JoAnna Lou
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More Pet Airline Drama
United adopts Continental's PetSafe program amid controversy
If only all pets could ride in the cabin like small dogs!

Until dogs of all sizes can ride in the airplane cabin, air travel will always be a controversial topic among pet lovers. The latest dispute is over United Airlines' new pet policy.

Starting next month, United Airlines is adopting Continental's PetSafe program (the two companies merged in 2010). Now animals will be transported as cargo rather than checked luggage. Both options sound horrible to me, but according to United Airlines, cargo will offer a better experience for pets, with dedicated staff and temperature-controlled vans.

The PetSafe program is considered the best in the airline industry and has won an Award for Excellence from the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association.

For the most part, the fees for shipping pets in cargo versus baggage will be similar. The controversy stems from certain countries, including Japan, that require airlines to pay a third-party handler to ship cargo. This could cause the fees to jump from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars to transport an animal.

The shipping change was to have the greatest impact on overseas military personnel, since United is a federal contract carrier. However, amid the uproar, United announced a special exception for military members on PCS orders.

Since the PetSafe program is held in high regard, it's unfortunate that the third party law will make the cost prohibitive for most families traveling or moving abroad. However, I think this issue once again highlights the need for more safe travel options for pets—options that don't include baggage or cargo!

What do you think about United Airline's policy change?

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Irumiha/flickr.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Wendy B | February 28 2012 |

The PetSafe program is a dedicated system set up for animals. They are shipped counter to counter with or without their owners flying on the same flight. They have vans that take the animals to the plane after the passengers and luggage are already loaded and they have a separate pressurized room just for them, so they are not in with the regular baggage. At the other end there is another van that takes them from the plane directly to the cargo counter. They don't sit on the tarmac or in the plane while it is on the ground. The only thing that changed is that rule about third party's arranging cargo and if you check you will find that is also a requirement for coming INTO the US. it has raised costs for those coming to the US with their pets and for those importing personal dogs from other countries. That is not something that the airlines have control over unfortunately.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 16 2012 |

This has to have been written by someone inside United or Petsafe. My dog was ABSOLUTELY NOT "shipped from counter to counter". He was sent to some horrible disgusting warehouse area with a guard dog barking wildly at him, and it took me six hour and a thousand exrra dollars - with NO HELP from United -- to just find him. He was trying to claw his way out of the kennel, the guard dog was teorrorizing him, and I was ready to croak from exhaustion. What kind of fool would write the above description (yes, you, "Wendy B") knowing what a cruel ripoff this Pet "Safe" (jajajajajaja) programme really is. Shame on you.

The idea that an airline is really taking care of a dog just because it doesn't freeze or bake it on the tarmac or in the baggage area is an incredibly disingenuous crock. With Air Canada I paid $275 each way so that they would not kill my dog. Would I have expected them to leave him outdoors in blazing heat or freezing temperatures? Of course not. What is the big deal about moving the dog from the terminal in a van, given that each pet was paying $275 each time (and now 2, 3, 4 or more times that amount)? I am disgusted by United's bogus, money-grabbing programme that does NOT protect my dog in the least. When I picked him up after 6 hours of being slammed with fake charges, he was traumatized beyond belief. This is a cruel way for United to soak passengers with pets for thousands of dollars when their previous service, which used to be the same as Air Canada's, was just fine.

Submitted by TakeyourMeds | November 12 2013 |

Ranting lunatics ..

Submitted by pete k | December 19 2013 |

I would sue United if I had the energy after my move from DC to SF. From the moment i had to drop off my dog at DCA with two clerks arguing with each other over the paperwork, to one of them complaining of back problems so she could not transport my pet (I had to load him myself onto a platform cart), to having to pick up my dog at a hanger way out of SFO, unloaded along with machinery and other dogs amidst construction going on in the hangar. I will never forget the sight of my dog Benji being dumped in the midst of hell, with him barking his lungs out in bewilderment and distress from the transportation, the construction, the dust - and on and on. United PetSafe is a scam, and I fully intend to expose them in all corners of the internet. I will never fly United again.

Submitted by Donna White | July 1 2013 |

July 1, 2013 travel date from BWI to LAX. I am not affiliated with United or Petsafe or even Continental, so I will share the honest truth about this program. Today, apparently, is the first day of the launch of the new computer system. It took 90 minutes for my dog to be checked in. I was told my dog is the guinea pig for this new system. I am on the phone with a team leader as I write this. No one is picking up a phone at United Cargo at LAX. There are many more issues that I haven't written about. I will update. I will say that the team leader has apologized at least 10 times for all situations that occurred. If Petsafe was an excellent or award winning program, apologizes would not be necessary. I hope the dog is okay. I selected this flight because it was non stop and an early morning flight...which would avoid the heat.
I will update.

