Airlines Should Have a “Pet Class” on Planes

Cats and dogs are family members, and they don't belong in the cargo hold

I really want to travel by private jet, but not for the reasons you’d think. I’m not after the champagne and shrimp cocktails, no lineups or better treatment—although those things would be awesome. I’d like a private jet so I could travel with my dog on my lap, safe in my arms and not in a cage in a cold, noisy cargo hold. I recently read a story in the newspaper about Snickers, the cat who froze to death in cargo on a Delta flight due to a malfunction in the heating system. When, exactly, is our society going to recognize that pets are not cargo? Pets are family members. Dogs are supposed to be man’s best friend. For thousands of years we’ve been domesticating animals to be our companions and live with and love us, yet we continue to subject those who cannot speak to incredibly inhumane treatment when traveling by air.

[SIGNUP]Several years ago, my parents flew home from visiting me abroad with their dog, whom they frequently brought along. Our collective thinking was that it’s better to have the dog endure a relatively short flight—under three hours—instead of stressing for a couple of weeks in a kennel. This, however, was the first time they were not flying nonstop. On that particular trip they had to change planes in Philadelphia. You can guess what happened next. They arrived at their destination but the dog did not. None of the airline employees could locate the dog. It turned out the entire plane’s cargo had accidentally gone to Pittsburgh, but the dog wasn’t there either. My parents called me in a panic to solicit our help in finding the dog.

For the next three hours, my husband and I worked our landline and cell phones simultaneously, calling everyone on the ground at US Air in Philly—where we did not live at the time—to track down the rather sizable (and usually loud) dog. We were hung up on repeatedly, transferred around and met with a great deal of apathy. Nobody was terribly concerned or even seemed surprised that our dog was lost. Eventually my husband spoke with one rightfully worried female manager who may have been the only animal lover in the building. This woman made it her mission to find our dog, and after we sat crossing our fingers for half an hour, she succeeded.

We were among the lucky ones, if you can call it that. After being crated for 12 hours, the dog finally arrived at its destination. He was wild-eyed, freaked out and desperate to pee, but otherwise safe and sound. During our search, when we spoke to ground crew and baggage people at US Air, a couple of them assured us that if he was somewhere in their airport the dog would be cared for, watered and maybe even walked. They actually wanted us to believe that in spite of the fact that they didn’t know where he was, someone was apparently going to take care of him. Yeah, right. That poor dog hadn’t been cared for since we put him in his crate at the airport before the first leg, half a day earlier.

In the years since, I’ve read and heard horror stories about pets who have died, gotten out of their crates and been injured, escaped on tarmacs, short-circuited aircraft wiring by chewing and chewing through the cargo walls or were just lost forever by airlines. Can you imagine the uproar if they did this with people? Why do we, the traveling pet owners of the world, tolerate this? And why has nobody come up with a better solution? Yes, there is a pet airline, but their routes and timetables don’t necessarily correspond to the destinations of travelers. I propose a “Pet Class” on commercial airlines. It could be a business-class-like section of the plane that has secure space for our pets’ crates. I bet a lot of pet-owning travelers would pay through the nose for it too. We could carry them on, talk to them during the flight, keep an eye on them, water them if we’re stuck on the tarmac for hours, and have the peace of mind that they aren’t scared, freezing, being banged around or missing. Further, I submit that we be given the option of putting our children in cargo.

Of course if the airline does lose or kill your pet, at least we can rest easy knowing they’ll really step up and do their utmost to soothe and comfort you. Snickers’s lucky owner got a flight refund and a whopping $50 voucher. Yeah, that’s about what my family members are worth.