Flying with your pet: Tips to help keep your animal safe on a plane
United Airlines is under fire after a dog died during a flight on Monday when a flight attendant ordered its owner to put the bag containing the animal in the plane’s overhead bin.
The French bulldog died during the flight.
In a statement, United Airlines said it assumes “full responsibility for this tragedy,” and is investigating as “pets should never be placed in the overhead bin.”
In the wake of this tragedy, many pet owners may be left wondering how safe it is to fly with their pet. If you are heading on a plane with your dog or cat in the near future, here are some tips on how to help keep your furry friend safe.
WATCH: Outrage over death of dog on United Airlines ordered to be placed in overhead bin
Pets should never go in the overhead bin
First and foremost, a pet should never be stored in the overhead bin, according to Dr. Patricia Alderson, chair of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Committee.
“It’s no place for an animal up there,” she said. “There is not a lot of ventilation in the overhead bin. And when it’s closed it can have very poor air circulation. And with luggage shifting around something could fall over and hurt it.”
She said some short-nose breeds, such as the French bulldog who died on the United Airlines flight, are more susceptible to high temperature and poor ventilation.
“The best place for a pet is under the seat in the cabin with the owner,” Alderson said.
Visit your veterinarian before the flight
A trip to the veterinarian prior to pet air travel is imperative, according to Brandon James, an inspector with the Ontario SPCA.Vets have information on which vaccines pets need in different countries so they won’t be turned away at customs.
They can also advise on whether animals are healthy enough to travel, and offer specific tips for each pet.
WATCH: Tips for travelling with a pet
Check with the airline
Airlines have restrictions on flying with animals, based on many factors (type, size, how many pets, allergies of people on board, etc.) It’s always a good idea to phone your airline ahead of time to get clear instructions when flying with your pet.
Some animals pose a health risk to people with allergies, so the Canadian Transportation Agency, “needs to balance pet transportation within the airline industry with the health and welfare of pet and passenger,” according to Canadian Veterinarian Medical Association.
This means airlines will only allow a certain amount of animals in the cabin.
“The CVMA encourages pet owners to research and familiarize themselves with the pet transportation policy of the airline carrier so they can determine how it may impact their travel plans and the health and welfare of their pet(s),” the organization stated on its website.
Some pets may be allowed in the cabin. Airlines have size restrictions on the pet carrier (which can be a soft or hard shell), so always phone in advance and check.
“You should preferably have a hard body carrier as collapsable ones can bend and sometimes pets can get injured,” Alderson said. “Although hard body cases are not squishable, so it’s harder to get the animal under the seat.”
Alderson also recommends prepping your animal with the pet carrier before the flight. For example, make the carrier a happy place by putting a treat, a favourite blanket or toy in it.
“It can easily become a happy place for them,” she said.
Depending on whom you are flying with, each airline has a different policy. For example, Air Canada allows you to fly with one cat or small dog in the cabin, so long as it remains in a closed size-approved pet carrier and can be stowed under your seat.
West Jet also has size restrictions for the pet carrier on a cabin, saying the cat, dog or rabbit must have room to stand, sit and move naturally in their kennel.
Porter Airlines specifically states pets are not permitted in the baggage hold of any flight. And Air Transat accepts only dog and cats in the checked baggage area and not in the cabin.
Although it may be unavoidable, Alderson recommends always flying with your pet in the plane’s cabin and under the seat, as it’s nice and ventilated and the pet is visible.
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Pets flying in checked baggage area
If you do have to check your animal in the baggage area under the cabin, make sure your pet is healthy, Alderson said.
“Do not take easily stressed animals, like rabbits there, as they may not do well in that situation,” she said.
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She also recommends not using sedatives, as the animal may not be able to regulate its body temperature and it could suppress breathing.
“If they do need sedation, try it out before the flight so you know how they react to it,” she added.
— With files Global News’ Maham Abedi
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