Submitted by Robin Allen | July 2 2013 |

Hi Donna,
Please let me know how it went for you? My two Scotties are flying from San Francisco to Boston on our flight in cargo this Saturday, July 6th and I am really worried after all I have read online.
ANY information you can give me I would VERY much appreciate. I have never done this, as our dogs used to be able to go into the cabin with us- but new restrictions were put into place eliminating that option:(
I really hope it went okay for you and your dog! thank you, Robin

Submitted by Avery | July 21 2013 |

Hey Robin, how did that journey go for your pups? I'm using Petsafe next week to fly my cat from San Francisco to Newark NJ, and I'm worried.

Submitted by Anne | February 28 2012 |

One side of this issue which seems to get ignored - what about the safety & rights of passengers who are deathly allergic to our companion animals? We have 2 dogs and 2 house rabbits. However, my husband is deathly allergic to cats - more than an hr in the same space as a cat means a trip to the ER, oxygen, high doses of steroids for weeks afterwards -- things that a simple benedryl pill or epi-pen would do little to prevent. When he has to travel for work, airlines are less than hospitable. No matter when he makes his reservation, he still has to call the airline 24 hrs in advance of his flight and IF there is a pet scheduled to travel on his flight, HE has to make other arrangements, and again, calling 24 hrs before that new flight to see if there is a potential deathly problem. The airline cannot tell him if the traveling pet is a dog, cat or hamster. He has to show up even earlier for his flight and watch all the passengers boarding his flight to verify that somebody with a cat isn't boarding his flight in case the customer service person he spoke with earlier didn't look on the right screen for pet reservations With some airlines, they don't note in their computer systems what type of pet will be traveling in-cabin, so he has to subtly watch for all pet carriers.

There HAS to be a middle ground - a safe way for our companion pets to travel with us without breaking our bank accounts AND a way for humans with allergies like my husband's to be able to travel, knowing that they will be able to return home without waiting days for a "safe" flight. Perhaps allowing those traveling with any type of pet to travel in a special "human cargo" area, with its own air system would help. Or reserving some flights as human-only so that those with allergies can travel without this huge hassle.

Submitted by Anto | February 28 2012 |

Anne, my husband was the same with his allergies to cats, intense reactions just from being in the same room with a cat, he didn't even need to have contact with them and their fur.

A friend that works as a vet technician, suggested my husband to try a Homeopathic remedy that helped him tremendously as he was highly allergic not only to cats, but also dogs and horses and he so wanted a career in animals care that he wa determined to find a solution, he wen to a specialist in Canada that also uses alternative methods. He prescribed him this side-effect free remedy and it worked lik magic, since then he never ever suffered again from this allergy.
Well my reluctant husband decided to give it a try for 3 months. He took the remedy 3 times daily (15 drops directly under the tongues, very easy to carry along and take on the spot) and whenever he would get around cats he would take same doses (15 drops) immediately and more frequently up to 5/6 times per day (my sister's home had cats, and we would visit often).
And, like magic, after the 3 months he wasn't allergic any longer, & now, to our utter joy, our lives is gifted with the presence of 3 gorgeous indoor/outdoor cats! It has been 21 years so far with never ever any allergic reactions...

So worth trying, the homeopathic remedies are also very inexpensive.

The product is called: BIOALLERS & here is a link to the many companies that carries it

Good luck with it, Madir

Submitted by Mathew | December 18 2013 |

tell your husband if he has to fly so much to go to an Allergist and get allergen immunotherapy. It is nearly curative. I have a dog and am no longer in any way shape or form allergic to her. As well as to cats. It is unbelievable the degree of benefit. It is a bit of work getting immunized as it requires going to an allergist office once a week for a few months to get your shot but well worth it.

Submitted by Dee | February 28 2012 |

This is a topic that is right up there on the top of my priorities right now as I am a snow bird and my dog accompanies me between Chicago, IL and Scottsdale, AZ every spring and fall. For the past 2 years I have been fortunate enough to be able to fly my dogs on Pet Airways. While it was considerably more expensive and less convenient (off site facilities,) I was happy to know that they were being closely attended to. Unfortunately Pet Airways cancelled my flight 3 times in November so I had to fly my dog as luggage on United.

His trip went fine but, as I have tried to research this topic many times over the years, all I can find is that the treatment and care of one's animal (aside from temperature regulations and document requirements) is almost entirely dependent on who happens to be working at that particular time. What a frightening thing to know.

I am happy to hear of United's new policy change in that your description seems to indicate that it will implement more of a protocol with the result of giving the animals more consistent and dependable care and attention while they are in the charge of the airline staff. I have no problem whatsoever with paying a bit more for that improvement in care.

