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The plane facts

THE AIRLINE industry would, it seems, appear to have a downer on dogs lately. Have dog owners and their income become unwanted and unacceptable in the few months and, in the case of the UK, the past few weeks?

In summer 2002, American Airlines banned no less than four breeds, namely the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Stafford, Doberman Pinscher and Rottweiler. The basis of their decision stemmed from an incident when a single dog – allegedly a Pit Bull –escaped from a crate in the hold of an AA plane during a domestic US flight and caused "considerable damage" to the hold. Citing health and safety issues, AA banned the named breeds on the ‘advice’ of their insurers.

British Airways instigated their own BSL-like ban when the airline banned three bracycephalic (flat faced) breeds of dog from all flights that carry pets under the Pet Passport Scheme.

The ban was placed on Bulldogs, Pekinese and Pugs just before Christmas 2002, although no formal statement was made as to this change of policy.

When asked a series of questions about the reasons for the ban, BA put this down to the fact that the breeds in question are "prone to breathing difficulties and stress" and stated that they had taken veterinary advice. However, when questioned as to the origin of this advice and whether the ban was prompted by any particular incident, BA declined to answer the questions.

There followed reports that a Bulldog had allegedly died en route to Australia aboard a BA flight in early October 2002. The dog, a pet owned by a family in the north of England who do not wish to be identified, was sent as cargo on a BA flight to Sydney. The dog was secured in an approved airline travelling crate and sealed in the plane’s hold. The crate was removed from the hold during the plan’s stopover in Singapore, at which point the dog was seen to be alive and well, but in a state of some excitement.

The crate was then placed in the hold again for the remainder of the onward flight to Sydney. However, upon arrival the dog was
found to have died. It is believed that the dog, already not used to such long distance travel, had become excited upon arrival at Singapore, thinking that it had reached its destination and was due to be removed from the crate. After being placed back in the hold, the dog, already in a highly excited state may have become further stressed and succumbed to some kind of seizure, most probably a heart attack.

BA’s response was simple: "We have investigated our processes and procedures surrounding this flight and are satisfied that things were carried out in the correct manner.

"The owner refused to allow a post mortem examination and therefore the dog's death was put down to natural causes. In the terms and conditions of our cargo carriage BA is not responsible for the death of animals due to natural causes.

"As stated many times to you before the welfare of all flat-faced dogs is of paramount concern to us regardless as to who owns them and that is why we introduced the ban.

"Contrary to your view the ban was not introduced as a result of this particular case in October 2002 and was actually being discussed and reviewed before this regrettable incident in Sydney occurred."

When asked this week if the airline might review its ban in the light of a letter being sent to the airline by the Kennel Club seeking to reach some better understanding of the issue, BA’s response was equally dismissive: "Our position has not changed and we are happy that our policy change is in the best interests of animal welfare."

Meanwhile, low-cost airline Ryanair has taken the decision to ban dogs and cats from all their flights from April 2003.

The airline’s statement was blunt and to the point: "From immediate effect Ryanair will no longer accept animals on routes into or out of London Gatwick. Effective from 1st April 2003, (commencement of Summer Schedule) Ryanair will no longer carry animals (dogs//cats) on board any Ireland UK or UK Domestic flights. "However, one Seeing-Eye dog accompanying a blind passenger is permitted on any UK or domestic flight."

Quite apart from declining to use the correct terminology for a Guide Dog, Ryanair were obviously not wishing to justify or clarify their position any further, despite several emails requesting further information from OUR DOGS to Ryanair’s press office.

The company had hit the headlines recently in any case, with the publication of Ryanair's third quarter results that showed its profits rising by 50% as passenger numbers jumped 46%. The airline cut fares by 8% and gave out a million free seats in October to record its highest ever figure for passengers - 3.9 million.

Revenues increased by 37% while operating costs dipped by 28%, leading to a net profit of £28.5 million - a 50% increase.

But this very week, Ryanair flew into controversy when it stubbornly refused to accept British servicemen’s Military IDs as acceptable proof of ID to board Ryanair flights, despite the fact that other airlines accept these and in the face of protests from the MOD.

Kathryn Munro, Ryanair’s sales manager in Scotland dismissed the threat of a boycott by military personnel, saying: "Let them boycott us if they want to, but they will have to pay higher fares. A member of the military is the same as anyone else. They book the ticket and tick the box. They are no different from any Joe Punter travelling on Ryanair."

Except, perhaps, Joe Punter with a dog. Unless it’s a Seeing-Eye dog of course.

And then there’s the PETS passport scheme. Only one airline has taken up the option to transport dogs and cats on the scheme from the US to the UK, after quarantine from North American and Canada was relaxed last December and the PETS scheme extended to cover both countries.

Britannia Airways will transport dogs and cats on routes from Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Sanford to London Gatwick – but only for passengers returning to the UK on a package holiday booked with the company.

Despite DEFRA’s declaration that it was "in discussions" with other airlines to take up the PETS scheme, no other airlines have taken up the option.

However, British Airways managed to make an exception by allowing the US Ambassador to fly his dog, Katie the Bichon Frise to the US and back for Christmas.

A BA spokesman denied that the airline was giving the Ambassador preferential treatment saying that they were using his dog as "a trial" to see how the scheme works.

In the meantime, any dogs and cats coming flying the US as normal cargo have to enter quarantine for a few days until it is confirmed that they have fulfilled the criteria of the PETS scheme.

Who said air travel was the way to go in the 21st Century? It certainly isn’t if you have a dog.