When Kathleen Considine heard that one of the world’s biggest rabbits had died on a United Airlines flight this week, she said she was angry, but not surprised.The 24-year-old Oregon resident lost her pet golden retriever Jacob due to health complications after a United Airlines UAL, -0.88% flight from Detroit to Portland, Ore. in January this year, and has since started a petition to improve pet safety on airlines. After a post she made on Facebook about Jacob went viral, she started a campaign to allow animals to be transported on board rather than in cargo, where her pet traveled and later died and the rabbit named Simon died this week.“It’s heartbreaking, but air cargo is not a safe way for pets to travel,” she said. “I am trying to make travel safer for pets, and I won’t stop until I can.”Although both of these incidents occurred on United, that doesn’t mean the airline is necessarily bad at transporting pets — or that flying with an animal is inherently dangerous, said Susan Smith, owner and president of PetTravel, Inc., a company that specializes in transporting animals. She said PetTravel routinely ships animals with United, and the airline may have more pet deaths simply because it transports far more animals than other carriers. Indeed, it transported 109,149 animals in 2016 compared with 81,070 for Delta and 80,888 for American.However, it does have a higher rate of deaths at 2.11 incidents per 10,000 animals compared with 1.23 incidents per 10,000 animals at Delta and 0.62 incidents per 10,000 animals at American. Regardless of which airline travelers choose to transport pets, Smith said there are many measures to take to reduce risk.“Although there is never an excuse for any pet’s death, there are ways pet owners can help insure their pet does not get hurt or escape the crate due to mishandling,” she said. Here are some of her top suggestions:Keep your pet with you, if possibleThere are three ways to transport a pet by air: in cabin, as cargo, or as baggage. If a pet can fit under the seat in front of you, many airlines will allow you to take it on the flight like a traditional carry-on bag. Check the airline’s policies before booking a ticket to see if you can bring the pet with you. “Any time you can bring a pet into the cabin with you, we highly recommend it,” Smith said. “It’s much safer.”Most airlines require pets to fit in a carrier that they can both stand up in and turn around inside, and have a one animal-per-carrier policy. Airlines have a maximum number of pets allowed on each flight, so check before booking a ticket that they have not yet reached the limit, and book far in advance to prevent being bumped.In addition to carry-on sized pets, service animals and emotional support animals are allowed in most aircraft cabins. Travelers can receive emotional support animal certifications for their pets for a number of psychological conditions, including fear of flying, panic attacks, dyslexia, social phobias, autism, bipolar disorder and anxiety. Beware of websites that offer online certifications for high fees and instead seek a letter from a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor that prescribes the pet for one of the qualified mental health conditions.Even travelers who have emotional support animal approval should double-check the policy on their specific flight, the number of pets on their flight, and call the airline both when booking the flight and at least 48 hours in advance for approval. Many airlines only honor the status on flights to and from the U.S., as it is not recognized internationally.
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