AFSANET Update, June 5 2012

Update on the United's Pet Transport “Waiver”

Dear Foreign Service Colleagues,

Implementation of the United Airlines PetSafe waiver for the Foreign Service is not going smoothly. Some of this may have to do with post-merger management challenges, but many problems and unanswered questions persist and AFSA will continue to address them and seek clarification.

Your feedback on the problems encountered or overcome in traveling or attempting to travel with your animal companions is both welcome and needed, please continue to e-mail your experiences to member@afsa.org. AFSA needs to collect this data in a central location for use in our ongoing campaign.

As a reminder, AFSA posts information and links to relevant materials as they become available at www.afsa.org/pets. The previous update from May 17 is linked here. Below is the latest update, including some United documents that may assist you in your efforts to book transportation for your pets.

To date, our collective effort has resulted in some practical pluses:

  • When traveling on official PCS orders, pet owners can check their pets and crates directly at the passenger ticket counter and pick them up in the passenger baggage claim area;
  • The non-cargo “luggage” status means there is no third-party shipper requirement unless pet and crate weight combined is over 99.9 lbs
  • Foreign Service members have been included and we believe that other civilian personnel assigned to our embassies, consulates and missions abroad have also been recognized and included in United’s waiver for the U.S. military.

The big issues still outstanding are:

  • The very high cargo prices of the PetSafe program for accompanied baggage in the cargo hold, which United describes as luggage prices independent of excess baggage charges;
  • Whether United will interline/transfer pets to connecting flights and if so, to which airlines;
  • Whether the waiver will, in fact, apply to all civilian personnel traveling on PCS orders to our embassies, consulates and missions, even from non-foreign affairs agencies;
  • How well United informs and trains its personnel overseas about the waiver.

On May 25, United VP Hershel Kamen responded to AFSA's letter of May 15, which sought clarification on points in Kamen’s letter of May 1. You can read the May 25 full text of United's letter at the link below. The points below raise a number of questions for which we are seeking further clarification:

  1. United's continued referral to its “award-winning” PetSafe program indicates that it provides top of the line services. These services are described in general terms that may apply to the continental U.S., but provide few specifics on how these services apply to international travel on United that is relevant to us;
  2. United's PetSafe program pertains only to transportation on United and United Express airlines and not to other airlines so United’s responsibilities end where the United flight ends;
  3. Owners can bring their pet and crate to the passenger ticket counter on the day of departure and retrieve the pet at the baggage claim at the final point of travel on United or United Express (this suggests that it will not interline/transfer, but this is not clear);
  4. United will price the "transportation of pets checked as luggage independently of excess baggage fees" and provides a link to their price chart here.
  5. At this time, United has no plans to allow Mileage Plus members to use miles to transport pets, but they found it to be an interesting idea and will consider this possibility further. (We asked.)

You will recall that United’s Senior Vice President Heshel I. Kamen's letter of May 1st said that “effective June 1, 2012, Foreign Service Personnel will be able to transport their pets as checked luggage at the terminal ticket counter areas.” The letter also states that while Foreign Service Personnel will not be required to ship the pet as “cargo,” “checking a pet [in crate] incurs [PetSafe/cargo] rates charged under the United PetSafe program.” Reservations can be made under this program beginning May 20, for pets weighing 99.9 pounds or less with travel crate and travelers with pets will not be required to use professional pet shippers. This is verified in United’s Customer Service Bulletin 12-49R, an internal United document which we are still analyzing.

AFSA sent a letter on May 15 seeking clarification of some of the points in United's May 1 letter. United’s May 25 response is posted to our website here. AFSA is preparing a response to this letter. We would like United to provide AFSA the following:

  • a list of international airports that have the air conditioned vans and USDA trained personnel;
  • a list of United hub locations with the "capability to care for pets";
  • a clear answer on whether it will or will not "interline" or transfer pets to connecting flights and if, as suggested in its internal documents, an explanation of why it will no longer "interline", even to connecting Star Alliance flights; (Note – if United will not interline your pet, you may want to consider the GSA exemption and/or the Open Skies Agreement [intranet])
  • greater clarity on its in-cabin policy by posting on its web site a list of countries it believes prohibit in-cabin pets; (for example, we understand from member feedback that United is telling customers that pets cannot travel in-cabin to any European destination when other airlines such as Delta, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, KLM, Air France, etc, do allow pets).

AFSA post reps in a couple of countries have obtained and sent us copies of United's Customer Service Bulletin and Ramp Services Advisory. You may find it useful to refer to the Customer Service Bulletin CSB 12-49R if you find yourself dealing with United agents and employees who appear to be unaware of the waiver for Foreign Service personnel. This bulletin announces the waiver extension to Foreign Service personnel on PCS travel orders and explains what actions United/PetSafe should be taking for U.S.Military and Foreign Service personnel under the “waiver” and why. United's Ramp Services Advisory contains the instructions United personnel are provided for handling pets under the waiver.

AFSA will keep you informed as more information comes in. Please keep sending detailed feedback and any information about how United is or is not implementing the waiver. We will continue to work to clarify the outstanding issues and do all we can to ensure that:

  1. All civilian personnel assigned to our embassies, consulates and missions are covered,
  2. That PetSafe prices are reduced to more reasonable levels and,
  3. That in-cabin policies are clear and generally in line with the policies of most international airlines.

Sincerely,

Susan R. Johnson
President