United Airlines will temporarily stop transporting pets in its aircraft cargo holds, after a series of recent high-profile incidents involving pets that were lost and others that died on United flights.
The airline announced Tuesday in a statement that it will use independent experts in pet travel to conduct a “thorough and systematic review” of its PetSafe program that transports pets in an airliner’s cargo compartment. United said it would immediately stop taking reservations for pets to travel in the program and expected the investigation of the program would be complete by May 1. It will honor PetSafe reservations confirmed as of March 20, 2018, the airline said.
The move by United to re-evaluate its PetSafe program comes after a recent in-cabin incident in which a flight attendant reportedly insisted that a passenger place a bag containing a puppy in an overhead bin. The French bulldog died on the flight, prompting widespread media coverage, outrage on social media and a demonstration by animal activists at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. United said that the flight attendant didn’t know the dog was in the bag.
United’s PetSafe program suspension involves only pets traveling in the cargo area.
“This suspension does not affect pets that travel with us in the aircraft’s cabin,” United said. “We are also reviewing this service and have already announced that beginning in April, we will issue bright colored bag tags to help better identify pets who are traveling in-cabin.”
In 2017, United accounted for 78% of all animal-related mishaps among major U.S. airlines, despite accounting for just 27% of all animal transportation, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Incidents include loss, injury and death of animals. United accounted for 18 of the 24 deaths of animals on airliners that year, the report said.
Other recent United incidents reportedly involved a German shepherd ending up in Japan instead of Kansas City, Missouri, and a different United flight making an unplanned landing because it was carrying a dog that should have been on another plane.
Pets fly in the cabin, if the airline permits it, or in the cargo hold, which is typically for larger pets. The Humane Society of the United States generally recommends against having your pet fly in the cargo compartment. And not all airlines will transport dogs as cargo: Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways, for example, offer only in-cabin flights, for small dogs and cats.
But overall, airlines have been flying pets as cargo for years, with relatively few incidents. In 2017, airlines reported 24 deaths, 15 injuries and one loss in nearly 507,000 animals transported, according to Department of Transportation data.