Pets in Cabin or Cargo?


We are constantly talking with customers about the pros and cons of shipping live animals in the 'belly of the plane' or 'with them in the passenger cabin'.

The best way to describe these two options is to think of yourself as your pet inside of their crate and going through the different experiences they will have. The best option for you is to have your dog right next to you enjoying the pretzels and water the nice stewardess gives to you. This allows you to be less stressful, knowing that your pet is next to you and you feel that they too, are happy to be along side of you.

The truth to this, is that they are not sitting right next to you and until they get into the plane itself - their entire experience before that is filled with added stimuli and stress that is not something they signed up for. From the moment you leave the house, your pets can feel your anxiety and stress of the travel day ahead. They not only feel your emotions, but as you start the airport experience - they now get to watch you go through the madness of long lines, loud noises, security checks, unruly passengers, food smells, etc...

Once you make it to the plane, your pet has to be stuffed in a carrier that is 7" high -- and stay there for the duration of the flight. Even worse, she gets to hear you, see you, smell you -- not to mention the food -- but can't be "with" you. Even worse, once you show up to check in for this flight you may soon realize that you have to be bumped from your flight as someone on the plane is allergic to animals. Since, strict airline regulations prohibit you from taking your pet out of the carrier while on the aircraft, it is always best to rethink this strategy and to focus on what is best for you pets.

To us, what is best, is to have your pet crate trained and comfortable in their crate or what we like to call their 'traveling room'. Once an animal is crate trained, they are happy to be in their safe and secure environment. Many times, it is the surrounding conditions of the crate that can add the stress to their trip. This is why companies like ours work with airlines on keeping these experiences as stress free as possible.

If you think about it from this pet's perspective, as they rest in the 'cargo' area of the plane inside of their secure 'traveling room', they do not know they are flying in a plane. To them, they are being placed into a special area that may shake a bit on take off and landing - but other than that, the pets are simply waiting for that individual who put them there, to come and open that door so they can enjoy their new location. Little do they know, that its not the same location they left from!

The air in the cargo holds and in the passenger cabin is the same. In fact, an airline will not accept a pet that has fouled its carrier for just that reason -- they don't want passengers complaining about the odor as the air circulates through the cabin.

When working with the right airlines, all of these cargo holds are insulated, climate controlled, pressurized and they even have slightly dimmed lights. This allows the animal to travel in comfort, just as we do sitting above in the cabin. As they fly in this special area, they get to stretch out and enjoy a long nap...waiting for that person to come and open up the door to their room.

Most, or almost all, of the stress a pet will experience when flying the cargo route - is the waiting period on the tarmac before/after its flight. Since pets are last to be loaded & first to be removed, many airlines will send all the 'cargo' to the plane at once. As the pet waits its turn to be loaded/unloaded, it must sit on the tarmac until its their turn.

It is this wait, that can cause the most stress to a pet. When working with pet shipping companies like ours, PetRelocation, we work with the airlines on loading/unloading the pets separately from the rest of the cargo. This basically means that the pets will never sit on the tarmac, as the airlines will shuttle them to/from the plane when its time for them to load/unload - rather than sending them with the general cargo.

All in all, it makes for one stress free journey for the pet!

This takes me to this recent press release from Air Canada - who will soon ban all pets in the cabin of their flights or checked in as 'excess baggage'. This is because they want to direct all live animal traffic to the 'cargo' handlers who are used to caring for these pets. Not just an airline worker who is hired to check in the Human, not the pet. Leave it to the professionals who are hired and trained to care for your pet - not just a worker paid to reserve your seats.

Jun 22, 2007 04:30 AM
Tim Lai
Staff Reporter

Canada's no-fly list just got a bit furrier.

Air Canada announced yesterday that as of July 15, it will no longer accept pets as checked luggage for domestic flights and, pending approval from the Canadian Transportation Agency, for U.S. and international ones as well. However, pets can still travel through its cargo division via its AC Live Product service.

Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said all previous bookings will be honored.

The policy change comes as a result of record load factors about 80 per cent ֖ in the past three years and a need for more space for luggage, he said.

"The security requirements around the liquid and gel ban have led to an increase in checked bags we have to carry," he said. "When you have an animal in the hold, that restricts the amount of luggage you can put in a plane because you've got to leave room around the animal's cage for air and ventilation. It comes down to carrying bags for the vast majority of our customers or carrying pets for a small number of our passengers."

Fitzpatrick said he didn't have specific numbers on how many pets collect frequent flyer miles a year, but added "not a lot of people do it."

It's the second major pet policy change in a year for the Montreal-based company. Last September, Air Canada discontinued allowing pets in the cabin, due to allergy concerns. However, certified service animals, such as guide dogs, will still be allowed on board free.

Before this policy change, Air Canada charged $105 per animal for a one-way domestic flight and $245 for an international flight. A price estimate given yesterday for a medium-sized dog to fly one-way as cargo from Toronto to Vancouver was quoted at $202.

Fitzpatrick said this pet policy isn't unusual within the airline industry. Major international carriers such as British Airways and Cathay Pacific don't allow pets in either the cabin or the luggage compartments, but they can travel with their cargo divisions. Most big major American airlines, with the exception of Southwest Airlines, allow pets on board at least as checked luggage.

Canada's other major carrier, WestJet, has no plans to change its "pet-oriented" policies that allow pets in the cabin and as checked luggage, except during specific embargoed periods such as Christmas. The Calgary-based company may also restrict pets as checked luggage during hot or freezing periods so the animal won't be harmed waiting on the tarmac.

More than 22,000 pets have flown on WestJet planes this year at a cost of $50 each way, said WestJet spokesperson Gillian Bentley.

Gay O'Brien, president of Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association, a worldwide organization, said the pet transportation industry is booming.

Check out the PetRelocation Blog for the most up-to-date information about safe pet shipping options.

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