Submitted by Suzanne | February 28 2012 |

I flew my whippet, Olivia, from Washington, DC to Los Angeles last October (and back again) with Alaska Airlines. I was on the flight and Olivia was placed in a special cargo area that was temperture controlled and quiet.

I can't say enough about how well Alaska Airlines handled Olivia's transport and how well organized they are regarding pet travel. They had a separate check-in area, which also made my check-in a breeze. It was also a lot less expensive to fly her than I thought. Alaska Airlines has it going on regarding pet travel.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 28 2012 |

There is an airline that specifically transports pets - pet airways. A much safer way and less expensive to fly your pet.

Submitted by Dee | March 3 2012 |

I have flown my dogs on Pet Airways between Chicago and Phoenix three times in the couple of years since they began serving those cities. I scheduled with them three months in advance for our November flight and they canceled the flight three times with only a weeks notice each time. I googled them and found that this has been happening a lot. I need an airline that I can count on so I sincerely hope they are able to work out whatever the problem is. In the meantime I'm happy to hear of the improvements in United's policy.

Submitted by Thomas | March 7 2012 |

I am a journalist. Would you like to share your experience with me? Please, email me at t.jahn@vhb.de

Thanks Thomas

Submitted by Ron Smyth, Toronto | September 9 2012 |

I flew United last year under the old baggage policy, Toronto - Buenos Aires return. Luca flew as checked baggage for the usual fee of $275 each way. I dropped him off at the passenger terminal along with my luggage and picked him up at the Ezeiza airport in the baggage area as usual (this was his 3rd trip, 2 previously on Air Canada). No

Petsafe is HORRIBLE. First of all, just try phoning them. The do not answer and after about an hour you are cut off. Secondly they do not communicate with United so that twice I had reservations for Luca which turned out to be non-existent. I had to rebook my own flight twice and ended up with a return fare of $1800 instead of the rate of $905 that I wanted (all inclusive). Then the horror of dealing with cargo. At Pearson in Toronto I had to appear at the cargo terminal, many km away from the passenger terminal, at 6:30 a.m. for my 11 a.m. flight. I had to go to Swissport, not United. This is in an area full of large trucks and forklifts buzzing around the parking lot. I was charged $514 ONE WAY. At our second stop, in Houston, I asked the people in the baggage office if they could confirm that Luca had arrived. They treated me like dirt. They finally gave me a phone number for Cargo but it was out of service. One lazy woman, busy showing off pictures on her phone to her colleagues, told me that Cargo is a different department so she had no idea where to find the number, then berated me for letting my dog travel without having that number. Imagine the gall! This was witnessed by others in the baggage area who reassured me that this woman's behaviour was outrageous. Luckly I ran into the woman who had sat on the flight next to me. She calmed me down and stayed with me for about an hour until she found the phone number and was able to confirm that Luca was there. I was charged $103 for his overnight stay -- which I don't understand, because I had my other dog with me (Titan is smaller and travelled on board) and had arranged for a hotel near the airport where he was welcomed with open arms and he had no problem entering Argentina after being in Houston. No problem

Later I paid fees at Ezeiza, in three different locations, totalling another $500 with no explanation (United said it was for "local handling" and the cargo people said the same for their take). I had to run around to three different places, with my luggage in tow, and if it weren't for the fact that I speak Spanish well I would never have found him. It was unusually hot that day. I'm a senior with a heart condition, diabetes, difficulty walking at the best of times, and other issues. I could have died doing this -- with NO HELP WHATSOEVER from Petsafe. With my suitcase, my other dog, and my carryon luggage I was not allowed to enter the cargo area to get Luca. I went to a second United office where the Argentinian personnel were kind enough to let me drop off my bags, including Titan, who barked the whole time (2 hours) that I went around trying to locate Luca, each time paying more for the experience. When I finally found him he was in his kennel barking and crying, clawing at the bars, with a hostile guard dog barking at him. After more bureaucracy and running around to get a certificate in one place, pay in another, another certificate -- for which I paid the agent 500 pesos ($120) behind the office building where he works -- I was finally able to drag Luca's oversized kennel to the exit. But remember that my bags and my other dog were about a km away at the second United building. Taxis were not allowed to enter the area where I was. The security guards at the exit were kind enough to watch Luca while I staggered off to get Titan and my bags. I asked one of them to ask exiting truck drivers if they would be willing to take me downtown to my apartment with the dogs and luggage for the usual taxi fare and at last I arrived. My plane arrived at Ezeize at 9:30 a.m. and I got to my place at 3:30 p.m.

I believe that Petsafe is nothing but a scam that requires me to transport Luca all on my own with a third party carrier, and then charges extra for that!

