More than half of all pet deaths on airplanes have occurred on two airlines in the six months since airlines have had to reveal the number of animals that perish on their flights.
Twenty-one animals stowed in cargo areas of airplanes have died since the Transportation Department began requiring airlines in May to record the number of pets that die on flights. Twelve have died on Continental Airlines or American Airlines flights.
The deaths haven't caused alarm among animal rights activists because so few have occurred compared with the number of pets each airline carries. In addition, the reporting requirement is so new that it's too soon to compare deaths with historical data and chart an increase or decrease, they said.
"It's really too early to say which airline is doing the best job and which airline is being negligent," said Kelly Connolly, an issues specialist at the Humane Society of the United States.
The Agriculture Department, which enforces the law responsible for the new reporting requirement, is investigating some deaths on Continental and American flights.
Seven pets on Continental flights and five pets American Airlines flights have died.
Continental spokesman Martin DeLeon said the airline will transport about 90,000 animals this year and seven deaths - or one for every 12,857 animals carried - means most arrive unharmed.
American Airlines has transported about 35,000 animals in cargo areas since May, but the figure doesn't include pets checked as baggage.
"There are going to be incidents. It's impossible to eliminate all [deaths], but we think we do a good job," American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner said. "I think the best thing we can do is make sure crates are secure and make sure temperatures are within an acceptable range."
Airlines have different standards, but they don't allow pets in cargo areas if temperatures at a departure or arrival city are too extreme.
Continental and American aren't the only airlines that have reported deaths. United Airlines has reported three animal deaths since May, and Horizon Air has reported two pet deaths. Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Midwest Airlines and US Airways each have reported one pet death. Northwest Airlines was the only major carrier that allows pets to be checked as cargo and hasn't had a pet die since May.
The new reporting requirement should improve pet safety by shedding light on the performance of the airlines, Ms. Connolly said.
"Airlines are having to be accountable in a way they haven't had to before," she said.
Most pets that died on flights this year have been dogs. A cat, a rat and two birds also died. Figuring out why they perish is difficult for airlines. Reports for three of the five incidents at American Airlines indicate veterinarians couldn't determine the cause of death.
Reports filed by Continental said the cause of death in one case was not clear, and the airline concluded three deaths were "not transit related."
Despite those reports, the Agriculture Department has ongoing investigations into five pet deaths at Continental and three at American, said Jim Rogers, a spokesman at the agency's animal and plant health inspection service.
Airlines reported two dogs died of cardiac failure.
The stress of travel leads some passengers to sedate pets, though pet advocates warn against it because sedation makes it harder for pets to regulate their body temperatures, said Lisa Weisberg, lobbyist for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A dog on a nonstop Continental flight from Newark, N.J., to Portland, Ore., died after its owner sedated the animal.
Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways refuse to transport pets in cargo areas but allow guide dogs in cabins. JetBlue allows up to three animals in a cabin on each flight. US Airways stopped allowing pets to be checked as baggage on Nov. 1.
Passengers have online access to reports of animal injuries and deaths at the U.S. Department of Transportation's Air Travel Consumer Report at http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/reports.
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