United Suspends New Pet Bookings, Tries to Figure Out Why it Kills More Dogs Than Anyone

United’s poor handling of pets has been in the news a lot over what’s really just the last week but given the barrage of media feels like far longer.

After forcing a dog into an overhead bin where it ultimately died, shipping a dog to Japan by mistake, and then loading a third dog onto the wrong aircraft — so for PR reasons they actually diverted that plane to deliver the dog to its proper destination, keeping all of the passengers onboard waiting, they are finally acknowledging what I’ve been saying for years: United has a problem with how it handles pets.

Their ‘PetSafe’ cargo program loses, misdirects, and kills more animals than all other US airlines combined. (Update: United acknowledges their PetSafe program kills more animals than all other airlines combined, and that while an analysis of media reports over the past few years suggests United misdirects more animals than other carriers they emphasize that there’s not DOT reporting demonstrating this.)

United is suspending new pets-as-cargo bookings while they evaluate the program.

He said the airline would consult independent experts in pet safety. He said the airline is not ending the program.

Hobart said the airline also will give airport crews more advance warning about the number and type of animals flying in cargo for each flight. He said a ramp supervisor will be required to oversee the loading and unloading of all animals in cargo, and another official will have to certify that the animals were handled properly before the flight takes off.

United expects to complete the review by May 1, and “assist any customer wishing to cancel a PetSafe reservation during the review period.”

I wouldn’t be comfortable with existing bookings and hopefully United would be willing to refund airline tickets of passengers traveling with pets as cargo so that they can find alternative transportation during this review, not merely cancelling bookings for the pets themselves.

It’s hard to see how United can justifiably refuse to do that since the transportation arrangements are made in conjunction with each other and United is essentially acknowledging that their pet shipping program is currently inadequate.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Ironically, PetSafe is (was) routinely among the most expensive options for shipping pets-as-cargo.

    A pure cash grab with some cutesy marketing.

  2. That sounds good and all but what about Scott Kirby’s inane push for D0?
    Will ground staff really feel it’s okay to hold flights?

  3. This is more about putting out the PR fire than making structural changes. The fact remains that even though United may have killed more pets than any other carrier by a wide margin, the percentage of pets killed out of all pets transported still amounts to what would under other circumstances considered to be a statistical rounding error.

    Shoving a dog in an overhead bin is idiotic and bordering on criminal. There’s no way to downplay that. But it’s still represents a statistical outlier and not indicative of a pattern.

    There is little United can do, as an organization, to prevent this percentage of pet deaths from occurring. The percentage is so low the only thing that would make a difference is a zero pet death outcome. There is next to zero percent chance of that outcome occurring and if it did occur it would occur out of pure luck and not because of anything United did or did not do as an organization. Pet travel on planes is already a little like playing Russian Roulette because of the stress factors involved and nothing is going to change that.

    But we can’t have rational discussions about this because pets are involved. And because we live in the age of social media where everything gets amplified by a factor of 1,000.

  4. If this is a real effort rather than a PR stunt, United needs to involve groups like PETA and others on the ethical treatment of animals. Animals are not CARGO and neither are people. I doubt United will do that because United sucks. There is something wrong with its corporate culture. United’s problems go far deeper than one beaten up passenger and one dead dog. I like United because I can accumulate miles that I can redeem on Austrian, SAS and Aer Lingus. Polaris is a joke.

  5. Just look at the way they treat human customers and there’s no surprise that dogs get ruff treatment.

  6. Was the dog that died in the overhead bin an emotional support dog? Can’t stop United from hurting those dogs. How about hamster flushed down toilet?

  7. If this is a real effort rather than window dressing, we should give United some limited props for trying to figure out one of their problem areas.

  8. The reason they kill more dogs is other airlines won’t transport pets.

    I do wish we could do away with the emotional support pets! Ridiculous

  9. Well, they reinstated the program 8/1 supposedly….which is the day that I had my 8 wk old puppy transported from NOLA to LAX. They mixed up my puppy with someone else’s puppy despite the pics being with the kennels. My puppy went to Charlotte and the other puppy came to LAX. What a nightmare. So now, these puppies are back in transit, going back across the U.S. and will arrive more than 24 hours since they began the journey. The pics of the puppies were with the respective kennels, and they got them mixed up and shipped to the wrong place.

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