NOTE: Updated with data from 2016 to 2018!
Two days ago, a dog suffocated to death on United Airlines flight 1284 from Houston to New York because a flight attendant stuffed him in the overhead bin.
Folks are raging about it and United Airlines has publicly disavowed the incident, so I’ll spare you my rage (it’s *!@#& insane) and focus on the facts— What’s the safest airline for pets?
- Horizon/Alaska Airlines was the #1 safest overall airline (+49% safer than average) for pets.
- In general, long-haul airlines were 193% more dangerous than short-haul airlines. Long-haul travel, by its very nature, is more dangerous for animals.
- However, United Airlines was by far the most dangerous airline. United Airlines was 678% more dangerous than the safest airline, 379% more dangerous than all other airlines and 180% more dangerous than all other long-haul airlines.
Here’s a pretty graph:
Horizon/Alaska Airlines is the #1 safest overall airline — they’re +49% safer than the average airline. If you can fly with them, you should. Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing right: they fly a lot of the same routes as the bigger carriers and they fly a lot of animals (260,703 in the last two years), but they’re able to do it safely and consistently.
If you can’t fly Horizon/Alaska, most regional airlines are relatively safe. Depending on where you live and which airline serves your area, there’s usually one best choice though:
- West Coast: Just stick with Horizon and Alaska.
- South: If you’re flying around the South, ExpressJet Airlines is the next-safest at +43% safer than average.
- Midwest: If you’re flying in the Midwest, Horizon/Alaska and ExpressJet Airlines are both very safe airlines (but Horizon/Alaska is a bit safer).
- Northeast: In the New England area and broader Northeast, CommutAir is the next-safest at +40% safer than average.
Big, long-haul carriers are where things start getting dicey. On average, it’s 193% riskier to fly with your pet on a long-haul route/airline.
That said, if you absolutely have to fly long-haul routes with a pet, American Airlines is the safest long-haul airline, being 32% riskier than the average airline but +73% safer than the other long-haul airlines.
Now, about United Airlines, here’s the rub—
Despite their official disavowals, United Airlines is by far the most dangerous airline for pets. Whether it’s because they’re incompetent or simply don’t care, United Airlines was +678% more dangerous than the safest airline, +379% more dangerous than all other airlines and +180% more dangerous than all other long-haul airlines.
Tuesday (or yesterday) didn’t happen because one flight attendant went rogue, it happened because of poor policies, priorities and processes at United Airlines. If you’re flying with pets, don’t fly on United Airlines.
Here’s the full ranking of airlines that allow animals, from safest to most dangerous:
per 10,000 Animals
|#11||Sun Country Airlines||6,902||0.43||+15%|
|#17||Delta Air Lines||138,549||0.74||-48%|
- Why’s this better than raw Department of Transportation numbers? Fundamentally, this analysis accounts for uncertainty, total number of transported animals and reported incidents. Is it safer to fly on Alaska Airlines with a 0.0029% casualty rate (after 114,974 transports) or Island Air with a 0% casualty rate (after 506 transports)? Hint: Alaska Airlines.
- Why should we trust you? I worked on the Human Genome Project at UC Berkeley, led engineering for Amazon recommendations and am now CEO of TalentWorks, an AI-driven jobs assistant that helps millions of everyday Americans get the job they deserve through sophisticated artificial intelligence and mentorship.
- How’d you calculate this? Please tell me all the boring, technical details. (Nerd alert.) I downloaded the raw data from the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report for 2016 to 2018, calculated the Bayesian maximum a posteriori estimate for expected casualties using a binomial model with beta priors and then normalized by the mean casualty rate for safety. I did this in Python, using pandas, scipy & bokeh — pardon any mistakes, I only had a few hours this evening.
- Why do you care about this? As the owner of two animals and as someone who travels a lot (400,000+ miles in the last few years), often with animals (I used to train guide dogs for the blind), I care a lot about the safety of my dogs.