This article was previously published in Bird Breeder magazine and is reprinted here with permission of the author.
by Laurella Desborough
Shipping Birds Via Airlines (2000)
In 1999, bills were introduced into the United States Congress requiring airlines that shipped animals via air cargo make major changes in their procedures and in the cargo holds by the end of the year 2000. There was intense lobbying from animal rights groups to push these requirements through, and there was a strong effort by many different animal hobbyists (birds, reptiles, mammals, etc.) to counter these proposals.
The legislation that actually passed included two requirements: 1) airlines must train airline employees in the handling of animal cargo, and 2) airlines must routinely report problems they encounter with animal cargo shipments. The very expensive requirement of retrofitting all cargo holds for animal shipments was not a part of the final legislation.
However, shipping birds and animals is not a simple matter. Following is a brief discussion of several issues regarding shipping: the 'known shipper' requirement, scheduling shipments, shipment requirements and appropriate containers.
"Known Shipper" Requirement
In 1999, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) issued a document (Change No. 55), geared toward increasing the security of air-cargo shipments. The FAA warned airlines that there would be increased checks and audits of their cargo handling procedures. The requirement that a shipper be known does not only refer to shipments of animals, but to shipments of any type of goods.
United Airlines indicates that a known shipper is someone who has made three shipments in the past six months with United. In order to prove this, one must present the air bill numbers of each of those shipments along with a request for "known shipper" status. Delta also has a known shipper requirement. In some locales, the air-cargo department staff has not yet been qualified to handle the new regulations; these cargo departments are telling potential shippers that they cannot accept cargo from unknown shippers. In some cases, cargo staff may tell shippers that they must go through a courier service. Of course, courier agents charge fees.
Some cargo agents have revealed a simple way to become a known shipper: Ship three packages weighing less than 1 pound each, one at a time, over a three-week period, counter-to-counter, with a one-week interval between shipments. Before doing this, confirm with your chosen airline that they accept this practice for becoming a known shipper.
Scheduling Air Cargo Shipments
Scheduling a shipment of one or more birds via air cargo is a feat in itself. You should plan to spend one half to one hour on the phone to make the arrangements. Moreover, most airlines require a reservation at least 24 hours in advance, and maybe even several days in advance. Several airlines have special 800 numberse for scheduling shipping of pets or animals. The main problem with these numbers is that the staff who answer the phones are located in a main office far from the cargo areas.
It is strongly advised that you obtain the phone numbers of your local air cargo departments and call them directly. The local cargo agents will be most familiar with the space available on the plane, as well as have access to the computer data regarding scheduling. In more than one case, I have found that the information provided by the 800 number has been less than complete, and the local cargo agents have provided the greatest assistance.
During the process of scheduling, I always seek the most straight-through flight possible. When you have to schedule a connecting flight, most airlines require at least two hours between planes to make the connection. Agents for connecting flights will generally put the bird or animal on the next available flight, so the person receiving your animal should be alerted to this fact.
Temperatures at the connecting airport, as well as at the airports of departure and arrival, are important. Most airlines have a temperature range that they will not go beyond in scheduling an animal shipment — 45 degrees Fahrenheit to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Some shipments may have to be scheduled for night flights in the hotter seasons or may have to be shipped Priority or Dash instead of Air Cargo.
Some requirements originate from the airlines and some are state regulations. Some airlines require health certificates indicating health status and signed by a veterinarian. Some airlines require a statement that indicates the species of the bird and whether or not it is endangered. States such as New Jersey and New York require that all birds shipped into the state be banded. Other shipping requirements cover the bird or animal's food and water provisioning. Most bird breeders do not place water in shipping crates, but instead provide foods which will keep the birds hydrated, such as apples, oranges and other fruits. Check with other breeders to make sure you are providing what the bird needs for the trip, and provide food for more than one day.
Regulations have been established that cover the kinds of containers to be used in shipping various species of birds. Air cargo personnel, or the 800-number agents, can provide an overview of these requirements. A primary rule of thumb is that the container should be just large enough for the parrot to stand normally and turn around comfortably. Containers that are so large that the bird has a lot of room may actually be dangerous, as the bird can be injured during transport. Fledged parrots should be shipped one to a compartment to avoid problems. It is recommended that perches be at floor level for safety reasons. Smaller birds are often shipped together and provided with perches.
