Finally: United Suspends Their PetSafe Program

Filed Under: United

Last week was a rough one for United. It started with a flight attendant ordering a passenger to place their dog in the overhead bin, and upon landing they found out that the dog had died. This is a horrific situation. While United claims they take responsibility for the situation, in reality they’re not punishing the flight attendant. They claim she didn’t know there was a dog in there, despite it being obvious that it was a dog carrier, and also despite all eyewitness reports suggesting that there was a lengthy conversation about that between her and the passengers. I don’t think she should be punished out of maliciousness, but rather because I genuinely have concerns about her being able to carry out her duties as a flight safety professional.

While that may have been somewhat of an isolated incident, what’s not isolated is United’s horrible PetSafe program, which is their program for transporting pets as cargo. Last week alone, United accidentally:

These aren’t isolated incidents, but rather are reflective of a culture of carelessness when it comes to pet transport. As far as animals traveling in the cargo hold go, three times as many animals die on United as all other US airlines combined. That’s not acceptable.

I’ve been saying that it’s time United suspend their PetSafe program — if they can’t safely transport our four legged friends, then they need to get out of that business.

So there’s good news on that front — United is suspending their PetSafe program. Specifically, they are suspending new PetSafe reservations while they review their service. Those with existing PetSafe reservations have the option of canceling them at no cost. United expects the review to be complete by May 1, 2018.

A United spokesperson tells the Washington Post:

United spokesman Charles Hobart said the airline was pausing new PetSafe reservations while it reviews and improves the program. He said the airline would consult independent experts in pet safety. He said the airline is not killing 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.

I’m happy to see United suspending the program, and I hope that they release their findings and what they’re going to do to improve. The good thing is that we’ll very easily be able to judge their performance going forward, since airlines have to report these incidents to the DOT.

Note that this doesn’t impact their transport of pets in the cabin, which is separate from their PetSafe program.

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

  1. “He said the airline is not killing the program.”

    Poor choice of words for a PR “professional”. To kill the “PetSafe” program that kills pets.

  2. Glad to see UA is allowing a free cancellation for future tickets as well, I can’t imagine the stress of sitting on a non-refundable ticket and wondering if my pet would survive the flight. I’d have to guess that most in that situation would cancel.

  3. ..airlines have to report these incidents to the DOT…..

    Do these numbers represent accidents/incidents in cabin, or it only represents numbers when pet is checked in to be transported with luggage in the “belly” of plane?

  4. “He said the airline is not killing the program.”
    Why kill the program when you can kill pets?

  5. Looking at the interesting “death pool” chart. Maybe United needs to contact Alaska on how to do it correctly. They both are the largest transporters yet Alaska has what I would consider a normal level of issues.
    I also wonder if these numbers include horses that are commonly transported on some aircraft.

  6. I flew United and next to me came on a passenger with a big black dog, I put up a fuss till they changed my seat, this was not a service animal, with all due respect humans are humans are animals are animals, make a animal airline and these pets can fly that, regular airlines are for Humans

  7. People like Charles above are the reason I always book the entire row when I fly with my dog, always in first and usually the bulkhead. I don’t want to inconvenience anyone and would rather get on and off with no issues.

  8. What are United customers to do now? What if you have a flight booked during the suspension and you haven’t made a reservation for a pet on petsafe? would a customer have to book their dog on another airline?

  9. Glad Lucky actually showed the raw data this time, though still without any context or even labels!!
    This is the 2017 data from the DOT on animals transported in the hold. This includes all animals that the airline chooses to accept for transport, different airlines have different standards for the types, ages and conditions of animals they are willing to accept. This will influence both the number of animals carried and the number of incidents.

    If you’re interested in data, it’s worth going to the DOT site and looking at the reports for past years, as well as reading some of the individual incident reports. This is summary data, so it’s not super useful for drawing conclusions (though that doesn’t stop innumerate people from doing exactly that.) In order to really understand what’s going on, we would really need to have data at the individual animal level including species, age, health indicators, route length, number of connections, overnight indicator, plane type, and weather.

