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A service dog strolls through the aisle inside a United Airlines plane at New Jersey airport while taking part in a training exercise last April. Photo: AP

PetSafe shows United Airlines’ dedication to safe relocation, and grounding all animal flights would be a mistake

As a veterinarian involved in pet relocation supervision, I have been worried to hear some of the stories about United Airlines lately, such as the recent incident where a flight attendant insisted on placing a French bulldog into an overhead storage locker, and others such as flying pets to wrong destinations.
In response, United have now banned all new animal bookings, effective immediately until a full review of their live animal programme (PetSafe) has been completed. That is, if they decide to continue carrying animals.

United shipped over 138,000 animals last year and there are many successful happy reunion cases across the world. With around 88,000 employees, it’s clearly been hard to educate and induce a culture of “pet safety above all else” in one or two of these employees. It’s understandable that they wish to stop and review their systems to consider what went wrong.

However, there are some positive things about United Airlines which must not be forgotten.

They do have their own scheme – the “PetSafe” programme – which has dedicated staff focusing on how to manage pet movements.

Pet relocation: what Hongkongers need to know about flights, health checks and more, plus six dos and don’ts

They have 90 custom-designed, climate-controlled vehicles in US terminals to safely transport pets in all weather conditions.


They are one of the few airlines that will still accept most of the snub-nosed dog breeds, which some airlines will not carry at all. If they do decide to stop carrying animals permanently, this will have a huge impact on some breeds exporting out of Hong Kong and might not be even possible for some destinations.

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An exceptional level of attention to detail, and care for animals, is essential in all aspects of pet shipping, as airlines and relocators work to help the furry members of families join us as we move all over the world. But to stop United Airlines from any further pet flights completely, would be a mistake.

We hope that United will review their PetSafe programme with safety in mind, and maintain focus on doing no harm, and we believe they will do this promptly enabling many more safe journeys for the animals.

Dr Matthew Murdoch, director and veterinary consultant, Ferndale Kennels, Sai Kung

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: United has flown thousands of pets safely, and to ground all relocations would be a mistake