For birds that can chew out of plastic containers, like cockatoos or adult parrots, some breeders prepare an appropriate wire enclosure that fits inside plastic shipping crates. As well as being beak-proof, containers need to provide openings on all sides for adequate air flow. Generally, one side must have a wire window and a stand-off so that if something in cargo slips against the crate, the stand-off will prevent the window from being totally covered. Some people use plywood crates and others use plastic cat and dog carriers, sized according to the bird. Air-cargo agents indicate their most difficult problem with shipping animals is that shippers often do not properly prepare the shipping crate. Cargo agents want to be able to see into the crate and establish that there is nothing illegal or dangerous being shipped with the bird.
Shipping birds is an excellent way to move them across the country or the state in a short time with less stress. Shipping is most successful when you do the following: develop a good relationship with one or more air cargo departments, plan shipping schedules well, prepare containers according to the bird and species needs, including food provisioning, and make pre-shipment and post-shipment phone calls to the receiver of the shipment to make sure everything is understood.
Continental Airlines Offers a New Bird-Shipping Service (1997)
Recently announced at the convention of the American Federation of Aviculture, Continental Airlines is offering a new faster, guaranteed service--QUICKPAK--for those shipping birds and animals. QUICKPAK was initiated in June, 1997, as an over-the-counter flight-specific service for live birds and animals. These shipments must be presented at the QUICKPAK counter one hour prior to flight departure and will be available for pickup at the normal baggage recovery time. Advance booking through the Continental Live Animal Desk is required. Call Continental Live Animal Desk at (800) 575-3335 or your local cargo office. Three sizes of shipments are accepted as QUICKPAK shipments. The minimum charge for QUICKPAK is $149, including tax, for the small kennel, which measures 52 inches or less and 25 pounds or less. (Standard kennels are 21 by 16 by 15 inches or smaller. The medium kennel size is 53 to 66 linear inches, and the weight limits are 26 and 38 pounds at a charge of $209. The intermediate kennel is 67 to 77 linear inches, and weight is 39 to 59 pounds at a charge of $239.) The shipper must pay in advance for counter to counter. A health certificate is required if the shipper purchases insurance or requests declared valuation. Maximum valuation or declared value is $1,200 per airbill.
Follow-Up Services For Your Clients
Within 24 hours after shipping birds, you need to make sure that they have arrived safely and determine if the client has any immediate questions about the birds. Information about the location of the feeding dishes in the cage and the diet is critical to the successful introduction of the young bird into its new cage: Food dishes should be placed where the bird can utilize them easily. The dishes should contain the types of foods with which the bird is familiar. Another call a week after delivery to check on the status of the bird or birds lets your clients know that you care about them and their birds, and gives you the opportunity to answer questions that have not been presented previously.
Crating and Shipping
What kind of shipping crates are you using? Many breeders use the commonly available plastic animal carriers with sturdy wire doors. However, the crates are easily opened unless the doors are strapped or wired shut. An easily opened carrier is an invitation to losing birds. In addition, if dropped from a height onto a solid surface, such as a concrete-floor storage room or the runway tarp, these crates can pop open if the plastic is somewhat flexible. Therefore, it is wise to use strapping tape or metal straps to assure that the crates are secure. If a large, heavy container falls onto the carrier, it may be crushed. For these reasons, many people who ship birds use plywood crates produced to their specifications by local manufacturers. Certain requirements have been set in place by the airlines for shipping live birds within the United States. Your shipping crates must meet these specifications required by the airlines. Communicate with individual airlines for their requirements. Some airlines will not ship birds or other animals.
Shipping Unweaned Babies
Shipping unweaned babies is not recommended, since it can be an invitation to disaster unless proper precautions are taken. If the birds are not in pin feathers, there is generally no problem with temperature; however, younger birds can be most safely shipped as a group so they can maintain proper body temperature. It is most important that the crate be clearly marked Live Birds, to make sure the airline workers do not place the crate next to a recently refrigerated shipment.
Avoiding Shipping Accidents
Crates with live birds need to be carefully marked on all sides so that it is very obvious that the crates contain live animals. Even when crates are clearly marked, events can occur that impact the birds in the crate. I once watched as a crate of adult birds (which had been placed on the moving belt carrying them up to the cargo hold) was displaced and pushed off the ramp onto the tarmac when the attendants were not looking. The crate landed upside down and out of the view of the workers. As the attendants finished, one of them saw the crate, picked it up and gesticulated to the other attendant who shrugged his shoulders. The attendant then placed the still upside down crate into the cargo hold. If this had been a crate of unweaned babies, nestled into toweling, they would have ended up with the toweling on top of them. If heating units were used, those units would also be on top of them. Certainly, they would be in an undesirable, if not a dangerous, situation for many hours during the flight. As it turned out, one of the adult pet birds was so traumatized by the experience that it remained in a stupor until it was reassured by the owner with words and gentle handling.