    Route length is likely why Alaska has such good numbers. The majority of their flights (all?) are under 6 hours, and they don’t do any overseas transport. Looking through the incident reports, the majority of deaths are due to natural causes like heart attack, where the stress of a 14 hour flight vs a 6 hour flight could play a large role.

    It would be nice if we actually had the data to investigate this, but since we don’t, maybe at least take alarmist posts with a grain of salt?

  10. @Seth, is your dog a service animal or ESA? The only reason I ask is because, AFAIK, pets aren’t allowed in bulkheads.

    Regardless, booking an entire row can get expensive, so good for you for keeping your comfort, your dog’s comfort, and other people in mind. 🙂

  11. @Tennen, I travel with an ESA due to flight induced anxiety. That’s why I can get the bulkhead. It is pricey but I understand not everyone likes or can be around dogs, and I don’t mind paying more to be respectful of my fellow passengers. Thanks for the nice words!

  12. I should also note I don’t like the idea of an ESA getting a free ride on a plane. If I am taking my dog on, I’m paying full freight. It’s also more fair to the airline

  13. @Steve_s

    While its definitely gotten a bit out of control, there are legitimate reasons to travel with a pet, such as moving. Also, not all breed of pets, certain dogs particularly, can travel in the cargo hold due to certain health concerns.

  14. Seth has the right attitude, but I still don’t get why animals are allowed to fly in the cabin. Shouldn’t they be in the cargo hold? I’ve never seen this on a long haul flight. Last time there was a dog in the cabin, it was a small dog with an old lady and she was surprised that the dog didn’t have it’s own seat (full flight). Luckily for her the people arround her were ok with basically having to entertain the dog for 2 hours as the dog wouldn’t stay put. I actually like dogs, but I would avoid havng to fly with a dog in the same cabin, let alone my wife who is allergic.

  15. Zymm good points you brought up. Have used UAL several times transporting pets and while 1 did not make it I saw no fault in UAL. The age of my pet and route length of transport was probably the contributing factor. Some pets do better than others. You can’t fault an airline for this.

  16. Terrible news if this means that the pets that would have gone in the cargo hold will now be showing up in the cabin (already a huge and annoying problem).

  17. So where are all the pet horror stories that have recently occurred on DELTA? Or is United just your favorite target?

  18. The next logical step for United is to fire CEO Oscar Munoz for his bumbling of that airline.

  19. Saying United kills 3x as many pets as all the others isn’t really fair considering they carry far more pets than all the others… let’s compare properly, please!

    Also, if there’s a dog in your row and you’re deathly allergic, what happens?
    Do human physical needs come before the dog’s right to fly? Or the owner’s supposed right to fly with an animal in tow?
    What about human mental needs? Like being deathly afraid of dogs? Or would a human’s fear of flying (since they need an ESA to fly) trump another’s fear of dogs?

    At what point do we say suck it up? Whether in response to a person who is scared of dogs and/or a person who can’t fly without a dog…

    Just curious.

  20. Apparently all the idiots saying “butbutbut UA flies more pets more miles!!!” have missed all the “per 1000 miles flown” comparisons that still show UA as way ahead of the pack in terms of incidents.

  21. I think that you need to move on from the mistakes of United, and other American majors. In your analysis, you certainly cherry-picked your comparison airlines, seemingly to create a point. Your dislike for American majors is obvious; move on.

  22. Pets on aeroplanes are disgusting. Keep plane cabins for humans only. All animals should go in cargo or land freight only.

  23. UA-NYC – Irrelevant. The data is absolutely useless in judging the safety of each airline. Anyone with a basic grasp of statistics (or even common sense) can see that if you stop and think about it.

  24. This really makes me sad.
    Loosing a pet is one of the worst things that can happen to you. I don‘t really like saying that certain people don‘t get it, but in this case they just don‘t get it. You could basically compare it to lose a close family member.

