Last updated on January 20th, 2022 at 11:17 am

Airline transportation for pets can be tricky. As many equestrians and others working within the industry know, travel is simply a part of the job description. Whether you are traveling from the office or for competition, there will almost always be some form of airline experience involved.

As animal lovers, many equestrians would never leave their trusted dogs (or cats) behind. But which airlines are the safest for our beloved pets? Which are the most pet-friendly? And which have a track record of being the most dangerous? Not every airline is the same when it comes to compliance and safety for our loyal companions.

Ready for Take Off

Whether you are traveling with your canine or feline friend, it is important to do your research prior to departure. These days, there are many more airlines that accept pets on flights, but not all airlines have the same pet policies and procedures.

For starters, it is important to contact the airline you are traveling with directly for the most updated procedures, travel guidelines, and requirements. Some policies require mandatory use of an airline pet carrier, or charge a pet fee. Knowing this information can be the difference between a smooth flight or a nightmare.

The following statistics on the best and worst airlines for pets were compiled using reports from the United States Department of Transportation.

The DOT requires that a monthly report is submitted from each airline indicating the deaths, losses, and injuries of an animal during air transportation; it is public information that can be found archived through the DOT Consumer Report.

The number of companions traveling since 2015 has been steadily decreasing. Beginning in 2015, a reported half a million animals flew with U.S. Airlines. By the end of 2019, that number had decreased by 25% with only 404,556 animals flying during that year.

To further this decline, the COVID-19 pandemic generated another 25% drop in 2020, with only 311,149 animals boarding flights.

Photo courtesy of Julio Cortez via NBC News

Who has the most Pet Passengers?

According to the data, the airlines with the highest number of pet passengers in 2020 was Alaska Airlines the most pet at 107,042, followed by American Airlines (80,817), Delta Airlines (18,943), Horizon Air (38,813), and SkyWest Airlines rounds out the top five with 16,805 pets transported.

Alaska Airlines has consistently been the airline to transport the most pets when compared to all other airlines since 2015, with only the exception of United Airlines in 2017. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and Skywest Airlines have all consistently held the top five pet friendly airlines since 2015.

More recently however, the airlines Horizon Air and Envoy Air have begun to outshine the industry giant, United Airlines in terms of pet travel.

Incident Rates by Airline

In contrast to the top pet friendly airlines, the airlines with the highest incident rates throughout the year 2020 include Hawaiian Airlines coming in first, with a 2.15 Incident Rate among the 9,302 total animals transported.

Second was Delta Airlines with a 1.06 Incident Rate with 18,934 total animals transported. Following in third was United Airlines coming in with a 0.99 Incident rate and 10,152 total animals transported.

Incidents reflected within those rates, according to the DOT, include death, injury, or loss of a pet. Each percentage listed was calculated through the DOT based on the number of incidents per 10,000 animals transported.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Safety In Numbers

Other noteworthy insights among pet friendly airlines include:

  • Alaska Airlines, which transported over 107,000 pets in 2020, totaling the most animals transported by any airline, earned an incident rate of 0.

  • Other airlines that reported a zero incident rate included Horizon Air, Skywest Airlines, and Envoy Airlines. All of these airlines transported a considerable number of animals throughout the 2020 year.

  • Reportedly, United Airlines has appeared the most within the top three of reported animal incidents since 2015. United Airlines has made this list every year since 2015, with an average incident rate of 1.6 with over 448,000 animals transported.

  • United Airlines has also totaled the highest number of animals deaths, making up 40-45% of all animal deaths among airlines and pet injuries at more than 50% of all reported injuries.

  • Among the airlines that transported over 10,000 animals in a single year, the highest incident rate on record between the years of 2015 and 2020 was United Airlines. Totaling an incident rate of 2.37 of the 97,156 animals transported in 2015 alone.

  • Within the year of 2015, United Airlines reported 14 pet deaths and 9 pet injuries. In 2016 and 2017, United Airlines continued to earn the award for highest incident rate, totaling at an incident rate over 2.0 during both years.

Between 2015 and 2020, Delta Airline, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines transported a combined 1.9 million animals, with Alaska Airlines transporting the majority of those animals.

Two of the airlines mentioned, Delta Airlines and American Airlines, appeared in the top three lists for highest number of incidents by incident type according to the Special Reports Team at Veterinarians.org.

Infographic courtesy of Veterinarians.org

Best and the Worst Airlines for Pets

In conclusion, Alaska Airlines managed to not only transport the most animals but also reported an incident rate more that six times lower than the average incident rate of United Airlines during the same time period.

Hawaiian Airlines takes the lead in terms of highest incident rate, with an average incident rate of 2.02 between the period of January 2015 to December 2020.

Among airlines that transported more than 10,000 animals in a single year, United Airlines was the most dangerous, with an average incident rate of 1.6. Following closely behind was Delta Airlines with an incident rate of 1.05, and American Airlines at 0.71.

Whether you are an experienced globetrotter or a first time flyer, understanding how to better provide a positive experience for your furry friend during pet airline transportation is always a priority. You can further expand your animal transportation research through Veterinarians.com or the U.S. Department of Transportation. In addition to airline travel, check out dog-friendly hotels.

Image courtesy of Loews Hotels