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Puppies' Deaths on Plane Hold Lessons for Us All

An American Airlines flight from Tulsa to Chicago this week carried 14 puppies in the cargo hold. Seven of them died, apparently from the heat.

But CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg says there are steps you could take to try to assure your pet stays safe on planes.

"It's all about the temperature and the time waiting on the tarmac," he told co-anchor Eric Hill. "Now, in this particular case, the plane took off an hour late from Tulsa. American Airlines has a corporate policy they will not fly pets in the cargo hold when the ground temperature's above 85 degrees or, in the winter months, when it's below 45. In this case, the (National) Weather Service was reporting the temperature was actually about 87 degrees and rising by the time that plane took off an hour late."

Every airline, Greenberg pointed out, has different rules regarding transporting animals. "For example," he said, "Jet Blue and Southwest won't allow any pets to be transported. Delta has a … moratorium (on transporting pets) between May 15 and Sept. 15. They won't take any pets. And at other times of the year, their temperature moratorium is nothing above 75 degrees or below 25 degrees. So, every airline is different."

Greenberg suggests putting ice cubes in water dishes. "When you take one of those approved kennels to go in the cargo hold," he explained, "they have a little water dish. That's totally useless; because of the amount of jostling that kennel gets, that water's gonna spill before that pet even gets to the plane. So, when you get to the airport, put some ice cubes in a Ziploc (type) bag and, right before you take that kennel and give it over to the airline, put the ice cubes in that water dish, so as the ice melts, the animal at least has a chance to hydrate itself."

" … More than half of the 122 dogs that have died (on domestic carriers' flights) in the last five years, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, were short-faced or pug-nosed dogs like an English bull dog or pug. Don't ever travel with those in the cargo hold."

Greenberg also recommends not putting animals weighing less than 20 pounds in the cargo hold. "This is an opportunity for you to take the animal in the cabin with you," he said. "But once again, every airline has different regulations. In most cases, they will allow one animal in the cabin per coach, business or first-class cabin. So, in many cases, you can have three dogs in the cabin. But remember -- they have to fit under the seat in front of you and you can't take them out during the flight."

Also, says Greenberg, non-stop flights are the way to go for pets: "The real danger here is the tarmac because, you know, I have enough trouble connecting on flights when the temperature's bad, so can you imagine what happens to your animal if it's sitting on the tarmac for an hour, two hours, three hours and that temperature starts to rise or in the winter months, just as dangerous, if it start to drop."

Other tips:

• Retrieve your animal immediately when you reach your destination. If you notice anything wrong, get your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

• In a cargo hold, a pet's kennel must be sturdy, properly ventilated, and large enough for the animal to freely sit and stand with its head erect; It must also be able to turn around and lie down in a normal posture.

• Verify that the kennel's baggage claim tag shows the correct destination and is securely attached.

• When you check in, ask the gate agent if you can speak to the ramp supervisor for your flight to offer that person any information you think may be useful about the handling of your animal.

• If the flight is delayed, inform the crew that an animal is on board and ask that the captain be informed. If the delay is lengthy, your animal must be removed from the plane until flight time. Insist on this. You are the only person who is going to protect your animal.

• Watch as your animal is loaded into the cargo area to ensure that he or she is on your flight. If you cannot see the loading of the cargo area, ask the flight attendant to phone the cargo area to make sure your animal is on the flight before you board.

• If you are relocating a long distance and your pet is large, consider using a pet travel shipper who is familiar with the process of transporting animals. These agents can educate you on specific airline rules and international restrictions, and make sure your pet is contained in an airline-approved kennel. Check with the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association International for a list of professional pet shippers.