Monday, May 30, 2005

When Sarah Stano and her family moved from Oregon to North Carolina two years ago, she had to stow her 6-year-old house cat Hereford in the cargo area of the Delta Air Lines flight.

The cat either froze to death or didn’t have enough oxygen.

For the first time, airlines are tracking the number of pets injured or killed in cargo areas during flights and will begin reporting incidents to the federal government June 15.

The new reporting requirement is likely to make airlines more careful about how they treat pets, said Mrs. Stano, who sued Delta before settling with the airline.

“The hardest part was making Delta believe that the cat wasn’t just a piece of luggage. Now airlines will have to be more careful about transporting animals and realize they are responsible for their lives and that animals need air and heat,” she said.

There may be little reason for alarm, because data suggests that most pets arrive safely. The federal government estimates that 2 million pets fly each year in passenger cabins and cargo areas, but passengers filed just four reports last year with the Transportation Department accusing airlines of mistreating their pets, agency spokesman Bill Mosley said

The airline industry also thinks the problem may be small.

“The numbers will tell, but I don’t believe it’s a big problem,” said Diana Cronan, spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association of America, which represents airlines.

But there’s no way to tell what goes on inside a plane’s cargo area, so the new statistics will help shed light on the problem, said Kelly Connolly, an issues specialist at the Humane Society.

Having the data also will help pet owners decide which airline to take or whether to fly at all, she said.

“If I had known this would happen, I would have driven,” Mrs. Stano said.

Passengers will have access to information submitted by airlines at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report Web page — The first monthly report is expected by the beginning of July.

Most airlines allow passengers to bring pets on flights. Small pets are allowed to travel in cabins, provided they are inside a carrier.

Mrs. Stano had to store her cat in the cargo area because she had two others with her in the cabin, and Delta wouldn’t allow all three cats in the passenger area.

Bigger pets must travel in cargo areas, but all airlines have rules that prohibit transporting pets if temperatures are too high or too low.

All airlines allow support animals, such as guide dogs, in cabins, but those rules may change, too. This month the Transportation Department proposed allowing airlines to charge passengers for a second seat for guide dogs that are too large to sit under the seat in front of them.

It’s safer simply to leave other animals at home, Ms. Connolly said.

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