The recent blog post, “United Airlines Killed Our Golden Retriever, Bea,” written by model Maggie Rizer serves as a sad reminder about the dangers of checking pets as baggage and transporting dogs and cats as cargo. Traveling with a pet shouldn’t be avoided but putting your furry friend in the belly of a plane should be. There are safer transportation alternatives for pets that lessen the risks of you enduring the pain Maggie Rizer has these past few weeks.
Nearly every month, at least two animals on average die during airline transit in the United States. Yet, these tragedies only seem to make news once a year.
The most recent U.S. figures available (through July) show that 17 animals died while being transported on airlines in 2012. Airlines in this country are required to report incidents involving the loss, injury or death of animals during air transportation to the Department of Transportation, which issues monthly reports. It’s no coincidence that no one ever hears about in-cabin pet deaths. It’s only when checking pets as baggage and cargo do unfortunate deaths and mishandling occur. That’s why neither the The Jet Set Pets nor The Humane Society of the United States recommends checking pets as baggage unless absolutely necessary.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) leaves it up to each airline to decide if it will allow pets in the passenger cabin. Due to the size and weight restrictions of in-cabin pets, obviously this was not an option for Maggie Rizer. Her two-year-old pooch Bea had flown before her fateful flight from New York to San Francisco three weeks ago that marked the end of the family’s summer vacation on the East Coast. Maggie Rizer, her husband, their son and their two dogs, Bea, a wedding gift, and seven-year-old Albert, also a golden retriever, made the journey.
Maggie Rizer utilized United’s PetSafe® program, which has been applauded for doing a commendable job when it comes to transporting pets. United banned pets as baggage, effective March 3, 2012, and adopted Continental’s PetSafe program. PetSafe transports pets as cargo only, which is more expensive but safer than checking pets as baggage. PetSafe offers a dedicated, 24-hour live animal desk, gives pets rides in a temperature-controlled van, monitors weather conditions at all points and more. Maggie Rizer wrote that she paid $1,800 to transport her two dogs.
“When we arrived in San Francisco to pick up our dogs we drove to the dark cargo terminal and on arrival in the hanger were told simply, ‘one of them is dead’ by the emotionless worker who seemed more interested in his text messages,’’ Maggie Rizer wrote on her blog. “It took thirty minutes for a supervisor to come to tell us, ‘it was the two year old [sic].’ ’’
The Rizers had an autopsy performed on the dog, and the doctor concluded that the dog’s death was a result of heatstroke, according to Maggie Rizer’s blog post.
“We understand that the loss of a beloved pet is difficult and express our condolences to Ms. Rizer and her family for their loss,’’ United Airlines, which reportedly refunded Maggie Rizer the $1,800, said in a statement to People. “After careful review, we found there were no mechanical operational issues with Bea’s flight and also determined she was in a temperature-controlled environment for her entire journey. We would like [to] finalize the review but are unable until we receive a copy of the necropsy.”
Four other pet deaths on United in 2012
Four of the 17 deaths reported during the first seven months of this year were on United while nine were on Delta, three on American Airlines and one on Alaska. Just because a pet dies while flying doesn’t mean an airline is at fault. Each report provides an in-depth account of each occurrence and sometimes the pets are not in good health to start with. However, Maggie Rizer wrote that Bea “had a perfect health record… She received a full examination and a health certificate four days before the flight, as is required by the Pet Safe program. This program is United’s branded on-board pet safety program. In addition to Pet Safe’s stringent requirements, we took every extra precaution we could think of.”
Airlines fly thousands of pet annually and last year 35 animals died. Over a five year period, United transported more than 550,000 pets, with less than .1% of those resulting in deaths, according to the airline. While the percentage may not seem very high, even one pet death is too many because pets are family. You roll the dice when checking pets as baggage or cargo. But you do it because it is usually the quickest way to get your pet from Point A to Point B. Or maybe you are not aware you have options to checking pets as baggage or cargo.
Alternatives for Maggie Rizer and others
- Pet Airways: We’re amazed how many people think this pet-only airline that launched in 2009 is still around. Pet Airways ran into financial trouble and has not operated since 2011. The website is gone and the Facebook page has not been updated in nearly a year. Hopefully a similar airline that doesn’t make you treat pets as baggage will launch soon.
- Pet Jets: Helps pet parents find an alternate solution for pet travel by using pet-friendly charter aircraft that are on FAA approved air carrier certificates. More expensive than commercial airlines but worth it for those who can afford it. There’s also a Pet Jets Travel Club that offers pet parents the chance to fly in the cabin with their furry friend. Pet Jets does this by providing consulting services and finding the best aircraft charter prices for its members.
- Fractional ownership: Programs like the Marquis Jet Card Program for NetJets, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and Flexjet’s 25 Jet Card Program allow cardholders access to flight time on fractional aircraft fleet. Marquis Jets lets you buy 25 hours at a time while Flexjet’s offers various options and features.
- Victor: No, Victor isn’t like Samantha Stephens on Bewitched and isn’t a man who can twinkle his nose to get you and your pampered pet where you want to go. What Victor calls itself is the world’s first marketplace for private jet charters and per-seat bookings. This London-based company began selling airlines seats for dogs throughout Europe in August. The year-old, London-based company also created a free “Pet Owners” community so that pet parents can communicate with each other, flagging interest in preferred routes and dates in order to bring down the cost of jet charters and enable them to travel with their pet.
- Service animals: Service animals are NOT pets. They are working animals that assist persons with disabilities. Therefore airline rules restricting size and weight limitations do not apply to them. However, handlers must have a legitimate reason for needing a service animal and provide a doctor’s note less than a year old on letterhead. We do not condone abusing this law. For DOT’s rules on service animals.
- Emotional support animals and therapy animals: Many U.S. airlines treat ESAs the same as service animals. See above link for DOT’s rules.
- Automobile: If you have the time and a pet that doesn’t get car sick, seriously consider this alternative. At least you can keep an eye on your furry friend and notice if he or she is in distress, unlike when you put them in the belly of an aircraft.
- Craigslist: We see plenty of ads on Craigslist offering to transport pets, but you are really rolling the dice with this. You’re better off paying an out-of-work relative to drive your pet in a rental car from Point A to Point B. At least you know what you’re getting.
Now that you are aware of some alternatives to checking pets as baggage and cargo, The Jet Set Pets hopes you will consider them. Maggie Rizer, who adopted a rescue dog the day after Bea’s death, has pledged to never fly her dogs again.
“Aside from being completely emotionally distraught over the loss of our little Bea, I am so saddened by the complete lack of competence, honesty and compassion that United has shown,” Maggie Rizer wrote. “… I am writing this to help make people aware that airlines are incapable of ensuring the safety of our pets… Please don’t make the mistake I made that cost our dog her life. Please, don’t trust that an airline will truly care and provide safety to your beloved pet.”
The Jet Set Pets wants to hear from you. How will the death of Maggie Rizer’s dog Bea affect the way your pet travels?