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United will fly barred pets home if they originally sent them overseas

An United Airlines Boeing 767-300 gets loaded at Chicago O'Hare (KORD/ORD) for a flight to Europe. (WikiMedia/Lasse Fuss)

Some U.S. military families moving back to the States from the Pacific may be able to fly United Airlines with their pets, regardless of the carrier’s stricter pet travel rules that ban some 25 breeds of dogs and cats starting next month.

United has made an exception for military pets overseas needing a ride back home — as long as they used United to get overseas and it’s part of a PCS move. It’s not clear, however, whether the exception applies to all military families in other regions of the world.

U.S. Forces Japan said on Facebook Saturday that servicemembers who traveled on military orders to Japan with their pets on United Airlines “will now be eligible to fly back to the United States using the United PetSafe program, regardless of new restrictions,” adding it was “effective today.”

USFJ officials said that there would be a three-week halt in new pet reservations from June 18 to July 8, but after that, the carrier will start transporting pets eligible under United’s exception for military families.

Servicemembers who didn’t use United to bring their pets to Japan aren’t eligible, according to USFJ.

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A woman named Julia Foster asked USFJ about eligibility for her family’s golden retriever, which flew in a “giant-sized crate” with United from Raleigh to Seattle, and then had a pet spot on an Air Mobility Command aircraft for the rest of the trip.

“Under the changes to United’s policy, you would unfortunately not be eligible since United didn’t transport your pet overseas,” USFJ responded on Facebook Wednesday.

To get the exemption, servicemembers need to fill out an online United PetSafe military booking request form that can be downloaded from USFJ’s website. Servicemembers will have to provide proof that United originally moved their pets to Japan.

“The guiding principle – I don’t even want to call it a policy – is an approach we’re taking that if we flew your pet there, we’ll fly it back,” United spokesman Charles Hobart told Military.com earlier this week.

Hobart could not immediately be reached Wednesday.

USFJ said it was looking into whether Defense Department civilians based in Japan are also eligible for the exemption.

United earlier this month announced new rules banning certain short- or snub-nose breeds that are more prone to breathing difficulties at higher altitudes, such as bulldogs, pugs, boxers, pit bulls, Shih-Tzus, and Persian and Himalayan cats. Some large-breed dogs also won’t be able to fly in the cargo hold since the new policy limits an animal’s crate to 30 inches in height.

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The new rules go into effect June 18. Until then, United had suspended new reservations for pets traveling in cargo but later added an exception for military families that are making a permanent change of station from Guam, where United is the only major U.S.-based carrier serving routes to the mainland.

United officials said they would accept new PetSafe reservations for military members and their spouses, as well as State Department personnel and their spouses who wish to travel with or ship their pets out of Guam.

USFJ officials said that U.S. Transportation Command was working to expand Patriot Express pet capacity in the near future. “Discussions are ongoing and more information will be provided as soon as it becomes available,” they said on Facebook.

To access the USFJ military pet booking request, go to: http://www.usfj.mil

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