Pets conquer the skies

It has almost been 100 years since airlines began transporting animals. Today, there is a fast-increasing number of travelers who want to take their pets with them. Exact figures are not known but they are in the millions. The booking process is cumbersome for pet owners, indicates Unisys expert, Sabari Ramnath (RS). It takes perseverance on their part to get green light from airlines to take their animal companion with them.
We spoke with Unisys’ Bengaluru, India-based Senior Manager – Travel & Transport Solutions, at the fringes of the recent TIACA Executive Summit in Brussels, Belgium, to delve deeper into this subject.

Modern technology such as ChatGPT in combination with Optical Character Recognition (OCR), could help to set hurdles aside for passengers to take their pets with them, states Unisys executive, Sabari Ramnath – photo: private.

CFG: Booking and boarding a flight is easy – for a passenger. But not if the “guest” is a pet. Why?

RS: IATA offers a manual giving pet owners basic advice. But the entire process is very complicated. That said, the latest technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Natural Image Processing Recognition, and Optical Character Recognition (OCR), could help to set hurdles aside and allow travelers to take pets with them, this way saving time, costs and avoiding hassle. The pet topic is becoming more pressing, given the rising number of travelers that value taking their pet with them.

This is made even more difficult by the fact that, in addition to the international framework, national regulations must also be observed, which often differ substantially from one another. In other words, the topic is extremely complex.

CFG: The pet topic is becoming more pressing, given the rising number of travelers that value taking their furry or feathered friends with them. Is this a global issue or does this apply to some countries in particular?

SR: Pet ownership is surging worldwide, exceeding a billion pets globally. In the U.S., Brazil, the EU, and China alone, households account for over half a billion pets. Moreover, over half of the world’s population is estimated to have a pet at home. This rise in global pet ownership intersects with the increasing number of global travelers, emphasizing the global demand for pet transportation.

In the aftermath of Covid-19, there has been a notable uptick in pet ownership, fostering an emerging ‘pet parents’ phenomenon, where pets are embraced as integral family members. With this shift, pet parents are increasingly unwilling to leave their pets behind while traveling, choosing instead to bring them along on their journeys. This shift represents a significant trend, highlighting the growing inclusion of pets in global travel plans.

CFG: Sabari, you claim that AI and modern technology such as ChatGPT in combination with Optical Character Recognition (OCR), could help to allow passengers to take pets with them, this way saving time, costs and avoiding hassle. Could you describe this option in detail and in understandable language, because not every traveler is an AI expert.

SR: Pet transportation, particularly by air, presents significant challenges due to diverse government regulations and airline policies. The extensive requirements, including health certificates and various kennel specifications, can overwhelm pet owners. However, advancements such as Generative AI and Machine Learning algorithms help streamline the process. These innovations guide pet shippers accurately through the necessary documents and compliance requirements, resembling the interactive process of querying ChatGPT and receiving answers.

Moreover, sophisticated tools like OCR and microchip scanners simplify document preparation by extracting information from microchip certificates or pet passports, significantly reducing effort, and eliminating hassles in pet transportation. Additionally, IoT technology empowers pet owners to monitor their pets’ comfort during travel in real-time, tracking humidity, stress, and CO2 levels using IoT devices. This ensures continuous comfort for pets throughout the journey.

CFG: How can Unisys help to ease the requirements for taking animals on board aircraft?

SR: During the early internet boom, we developed CargoPortalServices.com, a comprehensive platform for airlines and freight forwarders to seamlessly communicate and collaborate on air cargo transportation needs. This platform offers functionalities such as bookings, AWB capture, and tracking, even for pet shipments. Throughout our journey, we have continuously used technology to support our customers in air cargo transportation.

As technology advances, we are now embracing Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning Algorithms, and OCR to transform the booking process on CargoPortalServices.com. This initiative focuses on modernizing the booking procedures, particularly for specialized shipments like pets, aiming to simplify what can often be a complex process.

Some pets, like these three dogs, fly first class on board AA, claims a promotional poster published by American Airlines  –  Courtesy AA

CFG: Are there any statistics available on how many of the animals travel with an implanted chip and how many do not?

SR: While not all countries enforce mandatory pet microchipping, there’s a growing trend in microchipping due to concerns about pets getting separated while abroad. Currently, all European Union (EU) Member Countries, the U.S., and the majority of countries have made microchipping mandatory for air travel.

CFG: It requires readers at airports capable of capturing the data from microchipped dogs, for example. Are the airports equipped with them or are there gaps?

SR: There are multiple types of microchips, each operating at different frequencies (125kHz, 128 kHz, and 134.2 kHz), and their acceptance varies by country, necessitating multiple reader devices at airports capable of capturing data stored within these chips. Due to variable reader availability, there may be gaps in implementation. As a result, not all airports globally, consistently have these readers available or operational, potentially leading to inconsistencies in scanning and retrieving data from pet microchips.

CFG: Sabari, we will keep this topic on our radar since an increasing number of travelers want to take their pets with them. Thank you for your valuable explanations.

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