I am what you would call one of those animal people. As a kid, I wanted to own a zoo, so as a college student, I bought a bird. Although unusual, I decided that a peaceful white dove would suit my dorm room beautifully. My bird, Eiraenae, has not only been a delightful addition, but has also made my dorm room more of a home. Unfortunately, United Airlines did not share in my sentiments.

Let me start from the beginning. Flying home on Delta, I was able to fit Eiraenae into a PetSmart, “Vet Assured” cardboard box and simply carry him on the plane. Despite the inquisitive glances and questioning comments, we made it home – bird in box – quite safely.

United Airlines, however, was not quite as accommodating. When I approached the check-in gate, I informed them of my feathery friend. The attendant raised his eyebrow. “A bird, you say?” he hesitantly asked.

After a few phone calls and a thorough review of the airline policy, he alerted me that only sparrows, finches and parakeets were permitted to accompany their owners upon United’s fine flights. I insisted on my bird’s cleanliness, but to little avail. My bird was sentenced to travel home with my father by other means.

Nevertheless, I questioned the airline’s policy. My dad assured me it was due to the recent bird flu scare – and even if my bird was “Vet Assured” – the airline had a responsibility to uphold.

Still, this whole bird flu thing seemed to be somewhat blown out of proportion. Sure, it is on the news frequently, mentioned often and researched heavily, but it sounded like this flu was just another news obsession. It was not nearly as big of a deal as broadcasters attempted to make it. Or so I thought.

After doing a little of my own research on this whole bird flu thing, I found that it actually is a big deal. In December, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt commented on the epidemic.

“[The bird flu] could become one of the most terrible threats to life that this world has ever faced,” Leavitt said. Sound like an exaggeration? I continued to investigate.

A quick Google search revealed every thing I needed to know. I found that since 1997 over 150 million chickens and more than 100 humans have died from the virus.

This became serious news in 2004 when it was discovered that countries were attempting to hide signs of bird flu. In Asia, where the outbreak seems to be highest right now, 141 human cases of bird flu have been reported with 73 of these resulting in death.

The threat, however, does not stop there. The flu has now been found in parts of Europe, but is quickly being ameliorated. Additionally, the U.S. is in the forefront of flu-research and vaccine preparation. A vaccination for a human strain of the bird flu has already been prepared.

After coming across all this startling information, I have grown to appreciate United’s strict policy against the feathery fiend. While I may have been upset, I can understand the restrictions of carting around a dove through the airport and the leery looks I received in doing so.

This suspicion is accurately attributed to the stigma associated with the avian family, but I still stand in defense of my bird’s cleanliness. Even the vet has given him the “all clear” for the avian flu, but perhaps next time I’ll just drive my bird home.



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