Death of Travolta's dogs at airport reawakens debate on pet safety

John TravoltaThe tragic deaths of two dogs owned by John Travolta at Maine's Bangor International Airport recently points up the risks of flying with beloved four-legged friends.

Bangor city officials confirmed that two small dogs were hit and killed by a service vehicle while being walked on the airport tarmac after Travolta's family landed there on May 13. Travolta, 56, and his wife, actress Kelly Preston, 47, own a home in Islesboro, a tiny town off Maine's southeastern coast, according to the Bangor Daily News.

While the incident appears to be a freak accident, it's reignited a long-standing debate about whether pets belong at airports and on aircraft. The nation's most respected pet organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States, recommend that owners do not transport their pets by air unless absolutely necessary.
The Federal Aviation Administration allows individual airlines to set their own policies regarding pet travel. If a pet is brought on board, the FAA classifies it either as checked baggage or carry-on baggage, and requires that rules regarding inanimate luggage apply to pets as well.

Some airlines do allow owners to carry their animals on board, but only if they're small enough to fit in a carrier under the seat in front of the passenger. Airline pet policies, as well as fees, which can rise to up to $500 round trip, vary widely from carrier to carrier.

Despite a push this decade by animal rights' activists for more transparency about the airlines' treatment of animals on board, pets continue to die on aircraft. Since May, 2005 the federal Department of Transportation has required major U.S. carriers to file monthly reports on pets that died or were lost during transport.

The reports show that between May 2005 and March of this year, 135 animals died on scheduled passenger flights operated by U.S. carriers. Pet experts point out that the DOT regulation does not require carriers to report animal escapes which "last only a few minutes or a few hours."

If you must travel with your pet, the Humane Society compiled a thorough list of how to prepare for the trip, including which animals should absolutely not travel in the cargo hold because their airways aren't designed to withstand thinner air. Tips also include not giving the animal tranquilizers, notifying the captain your pet is on board, and watching baggage handlers load the carrier into the cargo hold.

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