Pets on flights are taking off in the United States but would it fly in Australia?

Pets on flights is booming in the United States.

Pets on flights is booming in the United States. Photo: Simon Rankin

A bizarre new trend is sweeping across the United States where dogs, ducks and parakeets are travelling in the passenger cabins of planes, prompting calls for Australian airlines to follow suit.

Australian pet bodies are advocating for our furry and feathered friends to be allowed to hitch a ride with their owners on board – as opposed to in the cargo hold area.

However, critics are defending Australia’s current safety standards in only permitting trained service dogs.

US airline Delta revealed earlier this month that it flew 250,000 animals – both service dogs and “comfort animals” – last year, up 150 per cent from 2015.

But a dog mauling incident in June, which resulted in a man sustaining facial wounds requiring 28 stitches, triggered discussions in the US about greater regulation, with Delta responding by tightening its rules.

In the most recent quirky case, a woman travelling with her “comfort peacock” was refused boarding onto a United Airlines flight this week.

In comparison, the Australian regulator – the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) – does not permit “comfort animals”, which refer to animals that provide emotional support to the traveller.

Qantas told The New Daily that 300 to 500 service dogs travel in passenger cabins on its planes every year.

However, a CASA spokeswoman revealed to The New Daily it was in the process of reconsidering its regulations, so Australia’s rules could soon undergo changes.

“Any impact on the safety of flight by expanding the scope of the carriage of animals would need to be carefully considered.”

Should pets be allowed on Australian flights?

Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world at 66 per cent, compared to 65 per cent in the US.

Pets Australia managing director Dr Joanne Sillince said Australia should “absolutely” permit pets on planes, claiming the idea was often raised in pet industry circles.

“The primary reason that airlines seem to use for their refusal is that [pets] might be disruptive,” she said.

“But support animals are far less disruptive than drunken passengers and poorly parented children.


An emotional support duck spotted on a plane in the US. Photo: Mark Essig/Twitter

“A service dog is accredited by an agency, but there are thousands of people whose pet dogs fill the same role but are not officially classified as ‘service dogs’.”

Jon Wakefield, director of retailer Pets of Australia, agreed that both pets and owners would benefit from flying in the passenger cabin together.

“Travelling can be stressful for some pets, especially in the cargo hold,” he told The New Daily.

“It has also been shown that pets help to reduce anxiety in humans, so it only makes sense that this is allowed.”

Mr Wakefield said most pet owners would be willing to pay a premium for the peace of mind that their animal is travelling beside them.

“I would love to see this become an option for dog owners in the future – even if there was one flight a day with the back six rows dedicated to companion animals,” he said.

However, he did flag that exceptions would need to be made for animals that could be dangerous should they escape.

“I can already see the headlines … Snakes on a plane!”

Safety concerns

Psychologist and therapy dog trainer Samantha King said she would not support a shift towards “comfort animals” being permitted on planes in Australia because they are not trained.

In the case of Delta Airlines, “incidents” such as biting or defecating almost doubled since 2016.

“A service animal is an animal that has been assessed as safe, and the person benefiting from the animal has been at least shown how to keep this animal safe in public, and keep the public safe from the animal,” she said.

Richard Long, self-proclaimed ‘top dog’ at the Assistance Dogs Australia, said there was a growing problem with service dog fraud whereby people try to trick the system into believing their pet is a service animal.

Industry sources told The New Daily that in some cases passengers were taking pets as “comfort animals” on flights to dodge expensive freight transport fees.

“The airlines at this stage are after tougher guidelines for assistance dogs,” Mr Long said.

“I can’t see this changing anytime soon.”

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