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Cat's out of the bag on pet risk on planes
Scripps Howard News Service


July 12, 2005

After arriving in Atlanta on a Frontier Airlines flight from Denver, Mr. Baby accidentally was placed on a baggage conveyor belt instead of being carried to the main terminal.

The result: a scratched nose, broken nails and "emotional trauma."

But Denver-based Frontier - known for the animal images that adorn its planes - smoothed over the situation, agreeing to pay for related medical expenses and disciplining the employee who made the mistake.

Mr. Baby, a Cornish rex cat, is one of 10 animals that were injured, killed or even lost on U.S. airlines in May, according to a new monthly government report that tracks such data for the first time and shows that most pet travel is relatively safe.

Six airlines reported incidents during the month, totaling four deaths, five injuries and one loss. Two of the incidents - both injuries - were blamed on the airline. The others were pegged on inadequate kennels, natural causes and, in one case, an attack by another animal.

It's the first report detailing animal injuries and deaths since Congress passed a law several years ago requiring carriers to report such information. The U.S. Department of Transportation will release reports monthly at

The data provide a glimpse into how airlines handle animal incidents and offer consumers a resource to help decide which airlines to fly with their pets.

"The reports essentially give pet owners information they can use to decide how to and whether to travel with animals," said Bill Mosely, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The DOT says roughly 2 million animals fly aboard commercial flights each year, but there are no hard numbers on how many die, are injured or lost. Some outside groups have estimated there are 5,000 incidents or more a year. At May's rate, though, the totals would be much lower.

Most airlines allow travelers to bring aboard and stow small pets under seats as long as the animals are in kennels. Larger pets, though, must travel in the plane's belly, making them susceptible to injuries from shifting cargo and extreme temperatures.

Kennels and pets also are screened by security, increasing the chance of problems. Checking or bringing aboard a pet can cost $100 or more each way, depending on the size of the kennel.

Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Barbara Listenik campaigned for the federal reporting requirement after her dog was injured when its cage smashed open during an airline flight a decade ago. The dog escaped from its kennel upon landing, running around the tarmac at New York's LaGuardia Airport and disappearing into the city for more than six weeks before he was found.

At the time, airlines treated animals "like luggage," Listenik said.

"I walked up to a broken, bloody crate, and they told me to fill out a baggage claim form," Listenik said. "I was completely flabbergasted by that. So I wrote a bill that said animal deaths and injuries should be reported to the public so people know which airline has the best record for flying animals."

May's report shows that many different factors lead to animal deaths and injuries. Several pets were injured by their own doings. A Shar-Pei named Dottie, for example, chewed through the metal and plastic of her kennel during a Comair flight from Cincinnati to Indianapolis, tearing loose nails on her front paw.

Mr. Baby's injuries were caused by poor judgment on the part of a Frontier employee, a report by the airline said.

"We make every possible effort to follow our procedures for transporting pets to a T," said Frontier spokesman Andrew Hudson. "We recognize and take very seriously our responsibility to make sure they are secured."


Contact Chris Walsh of the Rocky Mountain News at

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