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Pet Friendly Airlines: The Best and Worst Airlines for Pets in 2021

Lily Velez

By

Medically reviewed by

Veterinarians.org Staff

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pet friendly airlines

Pet Friendly Airlines – Highlights:

  • Alaska Airlines transported over 730,000 animals between January 2015 and December 2020 (the highest number among all airlines), while maintaining an average incident rate (number of incidents inclusive of deaths, injuries, or losses per 10,000 animals transported) of 0.26. This is more than 6 times lower than the average incident rate of United Airlines during the same time period. 
  • In 2020 alone, Alaska Airlines transported 107,042 animals with zero reported incidents that year. 
  • Other airlines that transported over 10,000 animals in 2020 while maintaining a 0 incident rate include: Horizon Air, Skywest Airlines, and Envoy Air. 
  • Since 2015, Horizon Air has transported over 130,000 animals and has maintained a 0 incident rate every year through 2020. 
  • Between January 2015 and December 2020, the airline with the highest average incident rate is Hawaiian Airlines, with an average incident rate of 2.03 (out of a total of 55,906 animals transported during this period), while among airlines that transported more than 10,000 animals in a single year, United Airlines comes out on top with an average incident rate of 1.6 (out of a total of 448,654 animals transported between January 2015 and December 2020), with Delta closely following at 1.05 (out of a total of 371,689 animals transported) and American Airlines coming in third at 0.71 (out of a total of 405,719 animals transported).
  • Since 2015, no other airline has appeared in the Top 3 for highest incident rates more than United Airlines, which has made the list every single year. United Airlines, which has transported over 448,000 animals since 2015, has recorded the highest number of pet deaths (45 — 40% of the total number of pet deaths across all airlines) and pet injuries (42 – more than 50% of the total number of pet injuries across all airlines) of any other airline between January 2015 and December 2020. Delta and American Airlines also place in the Top 3 for carriers with the most reported pet deaths and pet injuries since 2015.

 

If you’re hoping to travel with your dog or cat, it’s important to research the best airlines for pets to ensure a safe and stress-free experience both for you and your companion animal. 

These days, there are many pet-friendly airlines to choose from. However, not all pet-friendly airlines have the same policies and procedures when it comes to transporting animals. Always contact your airline of choice for the most up-to-date information on travel guidelines and requirements (such as airline pet fees and/or the mandatory use of an airline pet carrier) so that you’re appropriately prepared to fly with your dog or cat. 

To help you determine the best airlines for pets in terms of safe travel, the Special Reports Team at Veterinarians.org has compiled the following statistics, based on a multi-year analysis of pet-related incidents for the most popular U.S. airlines.  

 

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Pet Friendly Airlines: Methodology

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that each airline in the U.S. submit a monthly report on the death, loss, or injury of an animal during air transportation. This information is made publicly available through the DOT’s Consumer Report Archive, which extends as far back as two decades. The data included in these Consumer Reports only encompasses animals regarded as pets. Animals that are shipped for research or resale, or animals being transported to sanctuaries, are not included in the reports. 

For the purpose of this study, the Special Reports Team at Veterinarians.org analyzed Consumer Report data for the period between January 2015 and December 2020. 

 

Total Number of Pets Transported by Airlines

The number of companion animals transported on airlines has steadily decreased over the period between January 2015 and December 2020. 

In 2015, over half a million animals flew on U.S. Airlines. By the end of 2019, that number had decreased by 25%, with only 404,556 animals flying that year. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number dropped another 24% in 2020, with only 311,149 animals boarding flights. 

airlines for pets transport numbers

 

Carriers with the Highest Number of Pet Transports

Among the numerous pet-friendly airlines in the U.S., the Special Reports Team also took a look at which carriers have seen the highest number of pet transports. 

In 2020, the airlines that transported the most pets were Alaska Airlines (107,042), American Airlines (80,817), Horizon Air (38,813), Delta Airlines (18,934), and Skywest Airlines (16,805). The number of pets transported by these five airlines alone accounted for 84% of the total number of transported pets in 2020. 

pet friendly airline transport numbers

Alaska Airlines also had the highest number of pet transports in 2019 (149,303 — almost 100,000 more than its closest competitor). In fact, Alaska Airlines has consistently transported the most pets than any other airline since 2015, the only exception being the year 2017, when United Airlines transported 17% more animals. 

American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and Skywest Airlines have continuously appeared in the Top 5 along with Alaska Airlines for the highest number of pet transports since 2015. However, 2020 saw carriers like Horizon Air (the carrier with the third highest number of pet transports that year) and Envoy Air come up on top of industry giant United Airlines. 

 

Pet Friendly Airlines with the Highest Incident Rates

An incident, according to the DOT’s Consumer Report Archive, encompasses the death, injury, or loss of a pet. 

