How safe is the cargo compartment for my pug?
July 18, 2005 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Help me get this pug off the ground: How safe is the cargo compartment of an airliner for my dog?

In three weeks, fiancé docgonzo and I will be flying to Vancouver from Toronto. We will be taking our dog Jack, a 28-pound black male pug.

Jack has flown the route four times before both onboard (as a puppy) and most recently in a pet carrier in the cargo hold. He's done fine and come through it like a trooper.

My question is inspired by Toronto's recent wave of oppressive, muggy heat: How safe will he be in the cargo compartment? Pugs, though the most noble and perfect of all dog breeds, are very vulnerable to the heat. Their smooshed-in faces mean they have small muzzles and very little ability to cool off by panting. Many pugs die after a few minutes in a locked car and I am terrified of arriving on the west coast with a well-done pug.

I have heard that the cargo compartments of some planes are not cooled and can heat up to dangerous levels, especially while sitting on the tarmac. (Thirty-eight thousand feet up is obviously less of a problem.) I have called the carrier, WestJet, and they said the pet compartment is heated and cooled just like the passenger cabin. (WestJet's fleet are all Boeing 737s: -200s, -700s and -800s.)

Does anyone have any inside knowledge about this? Experiences of travelling in the heat with small dogs? Methods of keeping a dog cool and comfortable in a pet carrier?

Please help put this paranoid, over-protective pug-lover's mind at rest.
posted by docgonzo to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You may know this already, but the word to google is "brachycephalic."

And I don't know about summer, but during winter I've opened my checked luggage in the airport and I've been surprised by the coldness of my clothing.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:58 PM on July 18, 2005

I found this pretty easily, and it sounds as if it makes sense. My policy, and I have cats, is that the children get their own seat. Pricey, yes, but safe. And I will be able to see, for myself, the whole time that they are or are not okay. I am completely obessive, however, and may exceed your personal threshold for MUSTSEEMYPETNOWIDONOTBELEIVEOTHERPEOPLETHATHEISOKAY.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:00 PM on July 18, 2005

I work at YVR
The cargo holds on any plane don't seem to get too hot.
They are at the bottom of the plane so the sun isnt shining on them like it would be in a car, and the bulk holds usualy are not closed until just before the plane leaves(waiting for strollers/wheelchairs).

Also, as in the link Medieval Maven posted, i would also recommend sedating. Its pretty loud out there and in airports in general and some pets just seem to go nuts. That stress cant be good for them.
posted by Iax at 2:11 PM on July 18, 2005

This isn't going to make you feel better, but it's a recent thread on FlyerTalk:
my dog died on Continental Airlines

US airlines just starting reporting animal "incidents" a few months ago, so there's not much public data yet. (I don't know if Canadian airlines have a similar reporting requirement.) In May, 10 animals died or were injured on US airlines, according to US DOT (pdf). Without knowing how many animals were uninjured, it's hard to come to a conclusion about whether this is a high number or not.
posted by blue mustard at 2:19 PM on July 18, 2005

Aw, he's cute. I used to live in an apartment that had polished concrete floors in the hallway, and my neighbor had about 5 pugs that he'd take downstairs to the courtyard to walk (it was a great apt, had lots of special places to walk dogs, equipped with disposal equipment). Anyway, sometimes I'd meet them coming in and they'd all race down the hall towards me. Once they got close they'd put on the brakes but since the floor was polished they'd just slide and either run into me or go between my legs. Ever since I've had a soft side for pugs (even though I myself only have labs).

Does the airline have a specific hold for pets? That they advertise as such? If they do, I'd tend towards thinking that it would be adequately cool or warm, depending on the weather. I'd be surprised if they had a situation that routinely put animals at risk -- if they did, you'd expect incidents, lawsuits, etc. Since most corporations are risk averse, and airlines are no exception, I would think that they would generally opt on the side of caution. I should say though that I've never tried it. My dogs and I have driven the country on many occaisons but they've never flown.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:22 PM on July 18, 2005

well, from that horror story, it sounds like main problem was a bad kennel.

So yah, make sure that the dog cage is sturdy.

