Understanding the Two Main Types of Pet Travel Insurance

Pet travel insurance is typically available either as part of an animal transportation service or as a component of regular pet insurance. You don’t really need to worry about the first type of travel insurance because it’s usually a commercial insurance policy that’s purchased by the animal shipping company. Still with us? Good. Sowhat is pet insurance, and does it cover travel? Pet insurance is a billion-dollar industry that’s like health insurance for your pet. It’s available with varying levels of coverage and your pet at least can still get denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. There are more than a couple options out there. You’re not the only one who’s interested in getting their vet bills covered, and there are more than a couple options out there. So, let’s unpack some of the details about these policies, so you can feel confident when making choices for your pet and household budget.

 

When is Pet Travel Insurance Offered?

Pet travel insurance is offered by animal transportation services who do not automatically cover any unexpected costs that may arise out of delays or problems with your pet’s travel itinerary. Due to the high potential for abuse and fraud, insurance is not typically available for pet owners traveling with their pets. Let’s say that you chose an itinerary that has your pet connecting through Dallas in April. The odds were supposed to be good that the temperatures would be moderate, but an early heat wave collided with your pet’s travel schedule and now the pet and travel concierge have to spend an extra night in Dallas. Aside from the inconvenience of the delay, pet travel insurance will ensure that you’re covered for any extra pet care and travel costs that may result.

 

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

Pet insurance will cost in the neighborhood of several hundred dollars a year to a few thousand dollars a year. How much your insurance premium will cost depends on the type of plan, the age and breed of the animal, and the location of your permanent residence. Just like regular health insurance, you can find policies with considerably different deductibles and policy inclusions/exclusions.

 

Will My Pet Insurance Cover Pet Travel?

There are two basic types of pet insurance plans: Simple and comprehensive plans. Because simple pet insurance plans only cover a finite list of injuries and illnesses, there is a greater potential for a travel mishap to fall outside the scope of the policy. With a comprehensive plan, the pet itself is covered, though you still ask about any fine print, especially exclusions that may apply while traveling away from home. Pre-existing conditions is another common pet insurance exclusion with an immediate parallel to health insurance plans. You may not be able to get a pet insured for a condition that was diagnosed before the policy was purchased.

 

Is Pet Insurance Worth it?

It really just depends. Statistically, on average, dollar for dollar, pet insurance doesn’t pay for itself, but it can come close and, more importantly, it eliminates the worry of unexpected vet bills and the impossible choice of, say, falling behind on the mortgage or car payment or extending the life of a beloved member of the household. A financial advisor might tell you to put that insurance premium into an interest-bearing account that can be set aside for pet health needs and then reabsorbed into your general savings if the pet is blessed with generally good health over the years. On the other hand, few people have the discipline to start a savings account just for their pet.

 

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Pet Travel Programs Can’t Clean Up Gaps in Airline Business Culture

As Delta prepares to make a fuller announcement about its new pet travel program and partnership with Carepod, it may need to evaluate and make changes to its broader business culture. On a flight last Thursday, passenger Matthew Meehan boarded a flight from Atlanta to Miami and stepped in dog poop left by a golden retriever puppy who had gotten ill on the previous flight. Whether it’s a dog or a person, people get sick. Especially when traveling on a plane and the turbulence that may occur during the flight.

As Meehan told Yahoo Lifestyle, it was what happened after the puppy pooped in the plane that was a failure on multiple levels. First, while there is supposed to be a biohazardous waste kit onboard every flight, this plane didn’t have one. So, when Meehan alerts the flight crew of the dog feces underneath and surrounding his seat, he learns that the flight crew already knew about the incident. Apparently, the flight crew had reported the problem so as to have some airline staff member clean the mess up, but it never happened. So, instead of calling back to the gate to have proper sanitation materials brought on board, the flight crew gives Meehan two paper towels and a small bottle of gin to clean himself up in the airplane lavatory. Needless to say, this is woefully inadequate.

