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Charted: Pet deaths and injuries on US airlines last year

Pet plane safety
AP Photo/Yanina Manolova
Who’s a good boy?
  • Adam Epstein
By Adam Epstein

Entertainment reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Packing a beloved pet into a box for an airline flight can be a traumatic experience, but pet owners may find comfort in knowing that the chance of Fido being hurt or dying on an airplane are quite low—one in 50,000, according to 2014 data, just released.

Seventeen pets died in-flight and 26 others were injured last year, according to a report from (pdf) the US Department of Transportation. That’s out of the over 2 million pets that fly in the US every year. Being cooped up in a small box is not exactly first-class flying (or even coach flying), but your dog, cat, or Guinea pig will most likely make it from point A to point B unharmed.

The number of pet incidents climbed slightly from 2013, but it fell basically in line with other years.

The data only includes large US domestic airlines, those that account for at least 1% of scheduled passenger revenue. But a DoT spokeswoman tells Quartz that starting this year, all US carriers that operate scheduled service and have at least one aircraft with more than 60 seats will be required to report animal incidents to the government. Animals being shipped by breeders didn’t count, either. That, too, will change with the new rules.

Looking at the data since May of 2005, 213 of the deaths (pdf) were dogs, 39 were cats, and the rest included birds, guinea pigs, and one ill-fated monkey.

American and Delta, the two largest airlines in the US by passengers and fleet, saw hardly any incidents involving pets last year. United’s 19 total incidents should be considered in the context of the more than 100,000 pets who fly with them each year.

The airlines on the chart above vary dramatically in size: United flew 140 million passengers last year, behind only Delta and American. Alaska, on the other hand, flew only 30 million passengers, but the airline says it flies up to 80,000 pets per year, perhaps because the isolated state offers few alternatives to shipping pets long distances.

Many of these incidents are not in airlines’ control. Some injuries are self-inflicted (pdf) by pets unaccustomed to flying. Other times, the cages supplied by owners are inadequate, or the pets are just too sick or old to fly. Flying can be especially dangerous for some dog breeds, including those with short snouts (they are prone to breathing problems and overheating, even in temperature-controlled cargo areas).

On a United flight last year, a dog died mid-flight (pdf, pg. 1) because a piece of gauze that had been left in its abdomen after a surgery, which caused a lethal case of peritonitis.

And sometimes, pets just really, really don’t want to fly (pdf):

Description of Incident: After acceptance by Delta and clearance by the TSA a Staffordshire Terrier travelling with its family to Tampa FL was able to escape by pushing on the door of its kennel. The dog was later spotted by airport personnel and video surveillance for several minutes. It is believed that the dog was able to escape the airport perimeter. The dog is still missing.

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