What would you do if you had to transport your manatee on a plane?
Most of us are aware that pets and guide dogs travel on aircraft. But zoo animals, racehorses, and police animals are also frequent flyers. And sometimes, whole herds of livestock are flown in their thousands —mostly to China, Russia and South-East Asia—as a quicker, more humane alternative to live export by boat.
The particular rules and recommendations that come with carrying an animal on a plane are almost as diverse and curious as the animal kingdom itself. The most widely recognised international rules for the carriage of animals are the International Air Transport Association Regulations, now in their 41st edition. But they aren’t binding on carriers; for instance, although the IATA regulations discourage airlines from allowing animals in the cabin on passenger flights, many airlines allow passengers to take a dog or cat in the cabin. Emirates allows passengers to bring up to 15 falcons with them in the cabin on some routes.
Other bodies make complementary regulations, providing for the carriage of bats, elephants, porpoises, sparrows, manatees, and zebras, among others. Many of the regulations seem obvious. Owls ‘should be transported in semi-darkness’. Poisonous snakes a la Snakes on a Plane should be labelled as such. And for whales, ‘facilities for handling by crane or fork-lift should be provided’.
Particular kinds of animals pose particular difficulties. For instance, when one carries large, dangerous animals on a passenger plane, there is always a risk that they’ll escape, rampaging down the aisle and imperiling passengers. Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority recommends that airlines carry a captive bolt pistol or pole syringe so as to kill or sedate such an animal.
Horses are one of the most-flown species of animals, whether for racing, law enforcement, or breeding. Aircraft are often wholly or partially chartered for the carriage of large numbers of horses, and a Boeing 747 can accommodate about seven horses across its width, housed in stalls which give the aircraft the appearance of a stable.
Airlines often prohibit brachycephalic (snub-nosed) dogs and cats from flying, as these breeds have great difficulty breathing in the rarefied atmosphere of the aircraft, and are massively overrepresented in statistics of pet deaths in flight. If you really need to fly your Pekingese or Pug, you may be able to do it with some airlines, in the winter, in a special crate—but you’ll have to give the airline an indemnity against suffocation. Minks, skunks, and pigs are often prohibited absolutely for the same respiratory reasons.
Domestic pets remain the most common animal passengers on the world’s aircraft; according to IATA, pets have been flying on planes since the 1930s, predating modern commercial aviation. But pet transport is also embracing the 21st century: if you choose to fly your pet with Qantas (including your exotic bird, mouse, live coral specimen, fish or crocodile) you’ll be able to use online tracking—at no extra charge.