It’s time to change flight procedures for precious cargo

Pets are not luggage and should not be treated as such, writes Rym Ghazal

Felix the cat was enroute from Abu Dhabi to New York when his carrier was broken. Felix is now missing. Photo Courtesy Jennifer Stewart
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I will come straight to the point: pets are not luggage.

Unless you have pets, and you have worried your way through a flight, you won’t understand how stressful transporting animals can be.

There is always a very high risk when transporting pets as “cargo”, as the story of Felix the cat illustrates. Felix was lost earlier this week after his carrier was crushed while being unloaded from an Etihad flight at JFK airport in New York.

They can get lost, they can die from dehydration, from overheating, freezing, suffocation or mishandling, and there is no one who will take responsibility and be held accountable. Someone has to pay a penalty. That is the only way anything will change.

There has to be a way to allow for the pet owner to have some control, such as being allowed to monitor the state of the pet.

I remember a time as a child when pets were allowed on planes and they made the long trips fun. I sat next to a lady with a dog in her lap. His name was Frank and he slept most of the time and made us all smile as we petted him. Another time a man carried with him two cats with their heads sticking out of a special hole in the cages. They got to be petted and slept all the way.

Now the whole “cat allergy” excuse is used and to animals travelling on flights. Funny that, because I have met far more annoying, human passengers. Some made me sneeze as well, so can we stick them in the hold please?

The worst part is that it is actually very costly to transport animals. It involves a lot of paper work, vaccinations, microchips, quarantine time and so on. One needs to pay specialist companies a lot of money to deal with all of this. And because a lot of people don’t want to pay, they end up abandoning their pets.

Unfortunately, many pets, especially cats and dogs, get dumped by expats when they travel for their holidays or when they leave the country. So many, in fact, that vet clinics and animal activist organisations get swamped, especially in the summertime.

I am no longer sympathetic to those who leave their pets when they leave the country because of “cost”. Save up, like I do.

What I find hilarious is that often it will be well off families who claim this when they are all flying first or business class and don’t want to pay any extra for the pet.

Unless you love the pet and consider it part of the family, it won’t matter to you what happens to it.

But as Felix’s caretakers have discovered, even if you pay, that is not always enough to guarantee their safety. So in the end, the poor pets suffer when they fly as cargo and suffer if they are left behind to fend for themselves.

As someone who has travelled a lot, and has taken my two cats, Tiny and Tuna with me whenever I could, I can tell you that whenever they were flying with me, these were the worst flights for me as no one can tell you how they are.

During one flight, a flight attendant told me off in a very irritable voice: “They are down with the bags so I can’t check on them and don’t know how they are!” I seemed to have annoyed her for interrupting her with a question when she was beaming and chatting up the businessman next to me for more than 20 minutes.

Thankfully they arrived safely on this trip into Abu Dhabi, while a bit disoriented, dehydrated, and one of them was ill for a week following the trip. The cage was also a bit damaged, thankfully not as badly as Felix’s cage, so they couldn’t run off terrified as I am sure poor Felix had. I really hope they find him.

Very few airlines allow any pets to be travelling with you in cabin, and only a few creatures are lucky to be able to fly in the cabin, like falcons on UAE flights. They get the best seats.

Whatever the case, better and safer options need to be provided for animal transport.

On Twitter: @Arabianmau