Big bunny’s death raises concern about flying with pets

via Big bunny’s mysterious death raises concerns about flying pets,

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The mysterious death of a giant rabbit on a United Airlines flight has highlighted the potential dangers of traveling with pets.

Simon, a 3-foot-long Continental Giant Rabbit, had been bought from his British breeder by a group of investors who had hoped to enter him into a “world’s largest rabbit” contest at the Iowa State Fair.

But Simon didn’t survive to receive the honor, as he died during the trip after the London-to-Chicago flight in April. Lawyers for Simon’s new owners allege Simon was somehow placed in a freezer for 16 hours, then his body cremated without the owners’ consent in a bid to destroy the evidence surrounding his death. United has disputed that version of events, however, and the case is making its way through the court system.

It’s the latest in a spate of bad news for United and the airline industry in general. United is still reeling from the backlash after a man was forcibly removed from his seat after refusing to give up the seat for an airline employee and for the now-infamous “leggings” incident. Hardly a day goes by without some new scandal affecting not only United, but other airlines as well.

While we may never know the exact chain of events that led to Simon’s death, it does highlight the risk people take when flying their pets. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, of the more than 2 million pets transported in the U.S. on planes each year since 2005, airlines have reported more than 300 incidents of pets dying in cargo holds. Many more animals are injured or lost during travel, as well.

The DOT requires all airlines to provide a pressurized cargo hold for transporting animals, but some airlines won’t transport pets in the cargo hold. Often, holds are subject to extremes of temperature, noise and stressful situations. The DOT’s website publishes monthly reports of animal-related incidents at

The cause of the animal’s death (if known) is listed on the reports. In many cases, baggage handlers found the animals “unresponsive” after a flight, but it’s difficult to say whether the deaths had anything to do with the conditions in the cargo hold or some other factor. In some cases, animals escaped their carriers and were hit by baggage “tugs” or other vehicles on the busy tarmac, or in other cases, were attacked by other animals or died of causes unrelated to the trip (such as heart disease or stroke).

Short-nosed dogs were particularly susceptible to deaths on planes, accounting for more than half. Dogs such as bulldogs, boxers and pugs can have particular respiratory problems, which can be worsened in a tight cargo hold with little ventilation. The American Veterinary Medical Assocation has a page on its website with advice on this issue at

If you plan to travel with your pet, it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian. He or she can help answer questions about travel and may be able to help with ways to make travel less stressful for your pet. In addition, the DOT has some additional tips on its website at

  • Before traveling, accustom your pet to the kennel in which it will be shipped. Make sure the door latches securely.
  • Don’t give your pet solid food in the six hours prior to the flight, although a moderate amount of water and a walk before and after the flight are advised.
  • Don’t administer sedation to your pet without the approval of a veterinarian and provide a test dose before the trip to gauge how the pet will react.
  • Be sure to reserve a space for your pet in advance and inquire about time and location for drop-off and pick-up.
  • Try to schedule a non-stop flight; avoid connections and the heavy traffic of a holiday or weekend flight.
  • When you board, try to tell a pilot and a flight attendant that there is a pet in the cargo hold. The airlines have a system for providing such notification, but it doesn’t hurt to mention it yourself.
  • For overseas travel (including Hawaii), inquire about any special health requirements such as quarantine.
  • Write your name, address and phone number on the kennel, and make sure your pet is wearing a tag with the same information. Consider purchasing a temporary tag showing your destination address and phone number. Bring a photo of your pet, in case it is lost.

Flying for holidays? Take steps to minimize stress

via Flying for holidays? Take steps to minimize stress

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Recently, I had the opportunity to watch again one of my favorite movies,”Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” This holiday-travel classic features the misadventures of two hapless travelers (Steve Martin as the acerbic Neal Page and John Candy as the cheery Del Griffith), who are trying to get from New York to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving. What appears to start well with an easy hop to Chicago turns out to be a travel nightmare, as one hilarious misadventure after another helps form a unique bond between these very different individuals.

Hopefully, if you’re one of the nearly 3.6 million Americans planning to fly during the holidays this year, you’ll have an easier time than Neil and Dell. One frequent traveler complaint is the long lines to get through security checkpoints. Although security lines at some airports should be a little shorter — thanks to more than 13,000 employees added by the Transportation Security Administration —  getting through security still might not be as easy or as fast as it could be. The TSA had planned to have a new program in place that would expedite screening for passengers who signed up for its “PreCheck” program, but (thanks to questionable vendor security and a lack of personnel) those plans have been put on hold.

The TSA announced recently that 4 million Americans had already signed up for the program, which was to have eventually enrolled 25 million. Working with outside vendors to perform background checks would have helped the agency meet its goals and allowed travelers to speed through security more efficiently. But, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the agency has “concerns about the vulnerability of passenger information that it provides when testing potential vendors” and “increased and evolving cybersecurity risks over the past year.”

In a nutshell, the agency is concerned that hackers could access the background check information by invading the computer networks of the firms doing the background checks necessary to complete enrollment in PreCheck. TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, quoted in the Times article, noted the additional employees — plus converting 2,000 part-time screeners to full-time employees and forming a 1,000-employee “deployment force” to be dispatched to trouble spots — could help make it easier to navigate congested security lines at airports around the country.

But security lines aren’t the only thing that can stress you during air travel. Escalating costs, crowded airports, delayed flights and a host of other problems can also ruin your holiday.  On its blog, the TSA makes several good suggestions to help ease the pain. Here are a few:

  • Give yourself enough time. The TSA recommends arriving at the airport a full two hours before your flight time. This will help you avoid missing your flight because (as Murphy’s Law holds), “everything takes longer than it takes.”
  • Check your pockets. Many of us have had the misfortune of arriving at the metal detector, only to find out we’d forgotten about the knives, multi-tools, etc. in our pockets. (I’ve lost a couple of nice multi-tools this way). Also, be sure to check the TSA’s site regarding the 3.1.1 rule for liquids and be sure your carry-on bags are free of firearms, Samsung Galaxy Note tablets and other troublesome items. Checked bags, too, can be problematic, as E-cigarettes and vape pens aren’t allowed on checked bags (but can be taken on your carry-on.)
  • Make sure your furry friends can fly. If you’re planning to fly with pets, be sure to check out the TSA’s rules as well as those of the airlines. Rules and regulations vary, and your pet might (or might not) be allowed to accompany you in the cabin, depending on the size of its carrier and other considerations. If you’re crossing state lines with your animal, a USDA health certificate must be issued by a veterinarian, so give yourself plenty of time to plan. Hawaii has special quarantine rules for pets. And, if flying overseas, you’ll need to check out the destination country’s rules. Check out for some great tips.

If all goes well, you won’t have to deal with burning rental cars, diverted flights and insufferable travel companions, and can get home in time to enjoy the holiday with your loved ones.