Just a few weeks ago a smallish dog broke out of its kennel while being loaded. It thankfully didnt run out onto the taxiways, it just ran accross the gates cutting under all the parked planes. It stayed just out of reach for like 10 gates until the lead hand managed to catch it.
We then took it and its crummy kennel upto the terminal, the owner agreed that the kennel was crap, and i think the airline lent/rented them a new one.
posted by Iax at 2:35 PM on July 18, 2005

The compartment that holds animals is pressurized and heated/cooled as appropriate, the same as the human hold (so I've been told). However, since animals can find themselves in uncooled loading areas/tarmacs for extended periods of time, a lot of airlines have blackout periods in the summer when animals can't be flown, and they usually can't do plane transfers. If your airline does take animals below, then you can assume that their normal procedures are fine for most animals, barring break-outs or sick animals or such. The problem is, of course, that it's hard to tell if your beast is going to become an exception. I am travelling this summer too, and have decided not to fly my well-flown but now elderly and slightly fragile cat just for this reason. I paid a lot of money for her to beat cancer this year -- I'm not going to kill her off with a plane flight now.
posted by dness2 at 2:44 PM on July 18, 2005

According to Salon's "Ask the Pilot":
How are pets carried below deck treated? Is it true that they are kept in unheated, unpressurized sections of the plane?

At 35,000 feet the outside air temperature is about 55 degrees below zero, and there is not enough oxygen to breathe. Even worse than economy class. Transporting animals in these conditions would not please most customers, especially those who actually like their pets. So yes, the lower holds are fully pressurized and heated.

Controlling the exact temperature in these compartments is not always easy, depending on the airplane type and especially during hot weather. The holds can heat up substantially during ground operations. For this reason some airlines embargo the carriage of pets during the summer months, but in general the temperature range is well within their comfort zone.
You may want to look into carrying the dog inside the cabin with you -- most carriers will let you do this, but there's usually a one-pet-per-cabin (First/Business/Economy Classes) limit.
posted by Vidiot at 3:30 PM on July 18, 2005

Friend of a friend is a ... uh.. crap.. is stewardess the right word? Anyhoo, she said that if your dog is small enough for him and his carrier to fit under the seat, he can be taken as a carry-on. Might be worth to phone up your airline and ask.
posted by eurasian at 3:36 PM on July 18, 2005

No personal experience with this, but from what I've read, it's kind of risky to put Jack in the cargo hold. Is there a weight limit for carry-on?
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:36 PM on July 18, 2005

Go here for your carrier's rules re: pets, whether in the cabin or in the hold.

When in doubt, I'd go with the cabin, but it doesn't look like WestJet will let you, given that the weight limit for carrier + dog onboard is 22 lbs.
posted by Vidiot at 3:55 PM on July 18, 2005

You could fly him separately by PetAir.
posted by forallmankind at 4:07 PM on July 18, 2005

Is there a weight limit for carry-on?

Generally, there is. I usually fly Song with my chihuahua, and I seem to recall the limit for carry-on being no more than 15 pounds for the dog + carrier. 28 pounds is probably too heavy for carry-on, although I could be wrong.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:14 PM on July 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

I grew up in the '80s as a Foreign Service brat with six cats and a dog that we transported with us every where we moved: US --> Thailand --> US --> Poland --> Thailand --> US --> Norway --> US.

None of the animals was ever injured in the cargo hold on any of those flights, and these weren't always first world airlines we were flying on.

According to this article, about 2 million animals fly on airplanes per year, with 4 dying, 5 being injured and one being lost first month this data was reported. That's a .003 % chance of death or loss, and a .003% chance of injury.

It seems like the odds are high that your pug will be OK.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:17 PM on July 18, 2005

I second the comment that airlines have blackout periods, and if they don't, I wouldn't fly my dog with them. Dogs can and do die when being shipped, it's not common, but it does happen. If he'll fit in a carry-on bag, that's the way I'd do it. Good info here. If you do ship him in the hold, ask at the service desk for specific confirmation that he has been loaded, and mark your crate with fluorescent tape so that you can actually SEE him being loaded with your own eyes. I've known more than one case of a dog being left behind.

