Why did the flight with our dog end in such a heartbreaking end? | Consumer rights

When we moved from the United Arab Emirates to Germany, I arranged for the British Veterinary Center (BVC) in Abu Dhabi to arrange the transport of my three pit bulls, Butch, Brutus and Biggie. The vet declared them in good health and they were booked on the same Etihad flight as me. The BVC dropped them off at the airport at 9.30pm, where they spent three hours in the air-conditioned animal lounge before being transferred to the plane. It appears they did not have air conditioning at the time. Butch was found dead and Biggie and Brutus were seriously ill and had to be taken from the plane to BVC for emergency treatment.

We didn’t notice it on the plane. It wasn’t until we landed in Germany that we found out that a message from the BVC told us what had happened. Etihad never said a word to us, never apologized. In the end, it offered to send Biggie and Brutus away free of charge after two weeks, but no one was willing to pay for their medical bills or Butch’s cremation. Those dogs are my children and I don’t think I will ever recover.
German AJ

This is a very distressing story and I am very sorry. I’ve dug as much as I can, and it appears we’ll never fully know what happened that night. The transfer from the cargo terminal to the hold takes half an hour, which according to Etihad is relatively short given the distance. During that time, your pet is placed in an open trolley (flatbed trailer). It’s not air conditioning.

It was night and there was no direct sunlight, but the outside temperature was around 28 degrees. Cool by UAE standards, but warm for a large snub-nosed dog in a cage. The dog never made it to the plane. Their condition was discovered during the final inspection before loading and they were sent back to the dock and then back to BVC. The Etihad suggested to me that the stress caused their degradation.

The BVC said it was “highly unlikely” that anything other than heatstroke caused all three to collapse so suddenly at the same time. According to the BVC, snub-nosed animals, or brachycephalic animals, can overheat within minutes. This is a very critical factor. These pets, especially English bulldogs, have the highest mortality rates of any animal during flights because their restricted respiratory systems make them vulnerable to changes in air quality.

Many airlines refuse to carry them, and Etihad will no longer do so after the end of this year. The BVC requires you to sign a waiver stating that flight stress may pose a “substantial risk”.

One hopes that this risk means that ground and airline staff must be extra vigilant during what must be a very noisy, hot and stressful half hour in the car.

Etihad insists it disposed of the dogs in accordance with live animal regulations issued by the International Air Transport Association and therefore bears no cost, although it shipped the surviving dogs free of charge as a “gesture of goodwill”. It did not notify you directly of this because you appointed BVC as your attorney.

“Etihad Airways safely transports thousands of animals each year,” it said. “While this incident is very sad and regrettable, Etihad Airways has always exercised due care and followed procedures. The incident was entirely beyond Etihad’s control.”

You and the BVC have also done everything you should to make sure your pet is properly prepared and checked before flying. It cannot be proven whether the conditions during the transfer were unreasonable, or whether the nature of the breed resulted in an unforeseen rapid response.

I’m afraid this didn’t get you very far, and there isn’t any solution to make up what you lost. But at least your encounter can highlight the risks faced by other homeowners. If brachycephalic pets must fly, the cabin is the safest place to be, and some airlines allow pets smaller than a certain size in the cabin. Check options beforehand, avoid flying in extreme heat if possible, and help your pet acclimate to its crate a few days before departure to minimize stress.

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