Pet Corner

Pet Corner


United Airlines Suspends Cargo Program for Animals After Spate of Missteps

United Airlines Getty Images

March has been tough on dogs flying with United Airlines.

Last week, a French bulldog died after being placed in an overhead bin on a flight from Houston to New York. A day later, a German shepherd headed from Oregon to Kansas wound up in Japan after being mixed up with a Great Dane during a connection in Denver. (The dog was flown back in a private jet.) Another dog, bound for Akron, Ohio, was mistakenly loaded onto a flight from Newark to St. Louis. The plane made an extra stop in Akron, where it was reunited with its family.

On Tuesday, the spate of missteps prompted United to suspend PetSafe, its program for transporting animals in the cargo holds of planes, while the airline moves to prevent more problems.

“We know we need to improve, but we also know the best way to do that is to stop and take a look at this,” said Charlie Hobart, a company spokesman.

United said it was not planning to take new PetSafe bookings during the review, which is expected to be completed on May 1. The change will not affect animals permitted to travel in plane cabins or already booked reservations. Customers who want to cancel pets’ travel during the review will be allowed to.

United recently announced in a separate move that it would impose stricter rules on emotional support animals flying in cabins, after one passenger tried to take a peacock onboard.

Under the new rules, animals are not allowed in cabins outside carriers without documents certifying that they are in good health and have been trained to behave appropriately in public settings.

United transported about 140,000 animals last year, significantly more than any other American airline. Of the more than 500,000 animals on flights with American carriers, 24 died in transit; of those, 18 were on United, according to the federal Transportation Department.

Although there were no animal-related disturbances on the vast majority of United flights, Mr. Hobart said, the airline wants to ensure that all pets travel safely and without incident.

“This is a thorough and systematic review of our program,” he said. “It is to further minimize risk and further increase the comfort and well-being of the animals that we carry and finding the best way to do things.”

The airline has already adopted some new policies meant to ensure that animals are tracked and accounted for at all stages of travel. The measures include distributing pet travel documents and itineraries directly to airport managers, and a new process for loading animals onto planes that involves multiple checks and confirmations before departure.

Representatives for American Airlines and Delta Air Lines said the carriers were not planning any changes to their policies for transporting animals in cargo.

Mr. Hobart would not predict what might change for pets on United after the PetSafe review was completed, but he emphasized that the goal was to make the experience more seamless for travelers of all species.

“Our highest priority is always safety — safety of our customers, safety of our employees and safety of the pets that travel with us,” he said.

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