Is it safe to check-in your animal friend?
If it’s your car, you’re free to take your pet with you on a road trip of your own accord, without much ado, ensuring its comfort at all times. However, when choosing alternative modes of transport, one must understand that even though some airlines and trains allow pets on-board, they weren’t built with them in mind.
Earlier this year in April, the internet was outraged at the demise of Simon, the 90cm (threefoot) giant bunny rabbit. Before boarding the flight, Simon had undergone a thorough check-up and received a healthy chit from his vet. Hence, the “mysterious” death of this animal came as a shock to many. To date the cause of Simon’s death remains unknown.
A couple of months prior to this incident, United Airlines was under the scanner for accidentally killing Janet Sinclair’s six-year old Bengal cat and five-year-old greyhound due to negligence. Sinclair was assured that her pets would be taken care of at all times during the journey from California to Massachusetts, including the layover at Houston.
However, on arriving at her final destination, she was mortified to see both animals’ cages covered in blood, faeces and vomit. The cat didn’t survive the journey, and the dog was critical. Sinclair says she had declined compensation offered by United. Later, she set up a Facebook page — United Airlines Almost Killed My Greyhound. To this day pet parents post their tragic stories there.
ARE AIRLINES SAFE FOR ANIMALS?
United States Department of Transportation (DoT) reported that from the data it collected from American carriers, there have been “26 animal deaths, injuries to 22 other animals, and no lost animals, for a total of 48 incidents” in 2016. It further goes on to state that last year, “5,23,743 animals were transported, for a rate of 0.92 incidents per 10,000 animals transported”. These are for the USA alone. Similar statistics for Indian airlines aren’t available.
Air travel is stressful for animals, and in some cases, it can be dangerous too. Though we may be assured of temperatures in the cargo hold being regulated to suit the animal, there is no way of checking on this. This adds to their discomfort. Animals are confused almost all the time during air travel, especially since they have no clue where their parent is or when they will be united. Moreover, being in a crate doesn’t help the situation either.
“Crate training is not done in India,” says Dr Srilakshmi Amirtheswaran, a dog behaviourist and trainer. “Even if you do crate train your pet, the experience in the house is very different from that in the actual situation. Animals aren’t prepared for the noise and crowd at airports, and air pressure is not something they’re accustomed to.” She adds, air pressure can be a tad bit much for animals to handle, causing respiratory and cardiac problems to name a few.
As for anti-anxiety pills, Amirtheswaran strongly advises against them for the simple reason that if the animal has any physical ailment, airline personnel would not be able to identify it as the animal would be in a drowsy state. She goes on to advise that though it may be wonderful to have your pet accompanying you on trips, it isn’t worth putting the animal through the stress it has to endure during air travel. When it comes to relocating, that’s a risk you must take if rail or road travel isn’t an option.
HOW TO FLY PETS?
Amongst Indian airlines, AirAsia India, GoAir, IndiGo and Vistara don’t allow pets on-board. A spokesperson for IndiGo justifies this rule saying that because of the fluctuating pressure in the cargo hold, it wouldn’t be fair for them to transport pets. The airline also doesn’t think the animals can endure air pressure in its passenger cabin.
AirAsia India and GoAir, however, allow service dogs accompanying people with disabilities in their passenger cabin. They must pay a full adult fare as they will be occupying a seat in the aircraft.
As for Air India, Jet Airways and SpiceJet, they have provisions to fly your pet in the cabin hold, unless: • they’re below eight weeks old • pregnant • have unweaned offspring Pets, except guide/service dogs who accompany the patient in the passenger cabin, are checked in as cargo. Their weight, along with the crate in which they are transported, is calculated within the checkin baggage allowance.
Indian airlines mandatorily follow IATA Live Animal Regulations, which insists that the crate/ cage must be big enough for the animal to sit, stand and turn around in comfortably. Ventilation must be provided on all four sides of the crate.
Attach the feeding and water bowls to the crate’s door and include a pipe with it so authorities can feed your pet without having to open the door. Also, tie an extra feed to the crate with pet-sitting instructions, in case of delays. Make sure the floor pad/mat in the crate is absorbent.
Airlines also need a health certificate and a “fit to fly” certificate from your vet; in case of birds and rabbits, a letter from the wildlife department attesting that it isn’t an endangered species, is important. Most airlines have a list of banned animals and breeds on their website — these aren’t permitted on their aircraft. It is best to check with them before planning your trip.
As for international quarantine procedures for accompanying animals, airlines expect you to do your research on regulations at the departure airport, transfer point (if any), and arrival airport. For example, India doesn’t accept pets on tourist visas. Only if the pet is relocating here, can it enter the country.
In India, only dogs and cats are classified as pets. All other animals such as birds, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals such as rodents and rabbits are considered as cargo when being imported. In such case, owners need to verify that the animal being transported is not protected under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Other countries have similar laws and it is best to check the rules before planning your trip.
Even though you may have all the information on the airlines’ websites, always get in touch with the customer care personnel before booking your ticket to re-confirm: • space availability in the cargo hold • airline’s breed restrictions • crate specifications • costs involved • address for pet check-in • rules and regulations for flying pets Once your tickets have been booked, contact the airline again to upgrade your ticket to one that confirms your pet’s place in the cargo hold. Just so you aren’t rushed, reserve at least 90 minutes before your check-in time to complete your pet’s check-in formalities, and comfort it before the journey.