Animal airline deaths: Checking your pet as luggage is ‘rolling the dice’

The numbers are in and they’re a little scary. BloombergBusiness reported the latest numbers from the the U.S. Department of Transportation on pets that died or were injured on U.S. airlines during 2014. In all, 17 pets died, 26 were injured and two were simply “lost.”

There were no available numbers on how many pets, overall, traveled on airlines during 2014. And airlines that fly pets say the vast majority arrive at their destination just fine. But if it’s your pet that dies or is injured (one fatality was a guinea pig from North Carolina named Oriole), it matters.

Last summer, at the height of the travel season, I spoke with pet travel expert Kelly E. Carter, who lives in San Francisco. Carter is author of The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel and frequently travels internationally with her 6-pound long-haired Chihuahua Lucy.

But Carter said she would never check Lucy as luggage.

“Plenty of people do it, and their dogs are fine,” Carter said. “But you’re just rolling the dice, as far as I’m concerned.”


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Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, focuses on animal issues for the Alabama Media Group. He is also a community engagement specialist for He can be reached at

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Flying a pet as cargo is stressful for the animal. And if the pet has an underlying condition — a chronic health problem or inflamed lungs, for example — that stress can turn deadly.

A necropsy showed Oliver the guinea pig had inflammation in his lungs that “played a contributory role in his death,” BloombergBusiness reported.

Deaths and injuries on airlines last year also included dogs and cats. Department of Transportation pet incident reports often show animals injured themselves trying to claw their way out of their kennels. Others escaped their kennels on the tarmac and were run over by service vehicles.

United Airlines reported the most incidents, with five deaths, 13 injuries and one loss.

An earlier report by the Department of Transportation noted that “short-faced” dog breeds like pugs and bulldogs represent about half of the dogs that die while being transported in airline baggage compartments.

For information on traveling with your pet, see Carter’s website, the The Jet Set Pets.

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