Foreign service pets and United are still hot. Most recently, our US Ambassador to China, Gary Locke (previously Commerce Secretary) went to bat for the FS pets on behalf of his mission employees and wrote to United’s Beijing office on this issue. He is the only chief of mission, as far as we know who has done this. Excerpt below from the Locke letter to United via AFSA. Read in full here.
Click on image for larger view
US Ambassador to China Gary Locke (Photo from US Embassy Beijing/Flickr)
Via Government Executive | Diplomats demand pet parity
“We have a strong relationship with the military and it was not our intention to put a financial burden on them,” United spokeswoman Mary Ryan told Government Executive. “But the exception for military families is a ‘one-off.’ ” […] United spokeswoman Ryan said the carrier’s pet-shipping rates seem high because they include the third-party fee for the freight forwarder. United’s own pet fees are competitive, she said. The emailed letters from the Foreign Service Association, she added, “are not being ignored, but we have no intention of extending” the waiver beyond the military.
If you tweet about United Airlines, do use the new Twitter handle @United – this is the new handle used after the merger with Continental. @UnitedAirlines is still up but no longer current.
In any case, like I said before, the Foreign Service, even with AFSA’s full membership just does not have the number. The airlines recognize that and is not at all shaking in its boots. The only way this issue will probably get the appropriate attention is if some real smart and witty social media user can create a video of pets mocking this policy and it goes viral. No corporate entity wants to be laugh at by millions of folks, but it can tolerate a few hundreds unhappy clients as part of doing business.
@United – how can you do this to Felix rescued in Kuala Lumpur after his mom was eaten by a python? Did the merger gut your heart out?
From Pets of the U.S. Foreign Service
Last month, we wrote about United Airlines’ new pet travel policy, the AFSA-organized email appeal to exempt FS personnel on official travel from said policy, and United’s suckingly insulting response. The fight is slowly moving online:
United Airlines Screws the Pooch
United Airlines Screws the Pooch by L Po: “United Airlines has changed its pet shipping policy to make it 10x more expensive to ship a pet overseas. Within days, they granted a special waiver to military members “based on their service” to alleviate the financial burden imposed by the new policy and to help their families stay together. However, they refuse to grant the same waiver to all other U.S. heroes serving the country in embassies and consulates all over the world. Please help us tell United Airlines to think with their heart, not their wallet.”
The Pets of the US Foreign Service
The Pets of the US Foreign Service by mom2nomads: “A video to introduce you to a few pets of the United States Foreign Service. Their families serve their country with integrity and dedication in the Diplomatic Corp. They move on government orders in order to serve their country, just like the military. They deeply love their country, just like the military. They are asking that United Airlines include them in the exemption they’ve given the military from the prohibitively expensive new pet policies.”
Another version of this video with Sting’s Field of Gold is here.
“United basically does not think foreign service personnel and their family pets deserve the same treatment as our military. If shipping the pets costs what the article says it might cost, I don’t know what our family will do. Stop eating? Sleep on my FIL’s floor all summer to save money? It will certainly effect us.
Someone recently suggested a pet blog to highlight pets in the foreign service and how they are a part of our families too. Obviously I think this is an excellent idea and way to get the word out that this is a VERY important issue. Please feel free to send along a photo of your pet with a backstory if you wish. Tell your friends and tell your co-workers. Send to email@example.com.”
The Foreign Affairs Friends of Animals Network (FAFAN) is keeping an eye on this and has a page on pet travel here.
The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) also has a page on Foreign Service Pets in the Spotlight here.
Meanwhile, in late March, Stars and Stripes reported that the Defense Department is seeking greater authority from the president to prosecute service members who abandon their pets — a perennial problem within the transient military community.
“The Pentagon wants to broaden its current animal cruelty policy to include abandonment and to cover personal pets, not just “public animals” owned by the military, said Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale.
Troops already can be charged with “dereliction of duty” and “conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline” for abandoning or physically harming their family pets, Breasseale said. But specifying the bad behavior in the Manual for Courts-Martial — the rulebook for prosecutions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice — would strengthen those cases and increase the chance of prosecution.”
We can’t find a line in the Foreign Affairs Manual on pet abandonment. The summer transfer season is just around the corner. With no telling where this is going, perhaps somebody ought to take a look at updating the FAM?
“Effective immediately, when pets cannot be checked as accompanied baggage, the traveler may use the government rates of a non-contract airline that will accept the pet as baggage. This exemption to mandatory use of a contract carrier outlined in 14 FAM 543 is in addition to exceptions allowing travelers to use excursion or other low fares offered by various carriers. If the airline does allow the pet to be checked as baggage, this exemption does not apply and the traveler must use the contract carrier. The new exemption applies to all airlines participating in the City Pair Program (CPP).”
We previously wrote about AFSA’s appeal to United Airlines on its new pet travel policy that can cost thousands of dollars to pet owners in the Foreign Service.
About 2800 emails were sent to United in response to AFSA’s appeal. AFSA has a membership of approximately, 16,000 members, so the appeal came from about 17.5% of its membership. Even if every member of AFSA writes to United, the number pales in comparison to the military and the potential backlash from military families.