Photo from Facebook

Meanwhile, the flight continues to board. When other passengers in nearby seats smell the mess of dog poop, they rightfully demand it is cleaned. A member of the flight crew cleans the area with what appears to be nothing other than paper towels. The flight crew says they checked the flight records and they believe it was either a German Shepherd or an old man. Again, the truth was that it was a golden retriever puppy. So, now because the flight is full and with the area and passengers still smelling of dog poop, Meehan is given the option of getting off the plane or retaking his seat.

After the flight, Delta Airlines refunded the cost of the flight and offered Meehan, who is a million-mile Diamond Medallion member of Delta’s SkyMiles program, 50,000 frequent flyer miles. They also said they took the plane out of service to have it completely disinfected. The most troubling sign in this ordeal, however, is the lack of accountability as the flight crew, gate staff, and airline managers all proceeded to avoid responsibility in making sure the plane was properly cleaned before take-off.

Like so many unfortunate incidents we hear about, the problem isn’t so much in the pet travel programs and policies themselves. Rather, it’s a multi-point failure to follow through on these air travel policies that create these nightmare scenarios. And that’s a function of the larger business culture.

 

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Dog Lost by American Airlines Shows Need for Advanced GPS Tracking

We came across a story on our social media that American Airlines lost track of a pet dog and then failed to give accurate information about the pet’s whereabouts and care after the fact. Ares was six hours into a scheduled layover when his owner contacted the airline, who said they knew where Ares was. Except, they didn’t. Hours later, they finally found the beloved pet still in the main cargo area, rather than being moved to the kenneling area where the pets can be properly cared for.

Photo from Facebook

Despite this troubling news, the airline assured the pet’s owner, Katie Trusiak, that Ares had been given water, food, and let out of his crate during the roughly 24-hour period in which he was in the airline’s care. Only the evidence seemed to tell a different story since the crate was still locked with the original zip ties. The airline later confirmed that Ares was given water but was NOT let out of his crate or given any of the food that had been taped to the top of his crate.

 

 

While Ares now appears to be on the mend, he is still afraid of his kennel. Hopefully, he isn’t permanently traumatized by the event. If it were up to us, American Airlines would, as part of their response to this incident, offer to buy Ares a brand-new dog carrier to help him rebuild positive associations with kenneling. When we heard about this story 48 hours after the facts, the airline still hadn’t even reimbursed the owner for the cost of Ares’ travel.

 

 

The Need for Modern-Day GPS Pet Tracking

This disturbing incident also shows the need for more universal adoption of modern-day GPS tracking systems. Sendum helped develop and pioneer modern-day tracking devices that provide information in real-time for GPS location, temperature, humidity, shock events, and other data about the location and conditions in which your pet is being transported. In 2015, Delta Airlines first introduced these tracking devices to the airline industry as a standard part of their pet travel services. And while pretty much every major airline allows customers to place these tracking devices on their cargo packages, very few include this type of tracking as part of their pet travel programs.

 

No System is 100% Foolproof

Of course, the most sophisticated tracking and monitoring system in the world is only effective if it’s properly activated and attached to the pet crate. No doubt, if American Airlines pet travel and cargo system had been followed to the letter, they never would have lost Ares in the first place. When there is a travel incident, especially one in which the airline is so clearly at fault, it’s on them to do what they can to make things right. We were saddened to hear about what happened to Ares, but we were also disheartened that when the airline contacted the pet owner, they apparently failed to make even basic assurances that they would reimburse the cost of travel and help make sure that Ares could recover from the potentially traumatizing incident.

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Different Airline Strategies for Pet Travel Programs

From new airport pet relief stations to the newest pet carriers, we try to keep track of every corner of the pet travel industry. Especially the information that is likely to have a real-world impact on your travel plans. But more than just the nitty-gritty details that will guide you through airports and cities on any particular trip, we also wanted to take a step back and look at the broader strategies and programs that airlines are implementing to facilitate pet travel.

A wide-angle view of the pet travel industry over the last decade or so shows that a handful of stories about pets deaths have largely been the result of more people bringing more pets with them on their travels. Sometimes, people do so even when the animal is vulnerable to dangerous health conditions that can be triggered by stressful situations.