    I‘m rather dissappointed by the people wanting to put all
    animals in the cargo hold. Keep in mind that just because you’re human (basically an animal as well) and you deem yourself better, which is normal, even though I don‘t agree, doesn‘t mean you have to absolutely ignore other beings needs and well being. Putting a dog into a cargo hold just because „it might annoy you“ is egoistic and out of proportion. I mean you wouldn’t suggest the same for toddlers would you? (which I find much more annoying than pets)

    There are many reasons why sometimes you don‘t have any other option than to fly with a pet. I‘ll always try to avoid flying with a pet personally unless it is necessary. But I will never ever put my pet in the cargo hold voluntarily. I get that pets can be an annoyance, but in that case I mostly blaim the owner for not raising and preparing them better.

    For example I had to fly with a 12 week old dog from Spain to Switzerland: I booked a row in Business for myself so we didn’t annoy anybody. Most people didn‘t even notice that there were (3! dogs on board, 2 in Business). If I had put the dog in the cargo hold it would have died. It was very weak and sick. We were flying it to the animal hospital in Zurich. Now please tell me again to put that dog into the cargo hold because having it in the cabin hurts your human ego. Most people really try to prepare and not annoy any of their fellow passengers very much and most of the time they don‘t, but there are always some exceptions.

    A fun fact: On Swiss the flights from Malaga to Zurich out of the 2-3 daily flights that week (off season) all but two were fully booked out with dogs (3 are allowed per flight). I think people mostly do not notice that there are dogs on board, but when they do it‘s mostly because it‘s a rare case of an annoying one, which is more the exception than the rule in my opinion.

    I hope people will see that and not generalize that all pets are automatically bad (and most of the times better behaved than some humans)

  25. @Callum – if the data was so “irrelevant” they wouldn’t be suspending PetSafe and foregoing revenue.

    Feel free to bury your head in the sand and ignore the “25% of pet miles flown but 80% of incidents” statistic.

  26. I’m actually a pet shipper and a member of IPATA. (Intl Pet transporters assoc)
    Actually, the terrible incident (pet to overhead bin) was a dog travelling “in cabin” (as Accompanied Bagagge, ie., on the passenger ticket) and NOT going by AVI manifest cargo. The principal reason United (and several other airlines) have these problems is not what you think.
    The principal reason is the disconnect between Passenger Services (which handles “In Cabin”) and Cargo (which handles AVI Manifest Cargo). AVI = Live Animal. The live animal personnel in Cargo are fully trained in the L.A.R. – Live Animal Regulations. The LAR is currently 480 pages, single spaced, 8 pt type. You get the drift. There’s no way to train Passenger Service personnel, there’s just too many. The irony is that MOST pets travel below decks in any case, unless their travel carrier is less than 9 in in height. That means they are handled by the same people after check-in. The thing is that these trained cargo personnel are not doing the check in and checking, which is the most critical point. There is definately hope, though. I can tell you some airlines do an excellent job on AVI Manifest Cargo. Lufthansa is one. KLM is another and IAG (BA) is another. EK is getting there fast. There are more. The american airlines are bringing up the rear. I haven’t used UA for years for local reasons mostly, out of Italy. DL screwed up their aircraft to make their place below decks into a “dog frying pan”. (again out of Italy). AA just plain doesn’t seem to want them and I have not intention of tendering a pet to someone who appears less than enthusiastic about the prospect.

  27. “Pets on aeroplanes are disgusting.”

    It could be worse; it could be SOAP (Snakes On A Plane).

  28. Program review is complete.

    Dogs and Cats only in cargo. No short/snub nose breeds.

  29. Went to pick up my puppy today that had traveled from NOLA to IAH to LAX. They got my puppy mixed up and put her in another person’s kennel. So their dog arrived to me at LAX, and my dog was in Charlotte. There were pics of the dog with the kennels and everything, but they got the dogs mixed up. So, my puppy had to then leave Charlotte, spend the night in Chicago and will arrive at LAX almost 24 hours after she initially was checked in. What a nightmare. And the poor puppy that arrived at LAX has to make her way back to Charlotte.

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