It’s time for pets to stop flying. There, I said it: Let’s ground Fido and Fluffy for good.
There have been too many animal incidents on aircraft this summer, including the Delta Air Lines passenger who lost her dog while traveling from Santo Domingo to San Francisco last week. The airline is still searching for the pooch after it escaped from its kennel.
Leaving your pet at home while you take a vacation makes sense not only for your dog or cat but also for you. Most pets don’t handle air travel well and many passengers are clueless about how to fly with their animal companions.
I realize this might offend the 66% of readers who own a pet, but hear me out.
It’s been a difficult year for flying pets
We’ve crossed a line, folks. You don’t have to read all those viral stories about entitled pet owners getting kicked off flights or abandoning their dogs at the airport to know the situation is so out of control.
Planes are torture chambers for dogs and cats. Being confined to a kennel for hours, enduring engine noise and air pressure changes, stresses out your fur babies.
Sometimes, it ends tragically. The Department of Transportation reported that domestic airlines transported 188,223 animals last year, of which seven died. That’s seven completely preventable deaths.
Passengers are also affected. Just board a flight with an allergy or try to get a little sleep on a plane with a barking dog under the seat next to you, and you’ll know what I mean.
Stuck on a flight with a howling cat
Dave Dzurick has been there. On a recent flight from Boston to Phoenix, he and his wife had to endure a howling cat trapped in a carrying case under a passenger’s seat.
“Many people complained to the flight attendants,” says Dzurick, a retired broadcast engineer from Tucson, Ariz. “But there was little they could do.”
Dzurick says the cat should have stayed on the ground. He’s right, of course. Hissing kitties don’t belong on a commercial flight.
But in the meantime, Dzurick’s wife found a temporary solution: She removed her hearing aid.
If squeezing a cat into a small plastic box so you can have a vacation with it isn’t the textbook definition of animal cruelty, then I don’t know what is.
Travel can be a ‘nightmare’ for your pet
Experts say Dzurick’s experience is not unusual.
“Traveling with your pet seems like a dream come true,” says Sabrina Kong, a veterinarian and contributor to the site WeLoveDoodles. “But often, it’s more of a human dream — and a pet nightmare.”
She says dogs and cats are creatures of habit, and travel disrupts their routines. Many pets are not fit to fly. They’re either too big, too old or ill-tempered. Adding to the stress: Many destinations don’t welcome pets, limiting where you can take them.
Kong isn’t the only expert who recommends that animals stay home. Blythe Neer, a professional dog trainer, says many dogs are terrified to fly in cargo and have to be sedated. And some small dogs who can fit underneath a seat are traumatized by the experience.
“If you are flying by plane and your dog has any kind of anxiety in a car or in new or crowded places, I encourage you to leave them home,” she adds. “No vacation is fun when you are having a panic attack.”
It’s no vacation if you’re a pet owner, too
The problem isn’t only pets. It’s pet owners.
Responsible pet travel requires extra work. You have to ensure you have the correct carrying case for your dog or cat. Your pet must have the required vaccinations, be wearing a collar with their name and your contact information, and be microchipped. And then there’s researching your destination to make sure your lodging is pet-friendly, your mode of transportation will accommodate your pet, and the restaurants and attractions you plan to visit are OK with animals.
Unfortunately, pet owners often fail to do their homework. Even if their pets survive the flight without incident, the cat moms and dads abandon their animal companions in their hotel rooms while they go to the beach or out for dinner. That irritates their animal companion even more, setting everyone up for an unbearable return flight.
“If you want to unplug from daily responsibilities, it’s best that your dog stays home,” advises Bradley Phifer, executive director of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.
By the way, dropping off a dog in your hotel room isn’t just bad for your pet. It can also get you into trouble with the hotel, which has strict rules about leaving a pet alone. Or it can get you arrested, as it did for a Pennsylvania man who allegedly left a puppy in a hotel room.
OK, some animals should fly with you
No one is advocating a total ban on traveling with animals. Service dogs are essential for passengers with disabilities, and they’re trained to handle the rigors of flying. (The Department of Transportation recently tightened its rules on service animals, which all but put an end to the problem of fake therapy animals.) I might also grant a waiver for pet owners relocating overseas.
And yes, there are some pet owners who have well-behaved dogs or cats who can share a vacation with them. But it’s usually a less anxiety-inducing driving vacation, where you can make frequent stops for a bathroom break.
They are dogs like Pepper, who belongs to Cheri Honnas, a veterinarian who is an advisor to Bone Voyage Dog Rescue. Before she travels with her pup, she conducts extensive research on her destination, making sure she plans enough rest stops and that their accommodations are dog-friendly. She packs a special bag for Pepper, which includes food, water bowls, regular medications, flea and tick preventives, a litter bag, leash, collar, bedding, and grooming supplies.
“So, is it a ‘yes’ to Fido and Fluffy joining the family vacation?” she asks. “That’s a decision best made considering your pet’s unique needs and personality.”
I’ll tell you what that is — it’s a “yes” to a lot of preparation and work. It’s the kind of work few people care to do before their vacation, unfortunately.
Let’s make it easy: add your pet to the ‘no fly’ list
Maybe it’s best to leave your pet at home.
I know, I know. It’s not a popular opinion. More than half of Americans (55%) say they plan to travel with their pet, according to a survey conducted by Hilton in 2022. An astonishing 58% would prefer to travel with their pet rather than a friend or family member. And a new poll this summer by transportation company KinectAir suggests that 78% of Americans would fly their animals on a private plane, if they could.
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But passengers like Dzurick, the retired engineer from Tucson, say enough is enough.
“I’m in that old-fashioned camp that was raised to know that dogs and cats were pets, not mini-humans or substitute children,” he told me. “I fail to understand why people think they must take them everywhere they go, anytime they go.”
He makes a good point. You might be OK with taking your fur baby on a weekend driving vacation, but please — no planes. Pets are not people. I have never heard a dog or cat ask to fly, and I’m betting neither have you. In fact, if your dog could talk, he’d probably ask to stay home.
Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate, and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and the Elliott Report, a news site about customer service. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can reach him here or email him at [email protected].