Delta offers GPS pet-tracker to ensure dogs have a happy flight

Unlimited free dog treats available from the reception area at this Niagara Falls, Canada, hotel, along with 24-hour dog-sitting service, a list of local veterinarians and grooming parlors.

ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines 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 passengers will be able to monitor their pets in real time, including 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, an airline adviser to Burnaby, British Columbia-based Sendum and former Delta cargo executive.

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.

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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 have may have trouble breathing during flights, so much so that some airlines ban the breeds, said Walter Woolf, a veterinarian and owner of pet mover Air Animal Inc. in Tampa, Florida.

The number of animals that die while in an airline’s care has been dropping in recent years.

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Delta has had the most animal deaths among U.S. carriers in the past five years, with 51, though it has had only 6 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 at New York’s LaGuardia and nine other airports served by its Delta Cargo unit in Atlanta; Cincinnati; Detroit; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tennessee; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Seattle; Salt Lake City; and Tampa.

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 (29 Celsius), for example, it will shoot an 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.

A caveat is that the system only sends alerts before and after a flight because restrictions on cellular communications prevent it from sending notices while airborne, Shah said. Still, many of the accidents that cause an animal to go missing or die occur at the airport and not in the air, he said.

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Woolf, the animal shipper, regularly plots round-the-world flights for pets, recently shipping a dog from Sydney to London and another animal from San Francisco to Zurich. He’s not convinced people will pay extra for real-time following of pets, since all animals already get a tracking code called an airway bill.

Sendum is hoping pets offer a new venue for its monitors, which more often are used to keep tabs on alcohol and tobacco and to make sure seafood is kept cold, founder Wayne Chester said.