United Airlines is temporarily suspending the transport of pets in cargo holds of its aircraft, following multiple recent mishaps.
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“We are deeply committed to the safety and comfort of the animals and pets in our care. We are conducting a thorough and systematic review of our program for pets that travel in the cargo compartment to make improvements that will ensure the best possible experience for our customers and their pets,” the airline said in a press release.
United said it will partner with “independent experts” in pet safety, comfort and travel in order to achieve their goal.
The airline will stop accepting reservations effective immediately, but will still honor any existing PetSafe – its program for pets being transported in cargo compartments – reservations confirmed as of March 20.
The temporary suspension does not affect animals traveling in cabins of aircraft, though the air carrier said it is also reviewing that service. It previously announced it would begin issuing bright-colored bag tags in April to customers traveling with pets in an aircraft’s cabin.
United expects to conclude its review by May 1.
The assessments come after a string of incidents last week involving pets on United flights. A flight was diverted last Friday when the airline realized it loaded an animal onto the wrong plane. Earlier that week, a German shepherd was flow mistakenly to Japan instead of Kansas City, Missouri. The previous day a 10-month-old puppy died after a flight attendant reportedly forced the puppy’s owner to put the animal in an overhead compartment.
Following the airline’s troubles, two senators introduced a bipartisan bill last Thursday called the Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act, which would prohibit putting animals in overhead compartments on flights – a practice which United confirmed is not allowed under its pet policy. The legislation would also direct the Federal Aviation Administration to impose civil fines if the act is violated.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, who co-sponsored the bill, also wrote a letter to United President Scott Kirby in the wake of last week’s events. In it, Kennedy said the airline’s “pattern of animal deaths and injuries is simply inexcusable,” and that pets “shouldn’t be placed in the cargo hold much less an overhead bin.”
United had the worst rate of pet deaths in 2017 among U.S. airlines, according to the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report.