The Best and Worst U.S. Airlines To Fly with Your Pet [Data-Study]

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When flying with your pet, you want to make sure you’re flying on a carrier that not only cares about you but also your pet.  A good place to start is the airline’s track record.

Here’s a breakdown of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) report of animal incidents for 2018 (the most recent data that’s available) detailing what airlines were best to fly when traveling with a pet.

Animal Incidents in 2018

More animals died on Delta Air Lines in 2018 than any other airline, total of 4, according to the recently-released February 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report by the DOT. There were 3 other airlines with reported deaths: Hawaiian Airlines with 3 deaths, United Airlines with 2 deaths, and American Airlines with 1 death.

Overall though, Hawaiian Airlines was the air carrier that experienced the most incidents per 10,000 animals transported. Hawaiian’s incident rate was over 3 times higher than any other carrier in 2018.

Main Takeaways

For United Airlines, there was a 27% drop in pets transported between 2017 and 2018. Pet owners chose not to fly on United in 2018 and instead transported their animals with other airlines such as Alaska Airlines and Delta. Additionally, while over 400,000 animals traveled via air in 2018, the overall number of animals transported went down 16% between 2017 and 2018.

This could certainly be due to the number of incidents that United experienced in 2017. At the very least, passengers appear to be more comfortable transporting their pets with carriers other than United.

Where We Got Our Data

The DOT report provides airline statistics including flight delays, mishandled baggage, and disability and discrimination complaints. It also includes injuries to and losses of any animal transported by an airline. These reports are submitted monthly and reported on a rolling calendar year.

Bottom Line: Only animals that are considered pets are included in this report. Animals shipped by cargo like laboratory animals and animals on their way to sanctuaries aren’t included. Some airlines won’t fly pets in cargo, and are therefore not included in this report.

Pets Transported by Major Carriers

In the graphic below, you can see the number of pets transported by the major carriers in 2017 and 2018.

Animal Incidents by Year 2017 & 2018

You can see a significant drop in animals transported on United between 2017 and 2018. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines all saw a significant increase in animals transported from 2017 to 2018.

While other carriers are seeing an increase in pet transports, owners overall seem to feel more comfortable leaving their pets at home in 2018 as there was a decrease of 82,373 (or 16%) in total animals transported transported between 2017 and 2018.

Carriers with the Highest Rate of Incidents

Now that you know how airlines stack up in terms of total animals transported, here are the carriers that had incidents involving pets during 2017 and 2018.

Air Carriers with Pet Injuries by Year

Note that carriers that experienced zero incidents in both 2017 and 2018 are not included in this graph.

Incident Rates by Carrier

Incident rate is important as it directly addresses how many incidents air carriers experience by the number of pets they transport. For example, an air carrier that transports 100 pets, but experiences 1 injury/death would have a 1% incident rate.

Here is a look at the incident rates of these carriers from worst to best:

1. Hawaiian Airlines – .03% Incident Rate

There were 3 animal deaths, with only 9,505 animals being transported. This resulted in an incident rate of .03% overall making Hawaiian the carrier with the highest incident rate in 2018.

2. Delta Air Lines – .009% Incident Rate

During 2018, there were 4 deaths and 3 injuries reported during transport. For every 10,000 animals transported, there were .93 incidents noted – the second highest among U.S. carriers in 2018. In one of these instances, a Pomeranian died during a layover while it remained in cargo.

3. United Airlines – .006% Incident Rate

Of the notable headlines, a United flight attendant forced a French Bulldog puppy into an overhead bin and it unfortunately died as a result. The next day, a German Shepard was mistakenly sent to Japan instead of Kansas. This dog luckily experienced no injuries, but the reputation of the airline was further damaged because of this mix up.

4. American Airlines – .003% Incident Rate

American Airlines experienced 1 death and 1 injury of animals on board, but the incident rate remains relatively low at .33. This was also an improvement over 2017’s .87 incidents per 10,000 animals transported. In 2018, American transported 61,040 pets with 2 incidents resulting in an incident rate of .003%.

5. SkyWest Airlines – .003% Incident Rate

In 2018, SkyWest transported 32,515 animals or 8% of all animals transported. This was actually down from 2017 when they transported 46,392 animals. There was 1 injury reported, bringing the total incidents per 10,000 animals transported to .31 and an overall incident rate of .003%.

