United Airlines has announced that it will allow cats and dogs to travel in the cargo holds of its planes again starting in a few months. Earlier this year, the airline suspended its cargo hold pet program following two high-profile incidents involving dogs on its flights, one of which died.
File photo of a dog in a crate. Photo: Getty
United is partnering with American Humane, an animal safety organisation, to oversee new policies that will allow only certain breeds to be placed in the cargo hold and ensure that dogs and cats get to their destination alive.
People were outraged in March after it was revealed that a woman flying from Houston to New York was ordered by a United flight attendant to put her puppy in the overhead bin. The 10-month-old French bulldog died, prompting a federal investigation after a torrent of negative news coverage.
United had the worst record of any US airline last year when it came to the deaths of pets in transit. Twenty-four animals died on major US airlines in 2017, and 18 of those were on United.
But United is trying to change its image as the dog-killing airline by applying new policies to the cargo hold program it calls PetSafe, which is admittedly better than calling it something like "United: We're Gonna Kill Yer Dog™".
What breeds are forbidden from United flights? The airline won't allow you to book a cargo hold spot for any "brachycephalic (or short- or snub-nosed) dogs and cats and strong-jawed dog breeds". The airline has a list on its website, banning everything from Chow Chow and Boston Terrier dogs to Burmese and Persian cats.
The airline is also restricting dogs and cats on flights from certain airports in the summer over heat concerns. From May 1 through September 30, when it is summer in the US, United won't allow pets in the cargo hold for flights to and from four cities: Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Phoenix and Tucson.
"As we continue our review process to ensure that we are always doing what's right, we are committed to making significant improvements in our program and adhering to the best practices of animal comfort, well-being and travel on behalf of our customers and their pets," Jan Krems, United's vice president of cargo said in a statement.
The airline is enthusiastically touting its new partnership with American Humane to ensure that fewer pets die on its flights. The animal welfare organisation first made its reputation in the middle of the 20th century when it advocated for the proper treatment of animals on film sets.
"Transporting pets introduces a variety of risks and when United approached us, we knew we had to take on the challenge of helping improve and ensure the health, safety and comfort of so many animals," Dr Robin Ganzert, president of American Humane said in a statement released by United.
"United serves thousands of customers and their pets each day, and we saw it as our duty to come in as an independent, third party to help evaluate and further improve their PetSafe program and the in-cabin experience to ensure it offers one of the best in the industry."
The new policies for pets will begin on reservations starting 18 June 2018 and will be fully implemented by 9 July 2018. Hopefully the airline doesn't kill any dogs in the meantime, to say nothing of the treatment endured by humans.