In search of ponies: Skies could get friendlier for animals

The flight from Manchester, England to Washington D.C. was a long one, so Alfie dealt with his anxiety the only way he knew how — he chewed.

By the time he reached the other side of the ocean, the pooch had chewed through the wall of his crate. But aside from being disheveled and having some minor injuries, he made the trip in one piece.

Sharna Johnson

Sharna Johnson

Molly’s story had a different outcome altogether. Somewhere between Dallas and Miami something went wrong and on one of the stops, and the black-and-white cat was discovered lying unresponsive in her crate. She was later pronounced dead with no indication as to what happened.

At 8 years old, Whiskey had already gone through a surgical procedure and was suffering from an infection. However, it was only after he died on a flight from Florida to Denver that it was discovered a piece of surgical gauze had been left in his abdomen.

Mason, a 5-year-old dog making the trip from Honolulu to Washington D.C., was found dead in his crate on a layover in Los Angeles. A veterinarian determined he suffered from gastric bloat syndrome, a condition common to large breed dogs and considered to be genetic.

Ninja lived up to his name. The 4-year-old border collie chewed through the side of his kennel while waiting to be loaded on a flight from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles and made a run for it. He was eventually located and treated for minor scrapes on his paws.

The travel stories of these five pets took place between April and March and are told by the airlines as part of incident reporting requirements by the U.S. Transportation Department. The DOT, in turn, publishes the reports it receives for the public (available at:

Giving a snapshot of what transpired, the reports often list any action the airline took, including paying for veterinary care following an incident.

With incident reports published one at a time on a monthly basis, it’s difficult to conclude how many pets are flying and how safe they are.

On Wednesday, the DOT announced it wants more than individual reports and, beginning in January, will expand its reporting requirements.

Under the new rule, airlines will also be required to file comprehensive annual reports, which detail the total number of pets they transported as well as losses, injuries or deaths of any pets — whether they were pets or animals being transported for commercial purposes, such as those shipped by breeders.

“Consumers deserve clear and accurate information when choosing among air transportation options,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a press release promoting the change.

For the first time, in addition to seeing the details of individual incidents, consumers will be able to look at the big picture of an airline’s animal transportation history, information that can help when deciding who can be trusted with their precious pets as cargo.

The new ruling specifically references cats and dogs, but also expands the definition of animal to include “any warm- or cold-blooded animal which, at the time of transportation, is being kept as a pet in a family household in the United States.” So as long as he’s a US pet, yep, even the turtle counts.

The DOT is hoping the overall picture of the critter experience in the friendly skies will be a little clearer.

While the move is unfortunately not in time for this travel season, it may be a step in the right direction. After all, the airlines will want to have good things to report.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: