Did you hear about the Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy who was dogging it on the tarmac at New York's LaGuardia Airport last week? Apparently he escaped from his crate and led agents on a merry game of fetch. The port authority had to shut down the tarmac to keep the pooch from playing chicken with taxying aircraft.
This isn't the first pup to gain illegal access to the tarmac. A few years ago Buddy, a toy poodle, managed to escape his owner and head for a taxiway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. This pup panicked when his bark had no effect on a Boeing 727. He ran for some bushes along the side of a fence and only suffered a few scratches, which beat being runway kill.
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It's not just pets with "escape claws" that cause problems for travelers. Susan Underwood remembers flying to New Jersey with Gunther, her Clumber spaniel. She arrived in Newark, N.J., on time. Her dog didn't. Apparently, the tags fell off his crate and rather than remove him from the aircraft, the airline kept shipping him to a new location. Gunther made stops in Las Vegas and Boston before arriving at the Jersey shore. And he didn't even receive a free drink for his troubles. Susan said he was clearly dehydrated and his water dish was bone-dry when he deplaned.
Not all animal incidents have happy endings. According to the website petflight.com, the airlines reported 36 pet deaths, eight injuries and two lost pets in 2011. This is down from past years, but that's not much comfort to someone who loses their furry friend. (You can view all the statistics at airconsumer.ost.dot.gov.)
Most veterinarians try to discourage pet owners from flying with their animals. But this isn't always possible. If you do plan to take wing with your four-legged friend, here are a few things to consider:
• Know the government regulations. The government enforces a few rules. Dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old. Airlines are banned from subjecting animals to extreme weather conditions without protection. Airlines are required to provide food and water for long flights. Pets traveling overseas must visit a veterinarian, approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to certify the animal is up-to-date on its vaccinations. A microchip will be implanted in the animal for identification and the pet will receive its own passport -- good for travel to participating countries.
• Choose your airline carefully. All other considerations are up to the airline. Some carriers, such as American Airlines, allow pets in carriers to fit under passenger seats. Southwest Airlines only allows support animals in the cabin. Prices and the time of year animals can be flown also vary. Pet Airways, a niche carrier, flies only animals and boards them all in the main cabin. The pets have their own flight attendants. Fares are based on distance of the flight and the size of the animal. For more information, check out petairways.com.
• Plan ahead. Visit your veterinarian and make sure your pet is healthy enough to fly. Choose a crate that is sturdy and large enough for your pet and impossible for him to escape. Be sure it is properly tagged with your contact information, the flight plans and your veterinarian's phone number. Make sure there's a water dish and food dish available. Before the flight, be sure your pet spends time in his cage to become accustomed to his flying home.
Finally, arrive at the airport early and give your pet a chance to visit the pet-friendly areas. Many airports have designated areas for your furry friends. If you plan carefully, traveling with Fido won't add to yours or the airline's pet problems.
• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.