I strongly disagree with the suggestions to sedate him, this is likely to make things far riskier than they would be otherwise. Sedating causes dehydration, can cause extreme disorientation (leading to far more anxiety and/or panic than there would be otherwise), and can even make the dog too woozy to keep his nose in a spot where he can breathe (especially at altitude, where things don't work the way they do on the ground, as anyone who's ever drunk alcohol on a flight will know). Please don't sedate him unless he is guaranteed to panic himself into exhaustion or has some other medical reason for it.
posted by biscotti at 4:19 PM on July 18, 2005

Well, I shipped my cat to Michigan once, and they booked her on a flight that only flew on weekdays. Too bad we shipped her on Saturday. It added about eight or ten hours delay but the airlines were really pretty good about trying to help her out. As for the compartment, no problem. However, I will never again ship a pet on a flight that I am not taking myself.
posted by caddis at 5:34 PM on July 18, 2005

According to this article, about 2 million animals fly on airplanes per year, with 4 dying, 5 being injured and one being lost first month this data was reported. That's a .003 % chance of death or loss, and a .003% chance of injury.

Huh? I'm too lazy to find the article (but it was on within months) but I recently read that 1% off all pets that fly in cargo die, or, approx 20,000 per year.

I know that I'm recalling the numbers correctly because I wrote them down for my mom as she was going to fly with her dog. They're still on the sticky attached to my iMac. That isn't to say the newspaper article was correct, but that's what it said. (It was about a woman who was suing the airline that her dog died on and that the airline (I forget which one) was tired of these suits and was considering stopping flights for pets altogether.)

I have read many horror stories about dead dogs over the years--on usenet, in the news, etc. The cargo areas are not heated, the cages/crates are not secured... you gotta be nuts to do that to an animal, imo.

However, if you're rich, there are airlines specifically for you and your pet. You charter the plan and you both fly in the cabin, regardless of dog size/qty.
posted by dobbs at 10:00 PM on July 18, 2005

Oh, one other detail from that article: someone is attempting to pass a bill that makes it mandatory for airlines to make the exact numbers of animals travelling/injured/dead available. The airlines are fighting it. That alone is enough to make me say no.
posted by dobbs at 10:16 PM on July 18, 2005

The airlines once lost my dog (Eastern Airlines, back in the day) and it took 3 days before she got home. She was fine when she arrived and thrilled to be out. We have no reason to think that she wasn't well treated during those 3 days, but still...and in the heat, I would worry.
posted by duck at 4:54 AM on July 19, 2005

Three days?!!? I would have lost my mind.

If I ever have to fly with my cat, she will be under the seat with me or next to me - that's really the only way to guarantee that she'll be ok during the flight.
posted by agregoli at 8:00 AM on July 19, 2005

Firstly, as many have already said, the holds do have blackout periods, and you do have a pug.

Secondly, the pet holds ARE NOT attended. The first fact wouldn't be half so worrying if it weren't for this.

Everything I've seen indicates that airlines treat animals more as baggage than as living creatures, and personally I would not assume the risk of leaving my pet in the animal hold. It seems like a pug would be around the right size to carry-on. Usually the advertised weight limits work something like speed limits do: they'll give you a certain allowance within reason to bring on a slightly heavier animal, but people trying to bring on something weighing upwards of 35 pounds won't be able to complain about how close they are to the limit.

Sorry to sound alarmist, but I too am an obsessive dog lover and, while some things aren't risky enough to bother dealing with, I would say that this is.
posted by invitapriore at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2005

I know this is just one person's experience, but I wanted to let you know that I agonized about this decision myself last winter. My dog weighs 45 pounds, so there was no chance to carry her in the cabin. The more horror stories I read on the Internet, the more I grew convinced that something terrible would happen to her in the cargo hold, but I really had no choice.

Long story short: she was totally fine, despite my near-panic about her welfare. She is very, very prone to anxiety attacks, so the vet gave her some Valium. At the terminal, she emerged from her crate inquisitive and totally unscathed.

Here's what we did to ease the trip for her:
1. Labeled her crate (rigid plastic with metal grates) with maniacal fervor: "LIVE ANIMAL" signs on every side, my name and address, and the following: "PLEASE do not leave Beatrice on the tarmac. Please bring her to the terminal as soon as possible."
2. Chunk of ice in a dish -- this so that the ice woul gradually melt, leaving her water to drink.
3. Large zip-loc bag of dog food package-taped to the outside of the crate with instructions for feeding the dog in case of a delay in reaching me.
4. Before departure, I harangued the baggage handler about the importance of getting the dog onto the plane ASAP.
5. At the baggage claim, I bugged the baggage desk personnel until Beatrice's crate made it out to me safely.

Honestly, I think all the freaking out I did was unwarranted. I think your dog will be okay, as long as you take some precautions.
posted by miriam at 2:12 PM on July 25, 2005

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