Delta’s “No Pets Flying Cargo” Announcement is Misleadingly Optimistic


I rarely get up on my soap box, Dear Reader, but every now and then, I feel I must. I did when Jann Arden got in a whole bunch of trouble for sneaking her small dog on Canada’s VIA Rail. And I am about to hop on the box again — even if it is for big dog air travel, something I don’t have to worry about. Because when 15 people send you the same information within a 2–month period and cheer as if the change were a win for dog lovers everywhere — even animal rights groups cheered — but it isn’t … you realize you need to speak up and set the record straight. Delta’s “No Pets Flying Cargo” announcement is misleadingly optimistic. It’s actually just another example of large companies putting a positive spin on something that really isn’t.

The first and most misleading element was the photograph used by the blog Life With Dogs to illustrate Delta’s news. That’s where I first saw the news. See for yourself:

Dogs sitting on the seats in an airplane cabin

Dogs on a Plane, as used by Life With Dogs. Original source unknown (despite trying very hard to find it).

Okay, Delta didn’t use that photo, but yowza, a dog blog did. Were they duped.

Just to be clear: Delta has not increased the size of dog allowed in-cabin, let alone decided that dogs who are allowed in-cabin need not be in carriers. Sorry. Nope. The size of dog allowed in-cabin remains what it has always been: pets small enough to fit in a carrier that fits under the seat in front of you, with the combined weight of the pet and carrier not exceeding 20 pounds.

What Does Delta’s News Actually Mean for With-Pet Travellers?

Let us put on our analyst’s hat and figure out what this means. Delta’s news means that Delta is not offering a better service; it means they are offering one less service. See what they did there? Sneaky right?

Delta does say that you can ship pets within the United States as freight, using what they call Delta Cargo. These are not passenger planes but one hundred percent cargo planes. Your pet would thus be shipped, like a parcel — indeed, with parcels — on Delta’s cargo planes. Delta could not keep pets safe with the owners only feet away, so how is it better to put the pet on a completely separate airplane?

Pets that are transported via Delta Cargo are monitored closely by customer service teams during … travel. While at airports, pets are handled in temperature-controlled holding areas and vans. Also, Delta Cargo enlists professional kenneling services if overnight stays are required.


Delta Airlines, November 16, 2015

This raises two serious questions for me.

First question: Was Delta not providing all those services for pets travelling cargo on passenger flights? And if not, why the heck not?

Second question: What about those people flying other than in the United States — you know, the rest of the world? Heck, what about Canada and Mexico?

Delta does say that members of the military with active transfer orders can still travel with a pet as checked baggage. Delta will also extend the same option to service and support animals that meet regulations and have proper documentation. That does not help the average traveller much though, does it? And I find their exceptions to the policy to be absurd. Does Delta not realize that people need service animals to be with them to provide the services or comfort they get from these animals? Checking a service dog in as cargo defeats the point.

Service dog resting on floor of airplane cabin

I prefer service or military dogs in-cabin anyway! Source: Jason & Axel.

Digging into Delta’s “Dog as Cargo” Policy

To use Delta Cargo to ship your dog means dropping your dog off at least three hours before the cargo flight and at a different location from where you would board a passenger plane.

I will give you a moment to let that sink in.

That’s right! Just to make things a little bit more complicated, cargo planes and passenger planes don’t use the same areas of an airport. In fact, at times, they don’t even use the same airport!

To top it all off — and as a result of the above silliness — Delta will not guarantee that your pet will get to its destination at the same time as you will, let alone arrive at the same airport. Oh, wait, and that’s assuming that you managed to get your dog onto a flight because you can’t book your pet’s flight until two weeks before the travel day.

How is this even remotely “user friendly”? Can we just take a moment to acknowledge the logistical nightmare that this represents? I mean, what if you don’t even own a car?

Don’t Tell Me It Isn’t About Money!

And let’s look at the bottom line for a moment shall we? Since the Delta Cargo option is just for U.S. flights, I want to compare like with like.

The fee for in-cabin pet travel is about $125 one way for a domestic flight. Delta Cargo? Owners will be looking at somewhere between $200 to $400 one way on domestic flights, depending on the size of the animal and the distance to be travelled. That is right! You guessed it! That is more than double. Is anyone here surprised? I will admit, the words “money grab” entered my mind.

Needless to say, when I finished reading the news article I was troubled. Why was I troubled? As a with-dog family travelling internationally, I see Delta’s policy as setting a dangerous precedent. How many other airlines will follow in this direction?

