United Airlines stops taking reservations to fly pets in planes’ cargo holds

A dog sits in its crate at an airport in 2009.
A dog sits in its crate at an airport in 2009.
(David McNew / Getty Images)

United Continental Holdings Inc. is halting reservations for its animal-transport service after drawing worldwide scorn in recent weeks for the death of a dog and other miscues in its handling of pets.

United Airlines will review the procedures for its PetSafe program until May 1, including which breeds of dogs it will accept, it said in a statement Tuesday. During that time, the carrier said, it will honor existing reservations without accepting new ones for the service, which is for animals traveling in the cargo hold.

United announced the move after a bruising week of public-relations fiascoes involving pets. A French bulldog died March 12 after a flight attendant had the dog and its crate placed in an overhead bin. In a separate incident, the airline sent a Kansas-bound German shepherd to Japan. A U.S. senator — John Kennedy (R-La.) — said that United’s handling of pets was “simply inexcusable” and that 18 of 24 animals that died on a major airline last year were in United’s care.

“We think United’s issues highlight how fundamentally it has strayed from one of its core missions as a customer-service company,” CFRA analyst Jim Corridore wrote in a note Tuesday, maintaining his “hold” recommendation on United shares. The shares edged up 35 cents, or 0.5%, to $70.48 on Tuesday. They are up 4.6% this year, outpacing the 1.6% rise by the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.

Because the PetSafe service is for animals in the freight compartment, different procedures for the program wouldn’t have helped protect the bulldog, which died in the passenger cabin. United has already announced a plan starting in April to issue brightly colored bag tags to identify in-cabin pets. The PetSafe suspension won’t affect those animals.


Among other issues under examination in PetSafe, United will consider which pets to accept, said Charlie Hobart, a spokesman for the Chicago airline. In the past, the carrier has been willing to transport certain types of dogs with a particularly high likelihood of death or injury, including snub-nosed dogs.


2:20 p.m.: This article was updated with comment from analyst Jim Corridore and with United Continental’s stock movement.

This article was originally published at 6:50 a.m.