Submitted by C.A., Virginia | September 19 2012 |

Petsafe is a Rip-Off

Let me reinforce the post of Mr. Smyth from Toronto. My experience with PetSafe has been horrible. In January, 2011 we took our lab to Ecuador with then Continental's petsafe program from Washington DC through Houston to Quito. Our dog had to be checked in at the cargo area of Dulles airport at 6:00 am and she only arrived in Quito at mid-night: 12 hours in the cage. We paid extra for her to be taken out in Houston, walked and watered but we have no idea whether this was done. When she arrived in Quito the customs office was closed so she stayed in the cage and warehouse all night. The next morning we went with the freight forwarding agent whom Continental has recommended and spent all day running from desk to desk, paying bribe after bribe, to get the dog out. The total cost of the unofficial "fees" was $500 and the freight forwarder an extra couple hundred. This was in addition to the transport charges of $500.

In January, 2012, we took the same dog to Buenos Aires on United. For the BA flight United had not yet adopted the PetSafe program. We checked our dog in at Dulles airport main terminal, she was put on the plane, and arrived at the baggage carousel in Buenos Aires, and we walked her through the customs in 30 minutes with no problems or bribes. The total cost was $500 transport, no additional fees.

Now (September, 2012) we want to go back to Buenos Aires with the dog. United has now adopted the PetSafe program and requires that we use a third party freight forwarder. The estimate of the charges for PetSafe is well over $1,000 in Buenos Aires exclusive of the transport charge of $500.

The bottom line is that the PetSafe program is charging a lot of extra money to customers for no better - actually worse - service. The extra money doesn't even go to United but to the greedy hands of freight forwarders who know that the passenger has no real choice and is most concerned about the health and well being of the animal.

Submitted by TheuglyTruth | October 30 2013 |

read this story and see if you want to trust your pets to a company that employee's people like this....
its all true and fact... look it up...If you love your pets you will take the time to read and pass this on to other pet lovers as well

United PetSafe almost killed my Greyhound on July 3, 2013 on our flights to relocate from San Diego to Boston. My dog and my cat were never allowed out of their crates, even though I had paid extra for a "Safety Stop" in Houston. They were never given water nor food, nor allowed to relieve themselves for 12.5 hours! They were NOT transported in an air conditioned PetSafe van, as promised in United's marketing materials and as promised on the phone and at the airport. The baggage handler kicked my Greyhound's crate, as she tumbled around in the crate, across the tarmac six times, to push her under the wing of the plane and they left my dog and cat under the wing of the plane in Houston's stifling heat. I have video and pictures proving this. The temperature on my phone was 91 degrees in Houston, it had to be at least 100 degrees on that tarmac. My pets were finally put in the cargo where they sat for more than one hour as work crews tried to fix a seat belt problem and then an air-conditioning problem. The cargo door was open allowing the brutal heat to cook my animals. We had to change planes because of the faulty air-conditioning and I never saw the PetSafe van take my animals out of the cargo. I was informed that I had to get off the plane immediately. My animals were still in cargo. Upon arrival in Boston the cargo employee stated, "This is animal cruelty" while looking at my Greyhound and her crate. Her crate was covered in blood, feces and urine. My cat's crate was covered in feces and vomit. My Greyhound suffered severe dehydration and heat stroke. She needed to be hospitalized in intensive care for 3 days; her kidneys were failing due to heatstroke, and her liver was struggling. She was urinating and defecating blood. My vet bill was more than $2700. I detailed everything to United Airlines and asked to be reimbursed for the vet bills. Their offer to me was $1000, and that was to be given to me only if I signed a 4 page non-disclosure agreement. United claims she had a pre-existing condition and they refuse to tell me what this "pre-existing condition" is. I have a letter from our vet in California indicating she was in perfect health and had NO pre-existing condition. The vet who treated her in Massachusetts has written a letter indicating that her medical problems were brought upon by her mistreatment by United, resulting in heat stroke. DO NOT FLY YOUR PETS IN CARGO WITH UNITED. They have taken absolutely no responsibility for the brutal and neglectful manner in which my animals were treated. They killed Maggie Rizer's dog and Michael Jarboe's dog last year. Google their stories. In all of our cases they refuse to take responsibility and blame it on a "pre-existing condition." I only wish I had read about what they did to Maggie and Michael's dogs before I ever entrusted my animals to them. Please share this with your associates, friends and family. DO NOT TRUST PETSAFE. Your animals are NOT SAFE and United will take NO responsibility, whether they injure them or kill them! — at United Airlines Cargo, Boston, Ma.

Submitted by Carmella | November 3 2013 |

I found this comment on literally 3 different sites.

Submitted by Janet Sinclair | November 19 2013 |

I can assure you, what I've written is true. Visit my Facebook Community Page, United Airlines Almost Killed My Greyhound, and you will read MANY stories of animals being treated horrifically by United PetSafe.

Submitted by FrauDetmolders | December 3 2013 |

PetSafe kills pets.

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