In November of 2015, Delta Airlines announced that dogs and cats would no longer have to fly in the cargo area of their airplanes, much to the delight of traveling pet parents across the United States. As of March of 2016, dogs and cats that fit within the size requirement (they must be able to fit comfortably in a kennel that can be easily stored under the passenger's seat) will be allowed to travel in the cabin for an additional fee that varies depending on destination.
Why is this announcement so significant? Dogs and cats usually travel in a crate in the aircraft's cargo hold. The temperature in this part of the plane is not well controlled and there are often more dramatic changes in pressure than what passengers can feel in the cabin. It's also very noisy. Air travel can be stressful and hazardous for all pets, but even more so for those with certain risk factors such as age or anatomy. For instance, elderly pets may have pre-existing health conditions worsened by the stress of the trip. Brachycephalic breeds (those with short muzzles such as Pugs and Bulldogs) are at a greater risk of harm when flying because the anatomy of their respiratory tract can affect their ability to breathe when they are stressed or too hot. In fact, Pugs are one of a number of breeds that are banned from flying by some airlines.
In recent years, several hundred pets have died while traveling in a cargo hold across all airlines, and some have become lost in transit or escaped from their crate while at the airline terminal. The decision to allow small pets into the cabin with their pet parents aims to make flying safer; however, it's not foolproof. In 2012, a Pug died while in a carrier in the cabin of a plane that had been delayed on the runway.
What can pet parents who are unable to fly Delta Airlines (or have pets that do not meet the size requirements for cabin travel) do to minimize the risks involved with air travel? Ideally, use a company that specializes in transporting pets. The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association website has a list of transport companies from which you can choose.
If you prefer to organize your pet's transport arrangements yourself, you can try to make their trip as safe as possible. Choose a direct flight to reduce the chance of them getting lost or being held in uncomfortable conditions between flights. Where possible, travel on the same flight as your pet and watch him as he is loaded onto the plane. If it's hot outside, book an early morning or late evening flight to minimize heat stress.
Although there are losses and injuries associated with pets travelling by plane, the overall incidence is low when compared to the total number of pets that fly. In spite of that, it's to be expected that you have concerns. If you are worried about any aspect of your pet's travel, speak to airline staff. They know that your pet is your family and will be able to explain their procedures to put your mind at rest.