CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Following thousands of complaints on Facebook and other websites, United Airlines announced late Wednesday it will not require U.S. troops who are changing duty stations to pay cargo fees of up to $3,800 to fly their dogs and cats back to the United States.
The airline said it has created a special exception for military families as a result of “constructive feedback” over its plans to adopt a new pet policy as part of a merger with Continental Airlines. Under the policy, animals would have to be shipped as cargo instead of checked luggage, which would have drastically increased the costs.
Announcement of the policy on Feb. 14 caused an uproar in the overseas military community, which worried that families would have to give up pets due to the increased cost of travel. Angered customers logged heated complaints on the airline’s Facebook page and created an online petition against the policy that attracted about 1,280 signatures.
Stars and Stripes reported the story that day, and less than 10 days after United announced the increased fees, the airline decided to grant the exception to military members.
“We more fully understand the impact of our implementation of our PetSafe product as a result of the constructive feedback we received,” according to a written statement released by United spokeswoman Mary Ryan. “We’ve evaluated the policies and developed a special process for military families travelling on PCS orders only, which allows them to transport their four-legged family members without the need for a third-party freight forwarder.”
Military travelers should contact the airline’s PetSafe service for more details about the new travel rules, according to Ryan.
United and Continental are both federal contract carriers, so servicemembers traveling on official duty are often booked to fly on the airlines at a reduced cost to the military. The cost to transport pets must be paid by the servicemember.
As part of its merger with Continental, United has announced that on March 3 it will drop its current $283 flat rate for pets that are checked as excess baggage. For those changing duty stations in the Pacific, the change would have meant paying a third-party forwarder about $1,440 to $3,869 to fly with an animal back to the United States, depending on its size.
The policy shift was met with applause on the United Facebook page.
“Thank you, United, for hearing us military and reconsidering your pet policy,” wrote one commenter. “You have made thousands breathe a sigh of relief and saved even more animals.”