This has led airlines to take implement tighter regulations and pet travel policies, while also working to add pet amenities and safety features designed to make the entire experience more comfortable for pets and pet owners. Today, some 2-3 million pets fly on planes each year just within the U.S. Pets suffering serious harm during air travel is becoming increasingly rare. And when it does happen, it’s almost always because either the pet owner or airline employee wasn’t following the rules.

 

Consider These Airline Pet Travel Programs

In this context, we wanted to highlight three different airlines and the programs and partnerships they’ve created to enhance their pet travel offerings. These examples also demonstrate that, while the airline industry is being aggressive in developing and marketing pet travel programs, individual airline carriers are taking different approaches.

 

  • United: What’s happened with the United PetSafe program has been the most visible change this year and over the last few years. Known for being the go-to airline for pet travel, United Airlines was for a time the last carrier to allow cargo pet travel of high-risk snub-nosed pet breeds. This led to a number of animal deaths and a bunch of negative publicity. Without litigating every detail of every case, this is a classic case of market overreach to the detriment of the core brand. While striving to lead the industry in pet travel, the airline suffered harm to its overall reputation for safety. After being suspended for several months, the United Airlines PetSafe program relaunched in June of this year with new prohibitions against sub-nosed pet travel.

 

  • Alaska Air: Going back to 2012, Alaska Air and Banfield Pet Hospital have partnered together to market their brands but also to enhance the pet travel services to an existing segment of their respective customer bases. To this day, Alaska Air customers can get a personalized travel consultation and a great deal on their pet travel services by visiting a qualifying Banfield location. Meanwhile, Alaska Air adds credibility to its program, Fur-st Class Pet Care. With more than 750 locations in more than 40 states, Banfield Pet Hospital is one of the largest providers of small animal veterinary care in the country. Thus, this partnership is also one of the first national pet travel programs of its kind.

 

  • Delta: Even if the exact details aren’t available yet, one of the more recent developments worth noting is Delta Airlines announcement that they are partnering with CarePod, a pet technology start-up, to expand their pet tracking and concierge services. It’s perceived to be part of a larger play the airline is making for pet travel and the growing importance of supplemental revenue streams to today’s airline industry.

 

It remains to be seen how successful these airline pet travel programs will be. Undoubtedly, the airlines define success by at least two different measures: How much revenue/profit is generated by their pet travel programs directly and whether those pet travel operations positively or negatively contribute to their company’s reputation for safe, reliable air travel. As a passenger and as a pet owner, this larger context may help you understand why various airline pet travel policies are put in place.

 

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Do’s and Don’ts for Dressing Up Pets in Costumes

If you’re planning on dressing up a pet in a costume this year, but don’t know if that’s “weird,” there’s good news. You won’t be the only one looking at animal garb this Halloween. According to research from the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights, 18 percent of all people who plan to celebrate Halloween in some capacity will be putting their pet in a costume. Prosper Insights Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist also highlighted this part of the survey. “One of the biggest trends this year is the growth of spending on pet costumes. Out of the 31.3 million Americans planning to dress their pets in costumes, millennials (25-34) are most likely to dress up their pets, the highest we have seen in the history of our surveys.”

 

The Practice has Its Critics

Despite its popularity, a lot of people say you should never dress up a pet. If you look at the fine print, most of these warnings include a contextual judgment about exploiting pets for entertainment and then naming issues that seem mostly avoidable if you’re careful. Nothing is ever 100% safe, right? We’re not going to try to tell every pet owner how safe they need to be with their pets, but we do think you should know what to keep an eye on if you plan to put a pet in costume this Halloween.

 

Three Steps for Dressing Up a Pet in Costume

 

  1. Know Your Pet.

A few animals seem to really enjoy their costumes and many animals are willing to tolerate them, but more than a few absolutely hate wearing anything other than their own coats of fur. Especially if we’re including cats in the discussion. You may not truly know how your pet will react until you give it a try, but you can probably make an educated guess. If you have a generally pliable and agreeable animal for a pet, there’s a better chance for success. Animals that are more finicky, standoffish, and/or easily overstimulated are more likely to throw a fit. Along with not subjecting your pet to something they obviously hate, what you really need to watch for is the “silent suffer”—who tries to hide their discomfort from you.

