BOOKS: Animals As Airline Cargo
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1999:
Animals As Airline Cargo by Nathan J. Winograd
San Francisco SPCA Department of Law & Advocacy (2500 16th St., San Francisco, CA 94103), 1998. Free on request.
A Santa Monica Superior Court jury
ruled on March 10, 1999 that an American
Airlines pilot and flight crew acted properly in
restraining first class passenger Marcelle
Becker, of Beverly Hills, with her dog’s
leash, toward the end of a July 1995 flight
from New York to Los Angeles.
Becker had allegedly released her
13-year-old, 8-pound Maltese from his carrier,
and allowed him to roam the cabin. When airline
staff apprehended the dog, returned him
to the carrier, and shoved the carrier under the
seat in front of Becker, Becker contended,
they handled the dog so roughly that he died
American Airlines responded that
the dog had posed a threat to the safety of
other passengers, and that Becker had assaulted
crew members while threatening to kill
everyone on board. She is still facing federal
charges for those alleged offenses.
Regardless of Becker’s behavior,
American Airlines had reason to be concerned
about a dog running loose on the flight deck.
Loose dogs are a rarity aboard aircraft,
and always have been, but as recently
as February 1997 a National Transportation
Safety Board probable cause report attributed
an April 1996 crash that killed two people to
the distraction resulting when a loose dog
snatched a pilot’s lunch during takeoff.
Yet there also was a well-documented
reason why Becker paid extra money to
bring her dog into the first class cabin with
her: animals are often subject to extreme distress
when traveling in airline cargo holds.
Temperatures may vary by more than 100
degrees Fahrenheit in the course of a single
flight. Ventilation ranges from poor in newer
Class C holds to none in older Class D holds.
Horror stories about animal deaths in
flight have been amplified by national animal
protection organizations since circa 1970,
when Washington Humane Society staffer Fay
Brisk began a long and ultimately successful
campaign to extend the Animal Welfare Act to
cover animals in air travel.
From 1988 through 1998, Delta
Airlines was fined at least $161,000 for AWA
violations, including $140,000 in connection
with the deaths of 56 puppies on a 1992 flight
from St. Louis to Kansas City. At least five
other major carriers were fined amounts ranging
from $2,000 to $25,000.
By all appearances, conditions for
animals aboard aircraft have markedly
improved in recent years. Most of the infractions
leading to fines occurred before 1995.
Among the evident recent changes,
American Airlines offers staff training in animal
handling. Delta bars animals from riding
in aircraft holds throughout the warmer half of
each year. Class D holds are in phase-out.
Airline industry sources estimate
that anywhere from 500,000 to two million
dogs and cats per year currently travel on U.S.
domestic flights, of whom about 500 animals
suffer illness or injury, and 20-25 die.
The estimated number of flights by
dogs and cats is up by at least a third since
1990, while estimated deaths and injuries are
down––and all nine reports of incidents
involving dogs and cats in air travel that
reached ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1998 involved
animals who escaped from their carriers, eight
of them while in baggage handling areas on
the ground. Back when dog and cat deaths
were more commonplace, escapes didn’t even
San Francisco SPCA director of law
and advocacy Nathan Winograd takes a conservative
view of the improvements in Animals
As Airline Cargo, the most comprehensive
summary of the topic since Brisk last visited it
in “Animals and Airlines,” her contribution to
the 1990 Animal Welfare Institute anthology
Animals & Their Legal Rights.
Winograd points out that detected
Animal Welfare Act violations by airlines may
be down only because USDA airline inspections
decreased from 2,041 to just 901 between
1992 and 1996, and makes six specific recommendations
for regulatory and procedural
improvements to reduce animal suffering in air
transport, some of which are already voluntarily
practiced by airlines.
He documents, as well, that airline
staff tend to be poorly informed about the voluntary
codes of practice now in effect––and
about the conditions for animals on the very
flights they staff.
“Animals As Airline Cargo was originally
prepared for Jose Medina while he was a
member of the San Francisco Board of
Supervisors, prior to his appointment by the
Governor to head the state Department of
Transportation,” Winograd told A N I M A L
PEOPLE. “At the time, Medina was considering
legislative action with regard to San
Francisco International Airport. With his
departure, the issue, as we understand it, is
no longer pending. We have, however, provided
copies of our report to the Humane
Society of the U.S. and the American SPCA.
We understand that they intend to use it to
seek federal legislative action.”
Winograd’s six recommendations
are sensible and would be worth adding to the
Animal Welfare Act. ANIMAL PEOPLE
hopes, however, that any proposed legislation
doesn’t stop at helping dogs and cats in
domestic flight. USDA data indicates that animals
flown for commerce rather than personal
reasons suffer the most, by far, and that more
animals arrive dead after many individual
international flights than die in domestic air
transport all year long. Legislation leading to
international treaties protecting animals in air
transport is decades overdue, and should be
supported by both animal welfare advocates
and animal users.
Decades ago, animal use groups
fought the protections for animals in air travel
that are now part of the AWA, claiming that
higher transport costs would offset any advantage
in lives saved.
The advent of genetic engineering
has changed those equations. We are aware of
one biomedical researcher, for instance, who
claimed a loss of $300,000 after 18 genetically
engineered mice suffocated in a cargo hold.
The pet trade too now has reason to
endorse improved international animal air
transport standards: since the 1993 passage of
the Wild Bird Conservation Act, the volume
of exotic birds flown to the U.S. has dropped
from 7.4 million a year to 250,000 a year,
while the average price of each bird has
zoomed from under $20 to hundreds of dollars