AFSA Appeals to United Airlines on New Pet Travel Policy

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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,,, and

Read in full in AFSA’s page here.


6 responses

  1. That only 2500 folks have written to United is a sad state of affairs but characteristic of a masochistic FS. I am also an ex-MIL guy but get sick to my stomach every time I walk by a store that has this or that discount for military types or stand at a boarding gate and get to watch the military get on the plane first. Now, they get expedited screening at airports. I’d say they get enough already.

    Because so few in the general population have served there is a misperception that every military member puts his life on the line to defend our freedom, blah blah blah. The truth is that the military is no different than any other bureaucracy and has a huge number of support folks that are rarely, if ever, in harms way. In fact, only 15% are classified as combat specialties.

      • I blame that lack of awareness on State Department leadership unwilling to explain our mission let alone stick up for the FS. How many times do FS folks move back to NoVA only to have problems registering their cars or getting their kids in school? We’ve been doing this diplomacy thing for 230+ years and still don’t have the simplest things down. One meeting between Pat Kennedy and state and local officials would alleviate 90% of these problems.

        • Donny — All points well taken, I can’t disagree with you there. Although I can’t imagine that it is really a “lack of awareness” on the part of management, particularly as “M” is headed by a member of the Foreign Service and not a civil servant or a political appointee. Perhaps somebody should bring this up in the next Town Hall meeting; there has to be a smarter way of doing this. Sorry, need to use the buzzword, “smart” — seems to be floating all over the place these days.

  2. Hopefully this makes a change. As an ex-MIL guy I’m glad to see MIL families getting a break, but still disappointed that UA isn’t taking into consideration the idea that there might be other people who work for the USG and therefore get moved from time to time. It’s shortsightedness that’s nearly governmental in its myopia.

    • Thanks Dan. Seems like a short-sighted change to me. And given that USG employees must use American carriers under the Fly America Act, the least that US airlines can do is try not to make it harder for them during relocation.