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Military family pets stranded as United Airlines suspends shipments

An United Airlines Boeing 767-300 gets loaded at Chicago O'Hare (KORD/ORD) for a flight to Europe. (WikiMedia/Lasse Fuss)
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Military families on Guam moving to the U.S. mainland may be forced to leave their pets behind, following United Airlines’ decision to suspend its pet transportation program until no later than May 1, following multiple delivery mistakes and at least one pet death.

United is the only carrier flying directly between the island and the mainland U.S., according to families there, some of whom took to social media Wednesday to say they felt blindsided by United’s announcement.

“We leave April 5th and our two pups will be stuck here, boarding (when) service resumes,” said one Facebook post, from a woman on Guam named Ryane. “That could be a month. We are devastated and not even sure we will leave without knowing they will be on a flight.”

Amber Fake, a Navy spouse living on Guam, told Stars and Stripes that United’s decision is “very disheartening and worrisome for myself and many other military families.

“Our pets are our family and we jump through many hoops” — such as rabies testing, vaccines, extended quarantine, entry permits and licenses — “to get them to Guam,” Fake said.

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“Now with United suspending the program without notice or exception, many military families are stuck with orders to (move) and no way to get their pets out of Guam,” she said.

Fake said the military community of some 7,000 people on the Pacific island doesn’t have the option of using Air Mobility Command rotator flights, which don’t service Guam.

While Fake said her family isn’t facing an immediate move, “many of the people I know are in panic mode.”

There are foreign airlines that fly to Japan and South Korea from Guam, where families could then fly to the United States. But it remained unclear Wednesday whether servicemembers would be allowed to reroute their orders to those countries, even if they paid out of pocket for an additional flight, or whether additional quarantine measures for pets would apply. Spouses told Stars and Stripes that United was the only option they were given during moving briefings.

Fake said the only response from military officials on Guam thus far was a message posted Tuesday on the Andersen Passenger Terminal Facebook page, which says there are currently no options for servicemembers to ship their pets.

“In light of the recent decision by United Airlines to suspend bookings for pets, we have begun to receive phone calls regarding the shipping of pets” on Defense Department aircraft “and would like to help answer any questions regarding the shipping of pets,” the statement said.

Pets can only be shipped on AMC contracted missions, such as the Patriot Express, according to an Andersen statement.

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“Unfortunately, we do not have commercially contracted passenger missions out of Andersen and are unable to ship pets at this time.”

In Germany, Patriot Express flights transit through Ramstein Air Base to and from the States. There are a limited number of pet accommodations available on those flights. Military families in Germany may also ship pets via Lufthansa, an airline agent said Wednesday. Defense Department personnel in Japan and South Korea, along with other nations, also have additional carrier options.

The suspension does not affect pets that travel in the cabin, which must be able to fit in a carrier under the seat. Service animals continue to be allowed in the cabin.

United said it would honor reservations confirmed as of March 20 for PetSafe, its program for pets traveling in cargo, the airline said Tuesday.

“We are taking this voluntary action to conduct a thorough and systematic review of our PetSafe program and make improvements that will ensure the best possible experience for our customers and their pets,” United said in statement posted on its website Tuesday.

The airline said it would complete the review by May 1.

The decision to suspend the pet travel program comes after three dogs were loaded on the wrong planes last week, including one that wound up in Japan instead of Kansas. A fourth pet, a 10-month-old French bulldog, died in an overhead bin during a flight from Houston to New York.

The latest incidents follow a year in which 1.3 out of every 10,000 animals transported by United in cargo holds died, the Chicago Tribune reported, citing the Transportation Department. That compares to 0.47 out of every 10,000 across all airlines that reported data.

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