Delta Air Lines Inc. will offer what it says is the first pet-tracking device to reassure passengers who are separated from their beloved furry companions during flights.
Starting Wednesday, Delta customers will be able to monitor their pets in real time, with data on the surrounding temperature and whether the animal is right-side up or sitting askew. The gadget was developed by Sendum Wireless Corp. and will be available for $50 per flight from 10 U.S. airports.
"When things go wrong with a pet, it often goes horribly wrong," said Neel Jones Shah, a former Delta cargo executive and now an airline adviser to Sendum, which is based in Burnaby, British Columbia.
Take Ty, the American Staffordshire terrier who escaped from his kennel under Delta's watch and raced out of the Los Angeles airport in October. The pooch hasn't been seen since, though he is memorialized through his own Facebook page and his family has petitioned Delta to apologize and take steps to prevent similar events from happening again.
The new GPS gadget wasn't specifically meant to address the airline's past trouble with animal shipments, Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said. United Continental Holdings Inc. said it's also testing a pet-tracking device. Sendum's PT300 has uses beyond monitoring live animals, including temperature-sensitive organ transplants, Durrant said.
It's the furry friends that make the headlines, however, and transporting animals can be a tricky business. The Humane Society of the United States urges people not to ship their pets by air "unless absolutely necessary," according to its website.
English bulldogs, Pekingese, and other dogs with short snouts may have trouble breathing during flights, so much so that some airlines ban the breeds, said Walter Woolf, a veterinarian and owner of the pet mover Air Animal Inc. in Tampa, Fla.
The number of animals that die while in an airline's care has been dropping in recent years.
The 10 airports
Delta has had the most animal deaths among U.S. carriers in the last five years, with 51, though it has had only six since 2013, Transportation Department data show. In 2014, U.S. airlines reported 17 animal deaths, including some that were out of the airline's control. That's down from 39 in 2010.
Delta, based in Atlanta, will offer the new GPS-based device to owners who bring animals to the Delta Cargo facility at New York's LaGuardia and nine other airports in Atlanta; Cincinnati; Detroit; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tenn.; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Seattle; Salt Lake City; and Tampa. The service is not available for pets sent by checked baggage at the passenger terminal.
Placed on the animal's crate, the device notes location, ambient temperature, and other factors, including how the crate is positioned. If the temperature rises above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, for example, it will shoot an alert to Delta's call center, Shah said. The pet owners also can check on their animal's stats by visiting a website, he said.