35 Pets Died On Airplanes Last Year, Over Half On Delta

Animal lovers were justifiably critical of Delta Airlines after sixteen pets died in 2010 during or after flights in the cargo hold. But even after banning frequently-overheating short-muzzled breeds like bulldogs from the skies, nineteen pets passed away during or shortly after Delta flights in 2011. That’s out of a total of 35 pets that died on U.S. carriers last year. In addition, nine pets sustained major or minor injuries, and two were lost.

One of those lost pets, the famous Jack, was later found in the terminal, and died from the effects of severe malnutrition and dehydration.

I read through reports for American and Delta, and most of the deaths were, at least according to necropsies, the result of travel-related stress triggering pre-existing heart or circulatory conditions. Some had no clear cause, and many pet owners refused necropsies.

Here, for example, are reports on the deaths of two guinea pigs during an international Delta flight:

Two Guinea Pigs died during transportation from Frankfurt Germany to Atlanta Georgia. The condition of the pets was discovered by the unloading agent and the passenger was notified. The temperature at Frankfurt was 50 and 70 in Atlanta. No reports of issues with systems that could affect cargo hold temperatures.

Cause of Incident:
Necropsies were completed. The first pet, Arthur had microscopic changes in the heart which were likely associated with the cause of death. The change in temperature, environment and stress could have decreased the ability to compensate for the heart disease and/or could have triggered an arrhythmia.

The second pet, Tuck also had changes noted in the heart that likely contributed to death. The stressful conditions probably decreased the compensatory mechanisms or triggered an arrhythmia and he had subsequent heart failure with pulmonary congestion and edema.

One injury report from Delta that caught my eye because it sounds like something my own dog would do:

Pet chewed on and attempted to swallow zip ties used to secure the kennel door. Material lodged between teeth, damaging gums and partially lodged in the throat. Dog was transported by the owner to a vet to be anesthetized and the zip tie end removed.

A Delta representative pointed out to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the huge proportion of pet deaths that occurs on its flights isn’t because of carelessness or incompetence; it’s because a large portion of the half-million pets that fly every year do so on Delta. Other carriers don’t carry pets in cargo. “The loss of any pet is unacceptable to us. We are working to improve the processes and procedures to ensure that every pet arrives safely at its destination,” Delta spokesman Anthony Black told the paper.

More pets died on Delta than any other airline [Atlanta Journal-Constitution] (via Gawker – thanks, Ryan!)
Air Travel Consumer Reports for 2012 [DOT]

Jack The Cat Has Died
Delta Bans Bulldogs After Increase In Dog Deaths
Kitten Freezes To Death After Delta Flight, Owner Offered Free Trip And $50
Dog That Escaped From Delta Flight Found Dead


Edit Your Comment

  1. bhr says:

    This seems like a non-story. I am willing to bed more than 35 people died on or soon after flights last year as well.

  2. umbriago says:

    35 out of 500,000? 0.007%? You call that bad?

    Hey if it were my cats – Fluffy and Uranus – I’d feel horrible. But all in all, that’s pretty impressive.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Well, that depends on the rate of animal fatalities on other modes of transportation. If other modes have a 0.0001% fatality rate, then Delta’s is impressive…impressively high.

      Context…it’s not a jailhouse publishing firm.

      • Blaze the Blazer says:

        It may be high compared to fatality with other modes of transportation, but in real life (clinical significance) – it is a very small number, assuming the denominator the original commentor used is correct. Further, assuming that the statistic given by Delta is correct in the original article (less than 0.2% of animals that fly Delta are injured or die in flight), that’s still a pretty small number.

        Not that I’m advocating flying pets (much less flying them with Delta), just a little interpretation. :)

    • Cat says:

      Uranus… Fluffy…

      There’s a tasteless joke here somewhere, but my brain is failing me.

    • Ivory Bill says:

      Duckman ref +1

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      And hey, if only every 35 of every 500,000 people die in airflight every year, that’s okay, too!

    • Tardis78 says:

      Props to you for the Duckman reference.

  3. Admiral_John says:

    This is why if I ever have to move my pets cross-country I’ll drive them… we did this when I was a kid and our vet prescribed us “doggie Valium” to keep our dog calm on the drive and there were no issues with her at all.

    • PHRoG says:

      Same thing has human valium…made by the same company too. ;)

    • KillerBee says:

      Here’s a consumer tip… use Children’s Benadryl instead. It’s perfectly safe, probably cheaper than the valium, and you don’t need a vet appointment to get it.

      • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

        Incredibly bad advice. The side effects could kill a pet. ALWAYS check with your vet before giving your pet ANY unprescribed medication especially medication normally used by humans.

        No joke.

        • JennQPublic says:

          I checked with my vet when a dog in my care was having an allergic reaction, and was advised to give it Children’s Benadryl. So you can relax with the “Oh noes, people medicines!”

          But do double-check dosing information with your vet.

    • TinaBringMeTheAx says:

      I drove nearly cross-country (NYC to Las Vegas and back) with my dog about 13 years ago, and we both had a great time.

      And only one of us used any drugs to enhance the experience.

  4. banndndc says:

    That’s a disturbing statistic. Does Delta fly multiple magnitudes more pets than other airlines? Are their procedures severely flawed? Or is Atlanta a death trap for the four legged?

    19 out of the 35 pets that died on airplanes last year flew Delta. 5 out of 9 injured flew Delta. But surprisingly neither of the 2 lost pets flew Delta, so there is some good news.

    Egads, they killed 3 bulldogs by March last year so they decided to ban bulldogs as their corrective action.

