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Best and Worst Airlines for Flying With Pets in the U.S

A new study ranked best and worst pet friendly airlines in the United States. Based on current available U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) data regarding pet incidents from 2017–2018, the study also revealed some pet-transport declines involving United Airlines.

With the increasing ubiquity of pets as airline passengers, pet-related incidents have also begun to rise. Consequently, air carriers shift policies to reflect this new influx of non-human passenger challenges, with some changes resulting in better carrier experiences than others. The DOT keeps a detailed list of animal incidents on carriers, including injuries to and losses of any animals transported by an airline. This DOT data also tracks the most tragic of such pet-related events: animal passenger deaths. These incident rates were used to inform the Upgraded Points study.

Incident rates represent important data, as they directly illustrate how many incidents air carriers experience related to the number of pets transported. For example, an air carrier that transported 100 pets, and experienced one injury or death, would have a one percent incident rate. DOT-reported incidents do not always present a complete picture of events, but they are a reliable indication of effective pet policies vs those that are far less effective. It is also important to note that only animals considered as pets are included in these DOT monthly reports.

Animals shipped by cargo (laboratory animals or those destined for sanctuaries) are not included. Additionally, some airlines will not fly pets as cargo at all and are thus excluded from these findings. The overall DOT report from 2018 represents over 400,000 animals traveling via air.

Best and Worst Pet-Tolerant Airlines for 2017–2018

  • Best — Alaska Airlines: Although the airlines did report one injury for 2018, it transported 143,634 animals total. That is 34 percent of all animals transported by all airlines, thus giving the carrier’s incident rate per 10,000 animals flown at only .07 — or a .0006 percent overall incident rate. Alaska Airlines has the best track record for both 2017 and 2018.
  • Worst — Hawaiian Airlines: With three reported animal deaths and only 9,505 animals transported, Hawaiian Airlines incident rate sits at .03 percent, giving it the worst track record for 2018.

More animals died on Delta Air Lines in 2018 than any other airline, total of 4, according to the recently-released February 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report by the DOT. There were 3 other airlines with reported deaths: Hawaiian Airlines with 3 deaths, United Airlines with 2 deaths, and American Airlines with 1 death.

Overall though, Hawaiian Airlines was the air carrier that experienced the most incidents per 10,000 animals transported. Hawaiian’s incident rate was over 3 times higher than any other carrier in 2018.

For United Airlines, there was a 27% drop in pets transported between 2017 and 2018. Pet owners chose not to fly on United in 2018 and instead transported their animals with other airlines such as Alaska Airlines and Delta. Additionally, while over 400,000 animals traveled via air in 2018, the overall number of animals transported went down 16% between 2017 and 2018.

This could certainly be due to the number of incidents that United experienced in 2017. At the very least, passengers appear to be more comfortable transporting their pets with carriers other than United.

animal incidents by year

You can see a significant drop in animals transported on United between 2017 and 2018. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines all saw a significant increase in animals transported from 2017 to 2018.

Best Options for Flying with a Pet

If the airline allows it, the Humane Society recommends your pet flying with you in the main cabin and not in cargo. The Humane Society is also currently lobbying against pets being held in an overhead bin due to recent issues.

“If transporting your pet by air is the only option, find out whether they can travel in the cabin with you. Most airlines will allow you to take a cat or small dog in the cabin for an additional fee,” the organization explains on its website. “But you must call the airline well in advance; there are limits to the number of animals allowed in the cabin.”

If you transport your pet in the cabin, all pets should be able to stand up and turn around comfortably inside their carriers. In addition, airlines may require recent health certificates and immunization records from a veterinarian and require pets to be at least 8 weeks old.

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