Between January 2015 and December 2020, there were 197 incidents reported by airlines to the DOT out of over 2.7 million animals transported over this period. 

When it comes to each individual airline’s incident rate, The DOT calculates this percentage based on the number of incidents per 10,000 animals transported. 

In 2020, the airlines with the Top 3 highest incident rates were: 

  • Hawaiian Airlines: 2.15 Incident Rate (Total Animals Transported: 9,302) 
  • Delta Airlines: 1.06 Incident Rate (Total Animals Transported: 18,934) 
  • United Airlines: 0.99 Incident Rate (Total Animals Transported: 10,152) 

pet-friendly airlines incident rates for top airlines 2021

Airlines for Pets and Incident Rates – Other Notable Insights:

  • Alaska Airlines, which transported the highest number of pets in 2020 (over 107,000), earned an incident rate of 0, with zero reported incidents that year. The same incident rate applies to Horizon Air, Skywest Airlines, and Envoy Air, which also transported a significant number of companion animals in 2020. 
  • Since 2015, no other airline has appeared in the Top 3 for highest incident rates more than United Airlines, which has made the list every single year. With an average incident rate of 1.6, United Airlines, which has transported over 448,000 animals since 2015, has recorded the highest number of pet deaths (45 — 40% of the total number of pet deaths across all airlines) and pet injuries (42 – more than 50% of the total number of pet injuries across all airlines) of any other airline between January 2015 and December 2020. Delta and American Airlines also place in the Top 3 for carriers with the most reported pet deaths and pet injuries, with incident rates of 1.05 and 0.71 respectively. 
  • The airline with the highest incident rate of all time in the period between January 2015 and December 2020 is Envoy Air, which reported one pet injury in 2015 out of 1,673 total animals transported that year, earning the airline an incident rate of 5.98. Hawaiian Airlines comes in second with an incident rate of 3.99, due to three pet deaths reported in 2016, out of 7,518 total animals transported. 
  • Among airlines that transported over 10,000 animals in a given year, the highest incident rate on record between January 2015 and December 2020 comes from United Airlines, which had an incident rate of 2.37 in 2015, when it transported a total number of 97,156 animals, and reported 14 pet deaths and 9 pet injuries that year. The airline continued to earn the highest incident rate in 2016 and 2017, totaling in at over 2.0 for both years.  

 

Highest Number of Incidents Per Incident Type

The Special Reports Team additionally took a look at the numbers by incident type. 

Between January 2015 and December 2020, Delta Airline, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines transported a combined total of over 1.9 million animals. 

All of these airlines rank in at least one of the Top 3 lists for highest number of incidents by incident type shown below. Two airlines (Delta Airline and American Airlines) appear in all three lists. 

pet-friendly airlines top carriers

airlines for pets incident numbers

 

Carriers with the Highest Number of Pet Deaths: 

Between January 2015 and December 2020, there were a total of 112 pet deaths reported by airlines to the DOT. 

During this period, the airlines with the highest number of reported deaths were: 

  • United Airlines: 45
  • American Airlines: 16
  • Delta Airlines: 27

 

Carriers with the Highest Number of Pet Injuries: 

Between January 2015 and December 2020, there were a total number of 81 pet injuries reported by airlines to the DOT. 

During this period, the airlines with the highest number of reported injuries were: 

  • United Airlines: 42
  • Delta Airlines: 14
  • American Airlines: 11

 

Carriers with the Highest Number of Lost Pets: 

Between January 2015 and December 2020, there were a total of 4 lost pets reported by airlines to the DOT. 

During this period, the airlines with the highest number of reported losses were: 

  • Delta Airlines: 2
  • American Airlines: 1
  • Alaska Airlines: 1

 

The Best Airlines for Pets: Final Thoughts

Based on the data, the Special Report Team’s analysis shows that Alaska Airlines, despite transporting over 730,000 animals between January 2015 and December 2020 (the highest number among all airlines), has managed to maintain an average incident rate (number of incidents per 10,000 animals transported) of 0.26. This is more than 6 times lower than the average incident rate of United Airlines for the same time period. Of special note, in 2020 alone, Alaska Airlines transported 107,042 animals with zero reported incidents that year. 

Other airlines that transported over 10,000 animals in 2020 while maintaining a 0 incident rate include: Horizon Air, Skywest Airlines, and Envoy Air. In fact, since 2015, Horizon Air has transported over 130,000 animals and has maintained a 0 incident rate for the entirety of this period. 

As for airlines with the highest incident rate, Hawaiian Airlines takes the lead with an average incident rate of 2.03 over the period between January 2015 and December 2020, while among airlines that transported more than 10,000 animals in a single year, United Airlines comes out on top with an average incident rate of 1.6, with Delta closely following at 1.05 and American Airlines coming in third at 0.71.

 

 

This article was updated on November 1, 2021.