SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The U.S. Transportation Command said Wednesday that while United Airlines plans to dramatically increase its fees to transport pets from the Pacific, those changes will not affect Defense Department-chartered Patriot Express flights.
United, a top military-contracted air carrier, announced this week that starting in March, its current $283 rate for most pets will be scrapped in place of a new policy that will charge between $1,440 and $3,869 depending on the size of the animal.
U.S. troops stationed in the Pacific are frequently placed on commercial flights, such as United, when they are moving to new duty stations.
But, if the travelers are willing to put up with a little less convenience, the Patriot Express flights will provide a cheaper alternative. Prices to transport pets from the Pacific theater to the west coast of the U.S. range from $112 to $336, said Madoka Taira, a booking agent at the Kadena Air Base Passenger Terminal. Officials from U.S. Army Europe said pet shipment costs from Europe to the U.S. are $110.
“We want to provide our assurance that this change does not apply to pet spaces” on Patriot Express missions, transportation command spokeswoman Cynthia Bauer said in an email Wednesday to Stars and Stripes. “The pet spaces on these missions are part of the full plane load contract with the carriers.”
Pet-accompanied Patriot Express flights are available only to those on official orders, and pets in their crates must weigh under 150 pounds, Taira said. The flights must be booked through a government transportation office.
Of course, Patriot Express flights are less direct than most commercial flights, and travelers are not guaranteed a seat.
For instance, passengers traveling from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa would have stops at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station and Yokota Air Base in mainland Japan before flying to Seattle or California’s Travis Air Force Base. Then they would pay normal carrier shipping fees on commercial flights to their new stateside duty station. Pet shipping charges in the States are considerably cheaper. Flying a pet from Seattle to Dallas would be $219 plus tax for an animal and its kennel, up to 50 pounds, according to a Continental Airlines spokesman.
Flights on commercial carriers, such as United, could mean far fewer stops. The Kadena travelers would still have to fly from Okinawa to Tokyo, but from there could fly nonstop to seven locations in the States.
Travelers also have other options, including hiring a third party to ship their pets, although the rates aren’t as cheap as the Patriot Express.
“We encourage anyone shipping an animal from Japan to check IPATA.org (International Pet and Animal Transportation Association) for the best third party forwarder rates,” said Mary Ryan, a spokeswoman for United.
There are three association member pet shippers listed in Japan, and prices vary depending on pet size, weight and destination. A spokesman from WorldCare Pet Transport said the company charges between $30 and $36 per kilogram of weight for a dog or cat and its cage. For a mid-size dog that weighs 60 pounds, costs can reach about $1,400, including the cage, and a large dog can cost up to $4,200.
As part of its merger with Continental Airlines, United announced that beginning March 3 it would require all animals to be shipped as cargo rather than allowing them to be checked as excess baggage.
United and Continental are both federal contract carriers, so servicemembers traveling on official duty are often booked to fly on the airlines.
Officials at SATO Travel, which is responsible for making flight arrangements for Defense Department travelers, could not provide figures on how many flights it books on United for troops who are moving from the Pacific theater.
United’s announcement caused an uproar among pet-owning servicemembers, Defense Department civilians and their families. Message boards and United’s Facebook page have been inundated with angry customers.
Animal advocates are also up in arms as they expect to see a surge in the number of pets left behind because their owners can’t afford to ship them to a new duty station.
Stars and Stripes reporters Chiyomi Sumida and Travis J. Tritten contributed to this report.