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Airline Animal Incident Reports

Jol A. Silversmith (last updated November 2014)

"If [man] is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practise kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."

--Immanuel Kant

Since May 2005, the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”) has required all U.S. airlines that operate scheduled passenger flights to file monthly reports on pets that died or were lost or injured during transport, pursuant to the requirements of section 710 of the 2000 Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (as subsequently codified at Title 49, Section 41721 of the United States Code and Title 14, Section 234.13 of the Code of Federal Regulations).


The DOT publishes redacted versions of these reports on its website, but unfortunately they are not easy to find.  This page provide links to those reports, organized by (1) the total number of reports filed by each carrier, (2) the reports filed at DOT on a month-by-month basis, and (3) the reports filed at DOT on a carrier-by-carrier basis.

Please note that the data for each airline does not necessarily indicate the quality of service that it provides, because the number of animals transported by each airline varies widely.  For example, Continental Airlines, which transported numerous pets, historically emphasized that incident reports are filed for less than 0.05% of the pets that it transported.  Further, Southwest Airlines until recently did not transport pets (in contrast to service animals, as required by law), and no reports have been filed by Southwest to date.


In addition, the DOT does not require reports to be filed for all incidents involving animals; the scope of the regulation is discussed in an FAQ that the DOT issued shortly after it adopted the reporting regulations.  Notably, reports currently are not required to be filed for incidents involving animals: 

  • that are not kept as a pet in a family household in the U.S.;
  • that are carried on all-cargo or unscheduled flights (however, reports are required to be filed for incidents involving animals that are carried as cargo, as opposed to as checked baggage, on a scheduled passenger flight); or
  • that are carried on a flight operated by a foreign airline, even if the flight carries the code of a U.S. carrier (however, reports are required to be filed for incidents involving animals on a flight operated by a U.S. carrier between two foreign points, as well as on a flight operated by a U.S carrier that carries the code of a foreign carrier).

Further, in a letter to the author, DOT elaborated that it also interprets the reporting requirements not to apply to "escapes [which] last only a few minutes or a few hours."  

In October 2008, Senator Robert Menendez - who sponsored the underlying law - sent a letter to DOT, asking why it had interpreted the reporting requirements so narrrowly; in December 2008, DOT sent a response to Menendez, which purported to justify its narrow reading of the law. Subsequently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture - which, as described below, has additional regulations for the transportation of animals - sent its own response to Menendez.

In May 2010, the Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted a rulemaking petition, requesting that DOT revise the regulation.  In May 2012, DOT responded to ALDF, stating that it intended shortly to issue a proposal to revise the regulation.  In June 2012, DOT issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, in which it proposed changes to the rules, and requested comments by August 28, 2012.  On July 3, 2014, DOT revised the reporting requirements, with the changes to take effect on January 1, 2015.  Notably: (1) reporting obligations will now apply to all U.S. airlines that operate scheduled service with at least one aircraft with a design capacity of more than 60 seats; (2) the reporting obligations will now include, in addition to incidents involving pets, incidents involving commercial shipments of cats and dogs; and (3) covered airlines will be required to file an end-of-year report even they did not have any reportable incidents during the year, and to provide the annual total number of animals transported (which will provide context for the loss/injury/death reports).

 

For additional information about the DOT regulation, please visit my article "'The Dog That Did Nothing': The Curious Incident of DOT’s Animal Incident Reporting Requirements"

Additionally, Title 49, Section 41721 also requires DOT to "work with air carriers to improve the training of employees with respect to the air transport of animals and the notification of passengers of the conditions under which the air transport of animals is conducted."  The Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") prepared a draft Advisory Circular to assist air carriers, but it was never finalized.


(1) Total Reports: May 2005 - September 2014

Carrier

Death

Injury

Loss

Alaska Airlines

36

60

4

American Airlines

48

6

4

American Eagle

2

0

1

ATA Airlines

0

0

2

Atlantic Southeast

1

0

1

Comair

0

1

1

Continental Airlines

49

16

4

Delta Air Lines

65

22

12

Frontier Airlines

0

3

0

Hawaiian Airlines

11

5

3

Horizon Airlines

2

4

1

Midwest Airlines

3

1

0

Northwest Airlines

5

7

4

Pinancle Airlines

0

2

0

Shuttle America

1

0

1

SkyWest Airlines

1

5

0

Trans States

1

0

0

United Airlines

45

11

9

US Airways

1

1

1

Total

271

144

48


Of the deaths, 212 involved dogs, 39 involved cats, 6 involved birds, 3 involved chinchillas, 5 involved guinea pigs, 2 involved rabbits, 1 involved a monkey, 1 involved a rat, 1 involved a ferret, and 1 involved an unidentified animal.  Of the injuries, 129 involved dogs and 15 involved cats.  Of the losses, 35 involved cats, 11 involved dogs, and 2 involved a bird.  In addition, 3 of the lost dogs and 1 of the lost cats were reported to subsequently have been recovered, while 1 of the lost cats and 5 of the injured dogs were reported to subsequently have died, and 1 of the injured dogs was reported to have been euthanized.

(2) Month-By-Month Reports: May 2005 - September 2014


DOT publishes redacted reports approximately one month after the conclusion of the month to which they apply; for example, the reports for incidents in May 2005 were published in the edition of the Air Travel Consumer Report published at the start of July 2005.  The data in the following file is organized by the date of the incidents, and not the date of publication, with cumulative summaries for each calendar year.

Month-By-Month Reports: May 2005-September 2014

(3) Carrier-By-Carrier Reports: May 2005 - September 2014

DOT publishes redacted reports approximately one month after the conclusion of the month to which they apply; for example, the reports for incidents in May 2005 were published in the edition of the Air Travel Consumer Report published at the start of July 2005.  The data in the following file is organized by carrier and the date of the incidents, not the date of publication.

Carrier-By-Carrier Reports: May 2005-September 2014

(4) U.S. Department of Agriculture Orders

Although DOT is responsible for publishing the monthly reports of deaths, injuries, and losses, federal standards for the transportation of animals also are set by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service ("APHIS"), a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These standards are based on the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. § 2131, et seq.; “AWA”).


APHIS has adopted regulations which generally require proper care for animals during transportation (including
Title 9, Section 2.100 and Title 9, section 2.131 of the Code of federal Regulations). Further, APHIS has adopted specific regulations for the transportation of dogs and cats (Title 9, Section 3.13 - 3.19 of the Code of Federal Regulations); guinea pigs and hamsters (Title 9, Section 3.35 - 3.41 of the Code of Federal Regulations); rabbits (Title 9, Section 3.60 - 3.66 of the Code of Federal Regulations); nonhuman primates (Title 9, Section 3.86 - 3.92 of the Code of Federal Regulations); marine mammals (Title 9, Section 3.112 - 3.118 of the Code of Federal Regulations); and other animals (Title 9, Section 3.136 - 3.142 of the Code of Federal Regulations).


USDA has sanctioned various air carriers for
violations of the Animal Welfare Act.  Only one order appears to have been issued that concerned an incident which occurred after DOT’s reporting requirements entered into effect.  (Additionally, not all of the earlier incidents necessarily would have been reportable even if the current DOT reporting requirements were in effect - i.e., shipments of animals by dealers.)  A list of air carrier-related USDA orders since 1987 follows, with summaries of selected orders.


U.S. Department of Agriculture Orders

 This page was last modified on November 17, 2014. Please email Jol A. Silversmith with comments, corrections, etc.

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