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Tips for Safe Plane Travel with Pets

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The Humane Society urges air passengers to leave pets at home if weather delays are anticipated. Animals waiting in cargo holds are at risk for hypothermia. An expert offers advice for safe travel with furry friends.


After winter storms strangled airline travel and stranded passengers and planes on the tarmacs, the Humane Society of the United States advised travelers to leave their pets at home when the weather gets bad. As horrifying as it is to be stuck in a middle seat in a grounded airliner for 11 hours, imagine life as a dog in the cargo hold.

Wayne Pacelle is president of the Humane Society. He joins us from the studios of member station KLSE in Rochester, Minnesota.

Good morning, sir.

Mr. WAYNE PACELLE (President, Humane Society of the United States): Good morning to you. Thanks for having me on.

HANSEN: You're quite welcome. Basic question: Are any provisions made for the pets that are stuck onboard a plane in a cargo hold?

Mr. PACELLE: There are federal regulations, temperature extremes that the airlines are not to allow the animals to be housed in, you know, below 45 degrees or above 85 or 90 degrees. But essentially, you don't have experts attending to the needs of the animals. When we're on a plane, we people, there are flight attendants and you've got folks, you know, saying it's too hot or it's too cold and the pilot can make adjustments. There's no one down there in the cargo hold assessing the conditions for the animals. And it's just not a part of the plane where the airlines have made as many investments as they have for the cabin where the human passengers are.

HANSEN: We should make it clear that the attendants and the pilots, and the passengers, no one has access to the cargo hold when the doors are shut. Correct.

Mr. PACELLE: No. No. In fact, you know, I remember I was down in Louisiana and we were doing the rescue of the animals at the Humane Society of the United States after Katrina struck. I remember bringing the animals to the airport and it was a hot, hot day. And I saw in very clear terms what can happen. The cargo hold was really heating up. I had to get some of the folks at the airline to bring over a cooling device to send some cool air into the cargo hold. It can be a very dangerous situation for pets, especially if you do have extremes of heat or cold and the airplane is taxiing or it's considerably delayed for a time on the ground.

HANSEN: How could they be attended to?

Mr. PACELLE: Well, you know, you're really taking a risk any time you put your animals in cargo. The airlines are just not suited to do this. It's not their specialty. They do it because there is some demand. Because we live in a very mobile society, people take their pets with them from time to time. We advise ground transport for the animals wherever that is possible.

And if you are flying, we say please think about the weather. Think about if it's in the winter, flying perhaps more in the daytime. Try to get a direct flight. If it's in the summer, think about flying in the morning or the evening. Again, take a direct flight so you minimize the risks for the animals.

HANSEN: Wayne Pacelle is president of the Humane Society of the United States, and he joined us from the studios of member station KLSE in Rochester, Minnesota.

Thanks so much for your time.

Mr. PACELLE: Thank you.

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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