NATIONAL REPORT — Seven puppies recently died from complications of air travel during an American Airlines flight from Tulsa to Chicago. The story, making national headlines, also illustrates new concerns raised by U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) data that lists the number of animal fatalities by breed and airline.
While the number of animals that die on commerical flights is relatively small, according to DOT, the report suggests that some dogs suffer in the air more than others.
Half of all dogs that died on commercial flights over the last five years were short-nosed breeds, like pugs and English Bulldogs, according to DOT. American Airlines is not releasing information about the breeds of the dogs in the most recent incident, but spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan says the puppies all belonged to "common" breeds and were of normal size. With a total of 23 deaths, American Airlines ranked third in the DOT study, which collected data from 2006 to 2008 from national airlines. Continenal ranked the highest with 53 animal deaths, followed by Alaska Airlines with 31 deaths.
About 2 million pets are transported by air in the United States each year, and since 2005 DOT requires U.S. airlines to submit monthly pet mortality and injury reports. The totals from the 2005 to 2009 reporting period were 122 dog deaths compared to the deaths of 22 non-pet animals. Fifty-five animals were injured over that time period and 33 were lost, according to DOT.
But out of the 122 dog deaths, 25 were English Bulldogs and 11 were pugs. Other breeds noted in the data include Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers with seven deaths each over the four-year reporting period, followed by six French Bulldog deaths and four American Staffordshire Terrier fatalities. Sixteen canine deaths occurred to mixed or unknown breeds.
Breathing problems and other genetic factors common among pugs and bulldogs may contribute to their higher mortality rates, and DOT is advising pet owners to check with their veterinarians before planning a flight.
The total number of animal deaths is believed to be an "extremely small percentage" of the total that fly on U.S. airlines each year, says DOT spokesman Bill Mosley, and the majority of deaths occurred when dogs were transported in cargo holds rather than in passenger cabins.
A number of airlines now allow pets under a certain size limit to fly in passenger cabins with their owners. Southwest no longer allows animals to fly in cargo areas while other airlines require detailed health records for senior and other special-needs animals. Though Continental led the pack with 53 animal deaths over the reporting period compared to the average of six, its numbers improved in recent years. DOT points to a "bulldog embargo" initiated by the airline in July 2009 as a possible reason for Continental's improvement. The embargo applied to all types of bulldogs, plus pitbulls and American Staffordshire Terriers, but was relaxed by October 2009 when Continental changed its policy to allow puppies of those breeds to fly only when temperatures are below 85 degrees.
Most in-cabin pet flights cost owners around $100 each way on commercial airlines, but new options are popping up, such as Animal Airways, which recently announced it will offer in-flight veterinary services on its pet flights, which average about $99 each way.