    • Cat says:

      To be fair, bulldogs and pugs have been bred to the point that they have serious congenital defects that cause respiratory problems.

      Thanks, dog (in) breeders.
      1700’s bulldog:
      Modern bulldog:

      • Kaleey says:

        The respiratory problems of snub-nosed breeds generally shorten their lifespan, too. I keep a close eye on my puglet in the summer – and she’s black, and she loves to play outside, which compounds the problem.

        She’s the center of my universe, but I won’t be flying her anywhere. The pressure changes hurt MY sinuses and I usually get a cold when I fly – heaven help my little dog.

        If I have to relocate across country, she’s driving with me – she likes to look out the windows anyway. And if I have to relocate to Europe, I’m finding a pet-friendly cruise line. Or she’d go to a family member, perish the thought. I’ll do anything short of illegal to not subject my Dot to an airplane ride – especially if the airline would dare classify my living, breathing, loving, cuddly little Dot as “cargo”.

      • caradrake says:

        Honestly I can’t really see any differences between those two pics. The latter being a frontal picture makes it hard to compare. They both seem to have more rounded, flat faces. The coloring is similar.

        What all has changed in the breed? I know things must have been bred into/out of the species… I’m just not that knowledgeable about what.

  5. Cat says:

    HAMSTERS? Someone paid more than the price of two hamsters to fly them internationally on delta? WTF.

    Couldn’t they be put under the seat… or, you know, just given away (even to a pet store or something?) and buy new ones when you land? They’re rodents…

    • Don't Bother says:

      Having them travel under the seat–that’s what I was thinking too. They let little dogs do that all the time.

    • Laura Northrup says:

      Guinea pigs. Hamsters, you can cram under the seat, but guinea pigs are a few pounds each.

      • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

        You could vacuum-pack them.

        • Laura Northrup says:

          Years ago I had the weirdest dream where in my pantry was a box of vacuum-packed hamsters. In the dream, my hamster died, so I went to the pantry, unwrapped a new hamster, and put it in the cage.

          It made no sense at all.

    • poetcodemonkey says:

      Those were actually my guinea pigs. When you’re a military member, sometimes relocation happens that you don’t expect, and when pets are a member of the family, you do what you have to do. I was stunned that my guinea pigs were included in this report. And you know what? It sucked to arrive in Atlanta to be paged on the intercom, only to be greeted by a cage and two beloved, albeit dead pets. Again, you do what you have to do, and you don’t expect that to be the outcome.

    • George4478 says:

      I smuggle mine in peanut butter jars.

  6. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    The zip tie incident was unnecessary (it’s not uncommon for dogs to chew them). It’s time for airlines to rethink methods for fastening the doors on live animal carriers.

    Guinea pigs migrated to America? I class this at about the same as traveling with goldfish. Too bad you can’t flush them down the thing. Or can you?

  7. PHRoG says:

    Those kitteh’s eyes are staring into my soul, screaming…

  8. MrEvil says:

    In b4 someone says the cargo compartment isn’t pressurized…

    FYI, the cargo compartment on passenger airliners IS pressurized just like the passenger compartment, however ventilation may be poorer in the cargo compartment.

  9. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Half of all pet deaths during airline travel was because of Delta.

    That’s a great statistical someone else can latch onto. Competing airlines? PETA?

    Someone could at least improve Delta’s pet handling, and then DELTA could tote being the best, causing other airlines to improve.

    Chain of event where everyone wins.

    /crosses fingers

  10. Dallas_shopper says:

    I’ve commented about this before, but when I moved back to the US from the UK I imported my cats on British Airways through a company called Airpets based at Heathrow in London. They were magic…they took care of everything and the cats came through without a scratch. It was literally the easiest part of the move. All I had to do was sign some forms with US Customs and British Airways Cargo handed them over. Easy peasy. The drive to the airport took longer than the business of getting the cats through customs.

    Flying pets in cargo isn’t ideal, but there’s really no other way to get them to the US from Europe.

  11. CubeRat says:

    For those that cannot bring the pet in with you to the cabin, I can only reccommend that you use travel methods of 100 years ago; ie train or ship….or car if possible.

    While I agree with others that have commented on the very low numbers of injuries/death, it isn’t a comfort if it’s your pet.

  12. January says:

    According to Delta: ” Other carriers don’t carry pets in cargo” Oh that is bullshit. I assist in animal transport in and out of the United States (rescue animals). I have picked up and dropped off dogs and cats with Continental/United, all traveling cargo.

  13. poetcodemonkey says:

    Also, guinea pigs CANNOT be flown as in-cabin carry ons. Neither can rabbits or other similar creatures…should they get out of the cage they can cause severe damage to the wiring in the aircraft. In fact, only a few airlines will even carry them as cargo.

  14. SteveHolt says:

    Stop putting animals in the CARGO hold. They are not CARGO. Let them stay in the cabin with someone they recognize, preferably whilst on some sort of drug, so they don’t stress themselves to death.

    Lets put people in the cargo hold and see how quickly we stop putting pets down there.

  15. dootsie says:

    I don’t want to blame victims or make anyone feel bad about having chosen air travel for their pets, but I really hope that this encourages more people to find alternative options. We love our pets, but transporting them on planes is risky. I guess it’s something you don’t even THINK about, but airlines do well to take care of the humans and baggage they transport. A lot of animals aren’t tolerant to the kind of stress they’re put through during flying. If you’re moving and you can’t transport your pet by ground on your own, I at least encourage you to consider finding your pet a new home.

  16. shthar says:

    Can we get the breakdown for how many people died on each airline?