6. Alaska Airlines

While Alaska Airlines did experience 1 injury, the airline also transported 34%, or 143,634, of all animals in 2018. This makes the carrier’s incident per 10,000 animals flown only .07 or a .0006% overall incident rate. Of the airlines with a larger network, Alaska Airlines has the best track record in both 2017 and 2018.

7. Regional Airlines

All of the below airlines combined made up 14% of all the animals transported in 2018, and all had zero incidents:

  • CommutAir
  • Compass Airline
  • Endeavor Air
  • Envoy Air
  • ExpressJet Airlines
  • GoJet Airlines
  • Horizon Air
  • Mesa Airlines
  • Republic Airways
  • Sun Country Airlines

Bottom Line: Animal deaths or injuries that occur on board don’t always mean that the airline was negligent. Animals could have underlying health issues or be predisposed to issues when flying.

Best Options for Flying with a Pet

If the airline allows it, the Humane Society recommends your pet flying with you in the main cabin and not in cargo. The Humane Society is also currently lobbying against pets being held in an overhead bin due to recent issues.

“If transporting your pet by air is the only option, find out whether they can travel in the cabin with you. Most airlines will allow you to take a cat or small dog in the cabin for an additional fee,” the organization explains on its website. “But you must call the airline well in advance; there are limits to the number of animals allowed in the cabin.”

If you transport your pet in the cabin, all pets should be able to stand up and turn around comfortably inside their carriers. In addition, airlines may require recent health certificates and immunization records from a veterinarian and require pets to be at least 8 weeks old.

Hot Tip: This guidance doesn’t refer to service animals as service animals are always allowed in the main cabin without restrictions.

If your pet is too big to fit beneath the seat, your only choice on domestic airlines is to fly your pet in cargo. That always involves risk, no matter how good the airline’s track record. Here’s a guide of the top 10 airports for pets that also has some great tips for air travel. Be sure to check out this guide for even more information on how to safely travel with your fur babies.

Final Thoughts

If you have to take your pet on your next flight, you definitely will want to choose an airline that has a good safety record. By looking at the data provided by DOT from the past year, your best options would be Alaska Airlines or other regional carriers.

Do you have airlines that you prefer to fly when traveling with pets?


Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

FAQ

What is the safest airline for pets?

Alaska Airlines was the safest major air carrier for pet travel in 2018 based on total incidents per 10,000 pets transported. There were a number of small regional air carriers that also have an excellent safety record with pet travel.

Which airline is the most pet-friendly?

Factoring in the safety record and routing options available in the U.S., Alaska Airlines seems to be the best air carrier to fly your pet.

Which airline has the most pet deaths?

In 2018, Delta Air Lines had the most pet deaths, with 4. In 2017, United Airlines had 18 pet deaths.

Christy Rodriguez

About Christy Rodriguez

Christy’s first international travel experience was for a summer study abroad program in Italy. After that, she knew that she was destined to travel as much as physically (and financially) possible. Luckily, her husband got a job at Southwest Airlines, so they were introduced to the exciting world of “non-rev” travel. Seven years later, she has visited over 30 countries, mostly on standby.

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4 comments

  1. Allergic · June 14, 2019 · Reply

    You should also have an article about which airlines are the most allergy friendly. Note that some people have pet allergies and it is not a good idea to be in a tube for hours with pets nearby, especially when unthoughtful people let the pets roam the aisles and get on their hair and dander get on a seat that can affect the next people on that plane too (and even affect them when they bring the hair and dander home on their clothes).

    • Christy Rodriguez · June 14, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Allergic. I can absolutely see how difficult that would be to deal with if you are allergic to pet dander. It is always a good idea to be as prepared as possible as there will always be service animals to deal with (as they are legally allowed anywhere their humans go). It’s also a good idea to discuss any allergies and travel plans with your doctor.

      Thanks for your feedback!

  2. D.A.G. · June 14, 2019 · Reply

    We have used United Airlines PetSafe for the last two years, flying a dog between Chicago and Sacramento on multiple round trips. The staff and service has always been first rate.

    • Christy Rodriguez · June 14, 2019 · Reply

      Hi D.A.G. Glad to hear your personal experience. It may help another reader when it comes to making a decision which airline to choose to fly their pets.

      Thanks for reading!

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