The latest media darlings of Canadian news, Chinese pandas Da Mao and Er Shun arrived at Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto this week. The adorable duo flew 15 hours aboard a FedEx cargo plane bearing a panda image along its sides, aptly dubbed the Panda Express. The plane was specially outfitted to ensure calm and comfort during the pair’s long flight.
Of course, other animals don’t have this luxury when travelling by plane, which has become a source of contention between protest groups and airlines. Many concerned pet owners and animal rights activists are pressuring carriers to stop treating pets, often considered members of the family, as cargo. Earlier this month, a dog made headlines when, flying as checked baggage, he arrived in Ireland instead of Arizona, much to the upset of his distressed owner. Yesterday, NBC news claimed that over the course of six years, more than 300 animals either died, were injured or went missing when travelling by commercial carriers. Other critics say this number is far greater. NBC also stated that many of these objectionable occurrences are not reported.
These incidents raise eyebrows, and questions, about the treatment of animals as cargo; however millions of pets travel as such every year, and remain unharmed. Typically, animals travel as checked baggage on the same flight as their owners. Depending on the animal’s size, it may be allowed to travel in the cabin. Every airline has its own pet size and weight restrictions, so it is important to check the rules of the carrier one is flying. Air Canada, for example, permits pets and carriers with a combined maximum weight of 10kg to fly in cabins, and those weighing a maximum of 70 kg as checked baggage. Emirates, on the other hand forbids any animals in its passenger cabins, with the exception of falcons (yes, you read that correctly, which goes to underscore how airline’s pet regulations vary.) Some airlines will allow service animals in cabins, or request a veterinarian’s note confirming the animal’s health.
Animal lovers who find it cruel to put Fluffy and Fido in the airplane’s undercarriage might feel reassured by pets being placed in pressurized spaces where temperatures will not reach dangerously freezing or hot. Still, there is the risk of the animal succumbing to stress, escaping, or other factors negatively impacting its welfare.
So while your pet won’t be flying coddled and cared for into Arrivals like a certain pair of pandas, it probably won’t end up in Dublin, like the other four-legged newsmaker. Putting a furry friend in baggage can be a ‘cagey’ matter, giving rise to private and chartered carriers that specialize in animal air travel.
Has your pet ever flown as cargo, if so, what was your/its experience? Conversely, are you opposed to checking animals as baggage? We’d love to hear your opinion.