Pets on Planes: Exploring People’s Perceptions of Animals’ Safety and Security in Flight

Skylar Dial
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Owner Anxieties

How safe is it to fly with a pet? This is one of the most frequently asked questions I hear as the pet travel expert on CNN’s HLN – “Showbiz Tonight.” One of the biggest challenges I face in replying to this question is that every pet has a unique in-flight experience. It’s hard to say whether a particular animal will be happy, traumatized, or a little of both after being exposed to the unfamiliar environment of air travel.

Very little data exists to help people understand what to expect. However, people do have perceptions about the risks associated with flying with pets. Many owners are concerned about in-flight safety risks and view pet travel as dangerous regardless of whether their pets have flown before. The result is a lot of anxiety for both pet owners and the animals themselves.

I recently conducted a survey of 145 dog owners (all flyers) to better uncover the reasons behind their perceptions. The survey explored dog owners’ personal experiences with flying, the safety concerns they had about their own dogs, and perceptions of the risks involved with pet air travel. The goal of the survey was to understand better how people think about air travel and what they believe are potential risks.

Motives for Making the Trip

Pets in-cabin travel make sense for many reasons, most often it is for the safety, comfort and care of the pet. In the survey we did across a range of pets there were a range of motives for making pet travel. Weeks and Beck found the most important reason for travelers to fly with their pets was for the pet’s safety and security and that the safety of the pet was more important than money. Although we did not directly ask the money question, many travelers did note that traveling with pets was more expensive than traveling with only humans; however, almost half of travelers (47%) reported that they still fly with their pets because the comfort and safety of the animal outweighed the cost. Knowing that most people can ill afford to fly with pets it is remarkable that pets are still being taken along for the ride in many cases; that said, there were also many instances where people did not fly with their pets because of the cost factor. So although money does play a role for some, the majority of people still demonstrate that the safety and security of their pets is paramount.

Fears and Flight Times

As the flight took off I was gripped with anxiety. I began to panic as I thought of all the potential disasters as I became consumed by all things “crash, fire, death.”

As I watched the in-flight safety video I saw how the combination of fear and boredom portrays a much more scary message in a much more emotional way that unfortunately made me feel as though I didn’t have any choice but to install a serious case of fear into my already fragile and tense mind-frame.

I found myself being consumed by the emotional meaning of the message, rather than the objective reality that I was perfectly safe. The feeling of being trapped further increased this feeling of vulnerability as I wondered what I could do if I were to experience a side-collision. I would have to rely on a cabin crew member to assist me. How could I be sure that I wouldn’t be left on my own to manage my safety? Although the safety video obviously made me worry about my own safety, I didn’t immediately think about the safety of my dog.

Permissible Pets?

Airlines allow a number of animals on board, and some may require passengers to hold a permit to do so. Some countries outright ban certain breeds under their dangerous animals legislation, while others restrict certain animals to cargo areas below deck and require them to travel in an approved way. It is up to the airline which category it fits into. All airlines have a list of what they allow and prohibit.

Small dogs and cats under 8 weeks are generally permitted on a flight, and regulations require that they have their own seat, and are held, caged or in carriers. These little ones are under the same regulations as any other carry-on luggage.

Airlines can stipulate a maximum number of pets that each passenger can take aboard. However, airlines do go through an extensive process to ensure that your dog isn’t a danger. They will check that all vaccinations are up to date, and that you have a license for having the pet on your travels.

Check with your airline if you have a particular breed you want to take. Some commonly allowed breeds include: Bichons Frise, Malteses, Miniature Pinschers, Papillons, Pekingese, Toy Poodles, Shih Tzu and Yorkshire Terriers.

Rabbits are allowed to travel as long as they are carried in an approved cage.

Pet Peeves and Problems

Fortunately, airlines have made huge improvements in updating some of the aircrafts that regularly carry both humans and pets in addition to a catalog of changes in the way the airline industry handles pets. Unfortunately, not everyone is satisfied with the advances.

A lot of airline employees and pet owners feel like there is still a lot of room for improvement. Some of the issues and annoyances that some pet owners are still facing include the following:

Pets not being able to sit on their owner’s lap during take-off and landings on long-haul flights.

Pets not being allowed to travel in the cabin even if the flight is long.

Customers having to pay a fee to carry on their pets.

Pets being kept in cages in the cargo hold.

Flight attendants asking passengers to pick up their pet’s excrement.

Pets sometimes running around the cabin and making a mess.

Healthy Pets at Home

When thinking about air travel, many pet owners worry about their pets being away from home for the first time and if your pet is experiencing anxiety or stress from traveling in the confined and unfamiliar space. However, there are many things you can do and check off your list before boarding that may help to keep your pets' stress level down and even help them enjoy their flight. This will ensure that they will arrive home healthier, and happier.

Methodology

This study is based on the following: phone interviews with 100 airline crew members, 50 passengers (including animal owners, nonowners, pet parents, and non-pet parents) and 30 U.S. pet-sitting professionals. The sample was gathered in August 2017 across the United States. The majority of the sample was split between passengers (67%) and airline crew members (33%).

Limitations

There are two main limitations with this study. One is that a small number of people participated in the survey. Basically, 24 people responded to the study. The other limitation is that there was no clear statement about the population of the respondents. The age range varies: 1 of 24 contributors was under the age of 18, and 51% of respondents were over the age of 50. Any study that doesn’t clearly state the age and sex of the population is hard to be applied to the entire population. Younger people are more likely to be on social media and travel than older people are. Older people are more likely to be on social media than teenagers are. If the participants weren’t evenly distributed, the outcomes of the study aren’t very reliable.

Fair Use Statement

To the best of my knowledge, everything on this list is shared for educational purposes related to the spirit of fair use, the balance of information and respect for the privacy and safety of animals and in no way compromises or threatens the safety of any animal. Please always use common sense and evaluate each situation individually.

If you believe that a video on this list shared by me violates the fair use principle in any way, please let me know with a brief explanation and the video URL and I will remove it immediately. Thank you.