Here is an update from AFSA on that appeal–
“United’s Senior Manager for Marketing, Customer Service and Business Systems responded to my letter to United CEO Smisek on March 7. He said that United developed the waiver for the military “in recognition of the commitment made by members of our military and the family members (including the four-legged ones) who share in their sacrifice” and intends to limit this “special process” to military families only. United has sent a standard customer relations response to individual e-mails saying that concerns would be conveyed to senior management for disposition.”
There are two troublesome thoughts that crossed my mind after reading this official response. First, the possibility that United’s Senior Manager for Marketing, Customer Service and Business Systems knows squat about the Foreign Service. Try not to roll your eyes. After all, a medical doctor and Ivy League graduate once thought the Foreign Service is like the French Foreign Legion.
Second, and perhaps more troubling, United’s Senior Manager for Marketing, Customer Service and Business Systems may know about the Foreign Service, but may not consider civilian service overseas on behalf of the United States, while representing the people of the United States of America as real service and sacrifice.
As Google says it in French, oh, ça craint, or in simplified English — oh, that sucks! Even, the diplomatic pets are deeply offended.
And poor Miss H (and Miss Kitty) who once upon a time went on multiple trips with us. The last one, on a long trip after getting poked, microchipped, vaccinated (thank god, no tapeworm treatment for cats) and issued their own EU passports only to suffer veterinary malpractice and death in a foreign land. I supposed death overseas is not a sacrifice either.
Miss H. has been gone for two years now and Miss Kitty will not be going overseas again. But there are other cats, dogs, and a host of diplomatic pets who are all offended by United’s unfriendly skyride.
The diplomatic pets do not yet appear to have any Twitter account, although they are considering it and currently in a negotiation on which breed would make the best diplomatic spokespet. For now, we may have to ask our scaly friend, @BronxZoosCobra to tweet Miss Kitty’s most pressing question: Dear United, what do you have against diplomatic pets?
Cat writes to United Airlines about misguided pet travel policy affecting diplomatic pets
Um, no answer yet. Miss Kitty now needs to get off the podium and get her beauty sleep.
Note: Photo above is of Socks the Cat from the Clinton White House.
In early January, United Airlines announced that as part of its efforts to merge the policies and airport procedures of the two airlines, on March 3, United would adopt PetSafe®, Continental’s program for traveling with animals:
Effective for travel beginning March 3, except for small animals who you will carry on board with you*, we no longer check in animals at the airport ticket counter for travel in the cargo area of the plane. Instead, they will be accepted and delivered at cargo facilities or express package SPD (Small Package Dispatch)/QuickPak offices worldwide.
*Small animals may still travel in the cabin in accordance with existing United and Continental policies.
After a blowback from military families, United Airlines made an exception last month for military families who ship their pets on UA when making permanent change-of-station moves. The Army Times reported on this last month with a quote from UA:
“We evaluated our policies and developed a special process for military families traveling on permanent change-of-station orders only,” said Mary Ryan, a spokeswoman for United Airlines.
Under the policy, military travelers on PCS orders will be able to ship their pets under United’s “PetSafe” program without having to pay an additional fee to a third-party freight forwarder, Ryan said. That fee would add $1,500 to $4,000 per pet to a traveler’s costs, according to some estimates.
In its Call to Action, AFSA President Susan Johnson writes that “AFSA has engaged with the Department of State and United Airlines regarding United’s new policies on pet travel which restrict options, raise costs and pose enormous practical problems for the safe and timely transfer of pets at transit points where a change of plane and carrier is required. ” Instead of paying approximately $250-$400 per pet, families are expected to pay between $1,000 and $4,000 per pet during relocation overseas under the new pet travel policy.
Below is AFSA’s suggested text to email to UA no later than 5:00 pm EST on Friday, March 9, to generate maximum effect. The email campaign is primarily addressed to Jeffery A. Smisek, the President and Chief Executive Officer of United Continental Holdings. See end of post for additional email addressees:
Dear Mr. Smisek –
As a [member of the Foreign Service/spouse or family member of a U.S. Foreign Service employee], I welcome your decision to grant a waiver of certain parts of the new United pet policy to members of the U.S. military on permanent change of station orders, and I urge you to grant the same waivers to America’s Foreign Service traveling with their pets when they are on official “change of station” orders.
Extending the waiver would demonstrate that United recognizes the service of those who work to advance and protect America’s interests abroad, and would modify a policy that unfairly penalizes members of a career service that requires its members to be available worldwide, who rely on and feel deep responsibility to their beloved animal companions. This policy will cause serious hardship, both financial and emotional, to members of the U.S. diplomatic service and their families when they are assigned to official stations abroad and traveling to and from their official station on government orders.
This is a fair and common sense solution and we urge you to extend the waiver to members of America’s Foreign Service, for the benefit of our animal companions who are such important members of our families and our lives.
(please send the message to firstname.lastname@example.org, Tom.Billone@united.com, Jeff.Smisek@united.com, and email@example.com.)