May 11, 2017.   Pets on a Plane.

RIP Simon, the Giant Rabbit.

The death a couple of weeks ago of Simon the giant rabbit (who knew there was such a thing?), on board a London-to-Chicago United flight, has a lot of people anxious about shipping their pets with the airlines.

How are pets treated below deck? A lot of people are under the impression they are kept in unheated, unpressurized sections of the plane.

Not true. At 35,000 feet the outside temperature is about 60 degrees below zero and there isn’t enough oxygen to breathe. That’s worse than economy, and transporting animals in these conditions would rightfully displease pet owners and animal rights groups. So, yes, the underfloor holds are always pressurized and heated. On most planes there’s a particular zone designated for animals. This tends to be the zone with the warmest and most consistent temperature. Maintaining a steady, comfortable temperature while aloft is relatively easy, but it can be tricky on the ground in hot weather, and for this reason some airlines embargo pets during the summer months.

Of the two million or so animals carried in the United States each year, a small number perish, whether due to stress or mishandling. How well a pet endures the experience depends a good deal on the individual animal’s health and temperament. If your dog or cat (or rabbit or macaw) is elderly, ill, or easily stressed or spooked, perhaps sending him or her through multiple time zones in a noisy and confined space isn’t the smartest idea. My best advice is to consult with a veterinarian.

The flight crew is always told when animals are aboard. Passengers are known to send handwritten notes to the cockpit asking that we take special care, but this isn’t really necessary, and, in any case, there’s not a lot we can do. There’s no access between the main deck and the lower holds, so we can’t carry treats to your friend below.

Someday, maybe, I will share the story about the time I carried a pet hedgehog onto a flight to Cleveland.


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