantly, SAFER. Thank you for your continued support!!!
PLEASE TELL ANYONE YOU MEET WHO IS TRAVELING WITH AN ANIMAL ABOUT THIS WEBSITE. We want to make sure all animals have a safe, pleasant and uneventful journey!!!