When it comes to what an airline will and won’t carry on their airplanes they have pretty much free reign to dictate the rules. The TSA and FAA both have a general set of rules for what can be carried on US flagged passenger (and even dedicated cargo) aircraft, but beyond those general guidelines the individual airlines are in charge. Even if an airline thinks the cargo is OK, the captain of that specific flight can still “line item veto” any passenger or parcel being loaded on their aircraft for any reason. The wonders of § 91.3. Anyway, in the wake of the Cecil the Lion issue Delta Air Lines and United Airlines has decided to ban the shipment of certain hunting trophies, and is examining their policies on other species as well . . .
From Delta’s website:
Effective immediately, Delta will officially ban shipment of all lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo trophies worldwide as freight. Prior to this ban, Delta’s strict acceptance policy called for absolute compliance with all government regulations regarding protected species. Delta will also review acceptance policies of other hunting trophies with appropriate government agencies and other organizations supporting legal shipments.
Effective immediately, we will no longer transport buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion or rhino trophies.
— American Airlines (@AmericanAir) August 4, 2015
The problem is that this is pretty much a blatant PR stunt. Lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalo are legally hunted worldwide and the hunting industry does more to benefit wildlife conservation and protect endangered species than all the bake sales in Portland, Oregon combined. By prohibiting the law abiding hunters from bringing their legally procured trophies back to the States these airlines will be directly responsible for lost revenue for wildlife reserves and less funding for wildlife conservation.
In other words, their single PR stunt will do more to harm wildlife in Africa than all the dentists in the United States combined.
Delta is the largest airlines in the world when it comes to passengers carried, but it doesn’t even crack the top 10 when it comes to cargo. United and American are similarly #4 and #5 for passengers but way low on the cargo list. In fact, none of the three actually have a dedicated cargo fleet — they simply fill the empty space on their passenger flights with cargo. As such the actual impact that this new policy will have on the importation of hunting trophies will probably be negligible at best, but there’s a chance that this might catch on with the dedicated freight fleets like FedEx and UPS.