Dogged by criticism, United reverses plans to raise transport costs for pets of military personnel

A United Airlines jet takes off from McCarran International Airport on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011.

Military personnel at Nellis Air Force Base are breathing easier now that the airline contracted to fly them to new duty stations has revamped its pet transport policy.

United Airlines last week reversed course on a policy that would have cost military families thousands of dollars to fly their dogs and cats when taking overseas assignments.

“That’s one less thing they’ll have to worry about in a transfer,” said Lt. Laura Balch, a public affairs officer at Nellis.

Nellis, known primarily as a fighter-pilot base and weapons and warfare center, sends personnel to overseas noncombat bases in England, Germany, Italy, Japan, Guam and Korea. Transfers to Alaska and Hawaii bases also are considered overseas transfers.

Balch said, on average, about 180 Nellis officers and enlisted personnel receive permanent change of station orders in a year. She said officers get new orders every two to three years and enlisted personnel, every five to 10 years.

“Moving pets is just another aspect of PCS (permanent change of station) transfers,” Balch said.

Stars and Stripes, a daily newspaper covering military issues, first reported in mid-February that United was amending its pet transport policies as part of its merger with Continental Airlines. The new policy would have reclassified pet transports from excess baggage to cargo.

United and Continental have contracts to transport military personnel and their families when moving to bases and assignments in noncombat areas. While the airlines transport military personnel and their families at discounted rates, the family is responsible for the cost of shipping pets.

The difference between the excess baggage rate and the cargo rate is substantial — about $283 between the United States and Asia for excess baggage to between $1,440 and $3,869 for cargo.

The new policy was scheduled to take effect March 3, but late last week, United announced it had reconsidered the decision after being flooded with complaints on its Twitter and Facebook sites, mostly from military families.

Stars and Stripes reported that United created a special exception for military families as a result of “constructive feedback.” Inquiries to United were not returned.

A number of animal rights groups also criticized the United policy, fearing people would abandon their pets rather than pay extra to transport them.

Representatives of, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of airline passengers, also criticized United’s initial stance.