Since the deaths of seven puppies in the cargo hold of an American Airlines jet on Aug. 3, the safety of flying with pets has come under public scrutiny.
At least 122 dogs died aboard flights between May 2005 and May 2010, according to the U.S. Transportation Department. Roughly half of those dogs were short-snouted breeds that were shipped as cargo. The only airlines with zero pet deaths are those that allow animals to be carried only in the cabin, said Petfinder.com, an online database for adoptable pets.
But not all airlines allow pets in the cabin, and owners of large dogs in particular have few options for traveling with their pets.
Animal rights advocates do not endorse transporting pets in cargo holds. "The goal is to avoid having pets ever fly in cargo," said Louise Murray, veterinarian and vice president of the ASPCA. "If your pet flies with you in the cabin, you are with your pet and can protect your pet. You are your pet's advocate."
Most commercial airlines allow small animals to travel with their owner in-cabin, but each flight can take only a limited number of animals, so owners should make reservations well in advance. But what should you do if you're moving across the country with your Great Dane — which definitely will not fit under a seat?
Murray suggests either driving or sending your pet on an airline that specializes in the transportation of pets.
Pet Airways specializes in the safe transportation of pets. "Pawsengers" fly in the climate-controlled pressurized main cabin and are checked on every 15 minutes. If there is a health emergency, the plane will be diverted to the nearest airport. The specialized airline flies out of nine airports nationwide, including Fort Lauderdale. Fares begin at $99 each way.
Extreme temperatures are the primary danger for pets lodged in a plane's underbelly. Numerous commercial airlines have pet embargoes during summer and winter months or will not allow pets to fly in cargo if the ground temperature is above or below a certain temperature.
American Airline's policy is to not fly with pets in the cargo hold when the ground temperature is above 85 degrees.
In the case of the seven puppies that died on an American Airlines jet, spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan says the temperature was below that mark when the plane took off, according to the Weather Channel's website. The National Weather Service reported that it was 86 degrees.
American Airlines cited heat as a possible cause of the puppies' deaths, but questioned whether the pups were already ill since 17 other dogs survived the flight.
Traveling with a pet is optional, said Betsy Banks Saul, co-founder of Petfinder.com, who urges owners to find other means of transporting pets besides shipping them in a plane's cargo hold.
"There's always the option of the pet owner to not put their pet in jeopardy," she said. "Consider how much more stress-free it will be to leave your pet with a trusted friend or with a sitter."