Are Changes to United’s PetSafe Policy Enough to Protect Dogs?

United Airlines is finally addressing its not-so-safe ‘PetSafe’ program, but do the changes go far enough?

During just one week in March 2018 on United Airlines, French bulldog, Kokito, died after being forced to travel inside an overhead compartment. The airline also flew a dog to Japan instead of his intended destination of Kansas City, leaving him without food, water or his medications during the 16-hour flight. Another dog was almost mistakenly flown to St. Louis instead of Akron, Ohio.

United Airlines apologized for these incidents, as it has for many of the others that have earned it the dubious distinction of having one of the worst pet safety records of any major U.S. airline. Yet in the past those apologies didn’t coincide with any improvements in their PetSafe program. Fortunately, this seems to be finally changing.

United’s PetSafe Policy Changes

After Kokito’s horrible death in the overhead compartment, United promised it would start distributing brightly-colored carrier tags to prevent another tragedy from happening inside a cabin, which is one step in the right direction.

To help stop dogs from ending up on the wrong flights – or worse – United has new policies that track and account for animals at all stages of travel, the New York Times reports. Pet travel documents and itineraries are now provided directly to airport managers. Before animals are boarded onto planes, employees perform several checks and confirmations.

And now the airline is apparently taking another big step. On March 20, 2018 it announced it’s temporarily suspending and reviewing its PetSafe animal-shipping cargo program.

“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 stated. “To achieve this outcome, we will partner with independent experts in pet safety, comfort and travel.”

United said it expected to complete its review by May 1, 2018, which really doesn’t seem like an adequate amount of time to do a thorough review. Its CEO, Oscar Munoz, told CNBC there are no plans to permanently shutter the PetSafe program – but should there be?

What about pets traveling as cargo?

The majority of pet deaths and injuries have occurred in the cargo areas of United’s planes.

The cargo area of any plane has proven to be an unsafe place for animals to travel, especially short-nosed (brachycephalic) dogs like bulldogs, boxers and pugs. Their shortened snouts make them more vulnerable to air quality and temperature changes. Over a five-year period, half of all dog deaths on airlines involved short-nosed breeds.

“We strongly discourage having your pet travel by air in the cargo hold of a plane,” says the Humane Society of the United States. “It can be dangerous and stressful.”

For these reasons, some major airlines, including Delta, Frontier and JetBlue, have done the right thing and don’t allow any pets to fly as checked luggage.

But not United, which transports more animals as cargo than any other U.S. airline. Its PetSafe program doesn’t allow most adult breeds of bulldogs to fly in the cargo area. However, other short-nosed dogs – like adult American bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs - can travel as cargo on United except between May and September or if the temperature is hotter than 85 degrees. Some short-nosed breeds, such as Boxers and Pekingese, can travel as cargo all year long on United planes.

“Doing away with something would be the simplest thing to do,” United’s CEO told CNBC. “That’s not what we’re going to do. That’s not what United’s about.”

What if doing away with something is also the safest thing to do — shouldn’t that be what United is about, if it’s sincere that it wants to “ensure the best possible experience” for customers and their pets?

Nearly half a million people have signed Care2 petitions urging United Airlines to improve its pet policies. Hopefully the airline is finally listening, and the PetSafe program will finally live up to its name.

If you haven’t already, please sign and share this petition urging United to adopt a stricter pet policy.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Debbie R
Debbie Robison28 days ago

Please take to heart my WARNING. DO NOT use United Airlines (NOT) Pet Safe Cargo. Their animal abuse and irresponsible handling continues sadly as my new 9wk pup was a defenseless victim of a BROKEN LEG during her transport on Feb 18, 2019. They say they will pay your vets bills yet do not and take no responsibility for their cruel actions! The list is long of incompetent actions by United reps from changing flights without notice, undisclosed holding locations, to stating problem may have been at locations this pup never visited, such as Paris and Honolulu?? My pup flew from Montana by a reputable breeder, a happy pup with all health certs to me, terrified with a BROKEN LEG. A complaint filed with DOT was the only action to get a phone call by a superior with United. This woman was quick to point out several ways they legally owed me nothing and said they did nothing wrong. Tons of insensere apologies were of little value for an injury that may haunt this sweet pup the rest of her life. They value our loved pet's safety and value the same as a box of cabbage being shipped, pennies per pound. Please be warned, there are good caring airlines out there if you have to ship your pet cargo, just NOT United (non) Pet Safe Cargo.

hELEN h4 months ago


Thomas M
Past Member 4 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Anna R
Anna R4 months ago

thank you

Mia B
Melisa B4 months ago

Thank you

Justin M
Justin M6 months ago


Clare O
Clare O6 months ago

When I flew with my cat decades ago I had to put the cat in a leakproof, crushproof and escape proof container, pay one percent of my fare per kilo and travel, with him in a small in-cabin luggage area. I had to sign a form to say if he was a pet, a musical instrument or a set of golf clubs. That was with Aer Lingus. On both occasions my cat came out fine, snug in his blanket.

Clare O
Clare O6 months ago

if you would not do it to a child don't do it to a pet

Clare O
Clare O6 months ago

obviously wrong

Christine Stewart
Christine Stewart6 months ago