 

  1. Use Safe Pet Costumes.

Again, this goes double for the silent sufferer, but you want to be extra mindful about how your pet is carrying the costume on their body and in what ways they can get at the costume itself. Make sure the material is sufficiently soft or otherwise isn’t likely to hurt the animal’s skin. Make sure the costume isn’t so thick and insulating that it causes overheating. Make sure there aren’t buttons or other items that can be chewed, swallowed, and/or choked on. Make sure the pet’s range of motion isn’t restricted and that there are no facial impediments especially around the eyes.

 

  1. Don’t Make it a Habit.

The most common problem with pet costumes is the skin irritation, but we’ve found that this isn’t as much of a concern when you’re only putting the pet into a costume for a few hours, once or twice a year. (January 14th is National Dress Up Your Pet Day.) To be fair, we do know pet owners who keep their animals in clothes for much of the winter and claim their animals appreciate the extra insulation. But it can be especially problematic to continue the practice into the warmer months in which overheating becomes a much bigger risk.

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Should You Be Concerned about the Dog Flu?

Dog flu, or canine influenza, is a rare but life-threatening condition for vulnerable dogs. Cases of dog flu tend to flare up in clusters every few years. Most recently, there was an outbreak this year in Michigan that spread to more than 100 affected dogs. Fortunately, so long as you take the necessary precautions, there’s really no reason to be worried. Here is what we think you should know about protecting your pet dog from the flu.

 

Get Your Dog Vaccinated

The best thing you can do is to get your dog vaccinated. One of the reasons why dog flu is relatively rare is because effective vaccinations exist and because most animal travel requires vaccinations. This is one of the things the veterinarian should do when you bring the dog in to get a health certificate. Even if the dog isn’t coming along for the adventure, be sure to get the dog vaccinated if you plan on boarding the pet. And this isn’t the only thing to watch out for. Being around large numbers of dogs in a confined space is a big risk factor. Being around large numbers of animals from high-risk species (especially birds and horses) is another risk factor. Think twice about traveling to a place that’s known to have an active outbreak of dog flu. Finally, very young, older, and snub-nosed breeds are also more susceptible to getting canine influenza.

It’s never a bad idea to get your dog vaccinated, but especially if they fall into one of these groups, we strongly recommend it.

 

Don’t Wait Too Long to Visit the Vet

Just as it is with humans, it is very rare but not impossible for a dog to contract the flu even after getting vaccinated. The virus may mutate, and the vaccine may not be effective against the new strain. And just like humans, it can be hard to diagnose the flu at first. Canine influenza and kennel cough are virtually impossible to tell apart at first. While most strains tend to be fatal for dogs in only about 10 percent of cases, this may not be true for the next mutation, it may not be true if your dog is vulnerable, and it may not be true if you ignore the problem and assume it will eventually go away on its own.

Again, you don’t need to be overly worried, so long as you’re proactive about getting the vaccine and following up if any symptoms do emerge.

 

Basic Information about Canine Influenza

More than just the steps to protect your particularly beloved pet, you might also be interested in some of the global concerns about canine influenza. Until relatively recently, many experts thought that dogs were largely resistant to the flu. And it’s true that the dog flu is less common than avian, equine, and even human influenza. But since 2004 in which a group of greyhounds became infected at a Florida racetrack, there have been more outbreaks and many now question just how far this resistance extends. Moreover, the increasing frequency of outbreaks gives additional credence to the notion that dogs are “mixing vessels.” Species that serve as “mixing vessels” are species that can contract, mutate, and then pass on new influenza strains to other species, while suffering relatively little harm to their own species.

So, along with protecting your own pet, getting dogs vaccinated and avoiding high-risk environments can help protect your dog, your family, other people, and other species from the next pandemic.

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