Traveling with Pets: Airlines With the Most Dog Deaths

These airlines had more dog deaths and injuries than any other carrier.

ByABC News
July 19, 2010, 2:12 PM

July 21, 2010— -- When Kendra and Travis Parks moved last month from Hawaii to Seattle, they sent their 6-year-old Great Dane Tucker in a custom-made kennel in the cargo hold of a Continental Airlines plane. Unfortunately for Tucker, it wasn't a smooth trip.

When he arrived in Seattle -- after a layover at Continental's Houston hub -- Tucker was covered in vomit, feces, saliva and blood, according to the Parks. He could barely lift his head and didn't respond to any stimuli, the couple said. He was "in such grave condition" that he had to be euthanized a few hours after arriving.

"Our dog was in perfect heath before we left," Kendra Parks told ABC News, adding that their veterinarian checked him out and signed off on the travel a few days before the trip.

When she picked up Tucker in Seattle, "He looked like they dragged him behind the plane," Parks said.

Continental offered to refund the $900 the couple paid to fly Tucker and the cost of euthanizing and cremating the Great Dane. Continental also offered to fly the couple a new puppy from anywhere in the country.

Parks said she just wants the airline to take responsibility, change its policies and stop treating animals "like luggage."

"This dog saw me through everything," she said. "Every day I cry. It breaks my heart every day not to have my dog with me. I wish we had never flown back. I wish we had never left Honolulu. They will never know what they took from me."

Though rare, hundreds of air travelers have experienced the trauma of losing a dog during a flight.

During a four-plus year span from 2005 to 2009, U.S. airlines killed, injured or lost 224 dogs, according to the Department of Transportation.

And just like with arrival times, baggage handling and customer service, some airlines were much better than others at ensuring your pets arrive alive.

Continental led the pack with 58 deaths, injuries or lost pets between May 2005 through December 2009, according to the DOT. It was followed by Delta (including now merged Northwest) with 43 incidents, Alaska Airlines at 36, American Airlines at 33 and United at 17.

The reporting of animal accidents is by no means perfect. Since May 2005, the airlines have been required report when there is a problem, but they don't release data on number of animals transported each month and the government doesn't keep track.

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Presumably, the larger the airline, the more likely is to have incidents of problems transporting pets. But that's not the case.

Delta, the world's largest airline, transports 65.2 million domestic passengers a year and had 43 lost, injured or killed dogs during the DOT survey. Continental, which flies half as many people -- 31.5 million -- had 58 incidents. Then there is US Airways. That airline flies 44 million people a year domestically but only lost, injured or killed three dogs past four-and-a-half years.

Continental said that autopsy results of the 40 dogs that died in flight show that "none of these deaths were transit related." (Another 14 pets were injured and four others lost.)

"Continental has transported approximately 550,000 pets over the past five years," company spokeswoman Christen David said in an e-mail. "Our PetSafe program is regarded as one of the best in the business and we've made a substantial investment to ensure the safety and comfort of animals that we transport."

Continental says it takes pride in its pet program, offering a separate check-in area, air conditioned vans to keep them cool on the way to and from the aircraft and additional training for staff to handle dogs. Several airlines refuse to fly pets in cargo during the hot summer months when they are most susceptible to extreme heat. Continental however doesn't have such a prohibition.

The airline had the most dog incidents of any carrier in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, but after climbing for three years, the number of incidents started to decline in 2008 and continued in 2009, with Continental coming back into line with other carriers.

Ed Perkins, a contributing editor at Smarter Travel and owner of two poodles, said flying is a really traumatic experience for an animal and advises against it.

"It's not a question of how to do it. Just don't do it," Perkins said. "Drive instead or leave the pet at a kennel or with a friend or a sitter."