What Would Have Been a Real Win?

What would have been headline worthy would have been news of improvements on passenger airline cargo services. Something along the lines of how larger dogs travelling cargo will:

  • Be traced with an app — to Delta’s credit, added recently, with an additional fee
  • Spend more time with their owner, all the way up to boarding time, before going in the cargo hold
  • Benefit from new and improved temperature and noise-controlled live animal cargo hold space and transport
  • Be accompanied by a caretaker travelling in cargo with the animals to ensure they are well, and providing updates to the owners in cabin with text messages to their in-cabin screen
  • Have pet relief areas on the boarding side of security at all airports Delta flies to, close to where owners are reunited with their pets during layovers or before going through customs

These are just a few of the ideas we thought would have made for a truly positive headline. Those would have been real wins for the airline. Instead, I find myself viewing Delta as copping out. I am sorely disappointed in Delta and frustrated — not for myself being in-cabin size — but for those who have lost yet one more airline option. Because let’s be honest, Dear Reader, how many owners, even if flying within the United States, would ship their dog on a flight separate than their own? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

So, how, pray tell, is this a win for with-pet travelers? It’s not. Call it a red herring, a distraction, a Band-Aid solution. But do not call it good news.

15 Comments on “Delta’s “No Pets Flying Cargo” Announcement is Misleadingly Optimistic

  1. Monte & the team,

    You are absolutely right! There is nothing positive about what Delta did. In my opinion they just want to discourage carrying animals in their cargo altogether. Hence the nonsense changes and increase in fees. I’m also surprised how many people do not see through bullshit headlines like that. They clearly don’t think things through very much!

    Well written as always.

    Kisses, M, O, & C

    • I find it all the more sad when organizations like PETA back this sort of thing. Come on!! Ah well … we see it. And if we see it others must as well.

  2. As a former airline employee, it doesn’t surprise me that Delta takes a lackadaisical attitude about transporting pets. Most airlines’ policies reflect generating revenue, not the care and safety of your pet. Pet owners are responsible for providing food and water with their pets, but it’s up to ground crew and baggage claim agents for the care and feeding of the pets. Most of them couldn’t be bothered. Your pet is just another piece of baggage.
    As for tracking the pet, the airlines have bar codes on the tag. It would be simple to scan the bar code when the pet is received at the departure point, when then pet is loaded and unloaded, and when it reaches its final destination. Any mishandling – missing a connection or fail to load – could be easily traced. But mishandled pet carriers should be given priority status and not treated like another piece of checked baggage. Not all airline employees have this attitude. I always took great care of any crated pet that I either loaded or unloaded, or received into the baggage office. Shame on Delta for fleecing passengers.

    • Thank you for your “inside the beasts” insight Brad. I do think it’s a shame that Delta did not step-up and decide to become an industry leader and instead did what they did. I don’t think that making Cargo travel for pets comfortable would have been THAT difficult.

  3. Delta is my preferred airline. I have flown others but I always have went back to Delta. Delta has always treated me with the utmost respect and treated me like I was a person and not a medical alert dog. They ask at the beginning of the flight if I would like any water when the refreshments are being served and if ma says no, they they act like I am not there for the rest of the flight. I am ignored, just like I should be.

    They may say that working dogs are accepted as checked baggage but I have never been “Checked” as baggage. I fly on the floor between my ma’s legs. Soon as I get on that plane, I get comfy and I proceed with some serious napping. I am also a “known traveler” and get pre TSA check so I go right to the plane.

    The photo that was used with all the dogs in the seats irated my ma and others that she knows. As far as I know the photo came from Why all those dogs were on that plane I have no idea. Photo could have been photoshopped too , we just don’t know. Considering there were only dogs and 1 human on that plane makes me wonder about the photo.

    I for one was happy to see that Delta stopped the dogs being checked as cargo. The risk to those animals life was far too great. To put a animal in a area of the plane that doesn’t have temperature control or isn’t monitored to make sure it is operating properly, is a risk many shouldn’t take. Unfortunately you will see more “pay for fake certificates” for them to fly in the plane.

    Now if we could stop the turkey, pigs and Kangaroos as being ESA’s on the planes that would make me more happy. 🙂

    As for how to get a large pet to go to the destination with you, there are a couple of options. You can either fly another airline or you can use Petairlines or animalairlines. While being that Delta says that the cargo option is better , it is. In a cargo only plane (even if it does cost more) is climate controlled. There is not the risk of overheating or freezing a pet to death.

