United Airlines halts pet shipment program after mishap

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United said Tuesday that it will halt PetSafe reservations while it reviews the service, which lets customers ship pets as cargo. (WLS)

United Airlines is pausing its pet-shipping business, called "PetSafe," after a mishap where a dog bound for Kansas was mistakenly sent to Japan.

Though the German Shepherd did ultimately reach his intended destination, the incident heightened scrutiny of the Chicago-based airline.

"We are deeply committed to the safety and comfort of the animals and pets in our care," the company said in a statement. "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."

"A lengthy flight like that, I wouldn't be surprised if there was extreme amount of stress on that animal," said Dr. Tyler Williams, a veterinarian in River North.

United spokesman Charles Hobart told the Associated Press that the airline will give airport crews more advance notice about the number and type of animals being transported in cargo for each flight. Hobart also said a ramp supervisor will be required to oversee the loading and unloading of all animals in cargo, and another official will sign off on the animals' handling before flights take off.

Williams commended United for reviewing its policy of transporting larger animals as cargo.

"For a lot of people, their pets are their family. And they want them to be safe or at least kept in an area where they feel like they are safe," he said.

United also recently announced a new policy for small animals traveling in the cabin of airplanes. Passengers traveling with their pets in the plane's cabin will be given a brightly-colored tag to attach to pet carriers.

This policy change comes after another incident on a Houston-to-New York flight last week that left a 10-month-old puppy dead. A flight attendant allegedly ordered the passenger to place the French Bulldog's carrier in the overhead bin. The airline later said that the attendant didn't know there was a dog inside.

United carries more animals in cargo than any other major U.S. carrier, transporting about 138,000 last year. Twenty-four animals died on major U.S. air carriers in 2017; 18 of them were on United.

The company expects to include its internal review by May 1. It's unclear how quickly after that the airline will restart the PetSafe program.

The Associated Press contributed to this reporting.
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