Reports of animals injured or killed on airline flights represent only the incidents in cargo, because the Transportation Department doesn’t collects reports about animals that travel in the cabin with passengers.
The difference is reflected in two incidents this week with United Airlines. A 10-month-old French bulldog died in an overhead bin during a flight Monday. On Tuesday, a 10-year-old German Shepherd was mistakenly shipped to Japan rather than Kansas City in cargo.
The Transportation Department counted 506,994 animals transported last year, including 24 that died, 15 that were injured and one that was lost.
United has been criticized because 18 of those deaths happened on its flights. The airline has had the highest number of deaths in each of the last five years, with nine of 26 in 2016; 14 of 35 in 2015; five of 17 in 2014; and nine of 21 in 2013, according to the department’s Air Travel Consumer Reports.
But those figures reflect only the animals traveling in cargo, which in United’s case included gekkos and conure birds in addition to cats and dogs. Airlines are not required to report pet injuries or deaths for animals traveling with passengers in the cabin, which makes it impossible to know the total figures for each airline.
More on animal travel aboard airlines:
A United flight attendant ordered the passenger in the Monday incident to place the bulldog’s container in the overhead bin. The flight attendant said later that she didn’t understand the passenger was saying that there was an animal in the bag, according to United.
United changed its policy Wednesday for pets traveling in airline cabins. The bags holding the animals will be labeled with bright-colored tags because airlines including United typically call for the animals to be stored under a seat rather than in an overhead bin with other carry-on items.
While 17 airlines report transporting animals in cargo, the department said six airlines don’t carry animals that way: Allegiant, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and Virgin America.
Those airlines still allow pets to travel with owners in the cabin. Each airline has its own policy, but they generally charge $75 to $125 for pets weighing up to 20 pounds to be carried in containers that fit beneath a seat.
Southwest Airlines, which carries the most domestic passengers, charges a $95 pet fare and requires the animal to fly in an approved carrier. Southwest offers a branded pet carrier for $58.
Each Southwest customer can bring one pet, with up to six per flight, although the airline says more may be allowed on some flights. Spirit Airlines has a limit of four pet carriers per flight.
JetBlue Airways has a program called JetPaws that charges $100 each way for pets. JetPaws also offers a branded carrier for small animals for $32.
“While we don’t transport animals in cargo like other carriers, JetBlue gladly accepts small cats and dogs in the aircraft cabin on both domestic and international flights, with the exception of flights to Jamaica, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Cayman Islands and Trinidad & Tobago,” said Morgan Johnston, a JetBlue spokesman.