    Also a smaller airline like Cape Air will fly your pooch with you. When we flew to St. Louis, we used Cape Air. On the flight over there I was on the floor but when we came back the pilot asked ma to allow me to sit in the seat. Those smaller planes seat you by weight. I had to be told numerous times that I was able to sit in a seat. I thought ma was having a forgetful moment or something! BOL!

    • Glad you have had good experience with Delta Carma! I fly in cabin as well so this isn’t really something that affects us. The main issue though is how misleading the claim is. It’s not that Delta isn’t flying pets cargo anymore – it is that they are not flying them cargo on passenger planes anymore. I know that from a logistical perspective, and given just how often we fly and the fact that we fly internationally – this approach for anyone that flies as we do but with a big dog means they can no longer use Delta. trying to coordinate a passenger flight and cargo flight to land on the same day is near impossible – we looked into it.

      We fly Delta as well and have always had excellent service. But 74 deaths in cargo in one year … I assure you Mom would never allow me to fly cargo with them. Not with those statistics. We actually prefer Air France, KLM and Lufthansa for our cross Atlantic flights. They are amazing. Although I can’t speak to the cargo situation since I don’t fly cargo.

      I too am an ESA. We don’t talk about it because Mom does not like to advertise her disability. As far as she is concerned that is private. But yes – those taking advantage and using it as a fake way to not pay for the flight are going to make things very difficult for the bipeds – like my mom – with genuine issues.

  4. A lot of information to digest and something I will have to reread when I can take it in. I thought they were no longer allowing pets as checked baggage, where you keep your pet with you until it is time to board and the checked baggage is loaded last leaving more chance for accidents to happen. And I thought checked baggage was in a separate compartment from cargo. So you could have pets traveling in cargo and in the baggage compartment. Is this not the case? Do you have a link to the information abouts pets traveling as cargo being on a cargo plane as opposed to a passenger plane?

    I’m just curious. I’ve had 2 pets fly cargo on a passenger plane when they were coming to me and luckily had good experiences both times.

    • Pets fly cargo. And pets do not stay with you until boarding. But I am not an expert and I believe it may also depend on the airline. For Delta I did do the research and the planes for cargo are NOT passenger planes. So the pet is dropped off three hours before flight. The owner does not get to stay with the pet.

      As for cargo on a passenger plane. Again it depends on the airline. As of now Delta no longer has that service. My recommendation is for you to contact the airline directly and get them to walk you through the process.

  5. I meant to blog about this but you beat me to it. Well done. They sure were sneaky but they did a good job “marketing” the announcement as a solution to a very bad PR story.

  6. I’m glad Mr. N fits in cabin so we don’t have to worry about this. Although if we ever do fly internationally with him… I’d like to see more pet relief areas in airports too. Going back out through security is such a hassle!

    • There are more and more. Dullus has a great one for example. and Amsterdam has a decent outdoor air deck we used. I am indoor potty trained on a Pup-head. Has made life a LOT easier. Will be doing a video on that soon! I too am glad that at 3.5 pounds – I fly in cabin.

  7. It is always disappointing when a company makes sneaky changes. It sounds like Carma has had a lot of good experiences, so maybe there is variation within the company, or it is a more recent change. I hope they don’t separate service dogs from their humans, that is just wrong.

    • Hello Beth!

      Carma is flying in cabin as an ESA. Not in cargo. We too have flown Delta in cabin and had great experience.

      But most medium and large dogs (over 20 pounds with carrier) don’t get to fly in cabin. And that is why I felt the need to write this post. Cargo versus in cabin is completely different. Personally – with a PR nightmare like Delta had with 74 pet deaths in passenger plane cargo in one year … I wouldn’t fly my pet cargo with them. Even with this new “in cargo planes and not in passenger planes” system. As I said in my post – if they can’t keep the pet safe with the owner just feet away …..

      In fact – the logistics alone make it impossible for almost anyone. It would only work I think for someone shipping a dog to another person. Not for those of us vacationing with our pets. Just for fun we tried to see if we could book a cargo plane to arrive same time as a passenger plane. We used a common one for us – Montreal to Amsterdam – We used Delta for the Cargo and ANY other airline for the passenger. The BEST solution we got was the passenger arriving an hour before the pet – but there was a 2 hour drive between the cargo plane airport and the passenger plane airport. I know my bipeds would not be comfortable with that.

  8. Pingback: Our Thoughts on the Dog Dying on United Flight in Overhead Bin

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