Ask the Captain: A pilot’s perspective on animals on flights

Question: What do you think of the recent attention given to companion animals on flights?  Isn’t this a source of unnecessary distraction for both pilot and crew?  Does the FAA have any evidence of companion animals getting loose during a flight?       

– submitted by reader Max, Tampa, Florida

Answer: The issue of companion animals is a difficult one. There have been cases of animals biting passengers, getting loose, urinating and worse. The airlines had to do something due to the number of bad events that continued to rise.

Current requirements for certification for the need for the animal by a doctor or physiologist appear to be reasonable.

Flight crews face a very difficult situation when a passenger wants to bring an animal onboard for emotional support. They have the responsibility for the safety of all the passengers to consider.

Some of the animals are wonderfully trained and no problem (e.g. the guide dogs for passengers with vision impairment). However, there have been some serious problems with animals not as well trained.

The FAA has numerous case reports of these events.

Q: Captain Cox, I have a close friend that flies a 747 for Singapore Airlines and is an “Animal Hauler,” usually out of Africa to zoos, etc. What are the changes that must be made to the plane? Dangers of hauling live animals? Dangers of going into relatively remote locations? Who pays for cleaning after a flight?  Any info appreciated!                 

– Farm1486, McMinnville, Tennessee

A: There must be adequate restrains for the animals as well as a waste containment system. On longer flights, depending on the type of animal, it may be necessary to provide food.

An animal in panic can represent a hazard to the airplane. Consequently, some flights carry animal attendants onboard who have tranquilizers if necessary for the animal(s).

Taking a large airplane into remote places is always a challenge. The infrastructure must be evaluated before the flight arrives to ensure proper ground handling.

The customer transporting the animals pays for the cleaning one way or another. Different contracts read differently, but in the end it is the customer that pays for it.

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