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United Airlines suspends pet shipments, but what if you already have a reservation?

United Airlines suspends pet shipments, but what if you already have a reservation?
United Airlines is studying ways to improve its pet shipment program. It is suspending service for new reservations until the review is completed. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

United Airlines isn't accepting new reservations for customers who want to ship their animals in cargo compartments, but it will honor existing bookings, the airline said.

The airline plans to conduct a "thorough and systematic review" and make needed improvements to its pet transport program, United said in a statement Tuesday. The review is expected to be completed by May 1.

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Meanwhile, travelers who have confirmed reservations as of March 20 will still be able to ship their pets. But United said it would inform those customers about the review and assist any who may want to cancel.

Tuesday's action doesn't affect pets that travel on board the plane, but that service also is being reviewed. One change: Starting in April, United will use "bright colored bag tags" to identify pet carriers in the cabin.

United's announcement comes after some highly publicized pet catastrophes.

The airline took responsibility for the death of a 10-month-old French bulldog on March 12 after its owner was told by a flight attendant to place the pet carrier in an overhead bin.

The next day, a dog was shipped to Japan instead of Kansas City, Mo.; it was eventually reunited with its owner.

A third dog was incorrectly placed on a flight to St. Louis, which prompted the airline to divert the flight to Akron, Ohio, the dog's intended destination.

Last year, United transported more pets than any other of 17 U.S. carriers and also had the highest number of pet deaths. United accounted for 18 out of 24 pet deaths in 2017, according to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics.

Twitter: @latimestravel

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