United’s ‘PetSafe’ Policy Bans Over 40 Breeds After In-Flight Dog Death

During one week in March 2018, United Airlines made headlines three times — and none of it was good news.

In the most disturbing incident, a French bulldog named Kokito died after a flight attendant forced the owner to stow the dog inside an overhead compartment on a flight from Houston to New York. Then the airline flew a dog to Japan instead of his intended destination of Kansas City, leaving him deprived of food, water or his necessary medications during the 16-hour flight. Another dog was almost flown to St. Louis instead of Akron, Ohio, before the airline realized its mistake.

These three incidents highlighted United Airlines’ terrible record with transporting pets. In fact, it has the worst pet safety record of any major U.S. airline.

In response to the March incidents, United apologized and announced it was temporarily stopping 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 on March 20.

Although Kokito died in an overhead, not a cargo hold, that is where the majority of pets have been injured or lost their lives. Because cargo holds are such a dangerous place for pets, some major airlines refuse to allow them to travel there. But not United.

On May 1, the airline announced it is working with the animal welfare organization American Humane and will be changing its pets policy — yet it will resume the PetSafe program this summer, continuing to allow many pets to travel as cargo, despite the danger.

“As we continue our review process to ensure that we are always doing what’s right,” Jan Krems, United’s vice president of cargo, said in a press release, “we are committed to making significant improvements in our program and adhering to the best practices of animal comfort, well-being and travel on behalf of our customers and their pets.”

Starting on June 18, 2018, United will only allow dogs and cats, and no other animals, in its PetSafe program. It will no longer allow 40 dog breeds and mixes, and four cat breeds and mixes, to fly as cargo. If they’re small enough to fit in a carrier under a seat, they will generally still be allowed to fly in the cabin.

Most of the banned breeds are those with short noses, like pugs, bulldogs and Persian cats. Short-snouted (aka brachycephalic) pets are especially prone to death and injuries in the cargo hold due to the changes in air quality and temperature. During a five-year period, half of all the dogs that died on major airlines had short snouts.

The PetSafe program will also turn away “strong-jawed dog breeds,” including pit bulls and many mastiffs. United provides no reason besides “concern for higher adverse health risks” for singling out these particular dogs.

It’s probably no coincidence that those breeds are often unfairly considered to be “dangerous,” making this policy smack of breed-specific legislation (BSL) – laws and rules based on how certain dogs happen to look, not how individual dogs behave.

Not allowing some dogs and cats in the cargo hold is better than nothing, but If United is sincere about adhering to the best practices of animal comfort, well-being and travel, it should heed the advice of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “We strongly discourage having your pet travel by air in the cargo hold of a plane,” the HSUS says. “It can be dangerous and stressful.”

Take Action!

United needs to join other major airlines like Delta, Frontier and JetBlue that refuse to fly any pets as cargo. Please join more than 244,000 people who have signed this petition urging United to adopt a stricter pet policy.

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.


Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie W4 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Renata B
Renata B9 months ago

Animals should travel with people. If a place is not good or safe for people it is not good or safe for animals either. And certainly animals are much less of a nuisance than children who can bang at the back of your seat and make loud noises for eight hours when you should be able to get some sleep.

Sue H
Sue H9 months ago

I'd love to know why airlines can't come up with a way to accommodate dogs rather than Ban them. ??

Danuta W
Danuta W9 months ago

Thanks for posting

natasha p
Past Member 9 months ago

so sad

Jennifer H
Jennifer H10 months ago

Looking at the list - what problem would Belgian Malinois have? To me, it seems they picked the short nose dogs and the ones they have a fear of considering Pits are listed too.

Also disagree in general with total ban of flying pets. I do believe it can be necessary as pointed out previously. Better arrangements for flying pets must be made by airlines. Airlines are cutting their liability with the ban and will probably ban all pet flying in the future. A big problem for MANY families and animals.

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson10 months ago

Thank you.

Chrissie R
Chrissie R10 months ago

They ARE a business just like any other...and they're going a step further by protecting at-risk breeds.

Glennis W
Glennis W10 months ago

Ban United Airlines Thank you for carinf and sharing

Glennis W
Glennis W10 months ago

Rotten mongerals Thank you for carinf and sharing