With United’s Pet Shipping Suspended, Coast Guard Officer Faces $31,000 Fee

Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Jennifer McKay brought her 221-pound English mastiff to U.S. Forces Japan at Yokota in western Tokyo in 2016. She shipped him over in his 100 pound carrier on United for $3200.

The dog’s name is George Jefferson. And come June 1 it’s time for the Lieutenant Commander, Weezy to her Goerge Jefferson, to return home to the States. United however isn’t currently taking new pet shipment bookings.

And while they’re reviewing the pet program — and they said they expected that review to complete May 1 — they won’t promise when reservations will re-start if at all. Unfortunately United was by far her best option financially.

  • The military’s Air Mobility Command won’t take dogs that are over 150 pounds including their carrier. They’d only fly as far as Seattle in any case and she’s headed to Houston.

  • Most airlines refuse to transport Engish mastiffs. UPS and Fedex aren’t an option.

  • ANA will take the dog, and they fly non-stop to Houston, but they reportedly want ~ $31,000 because the carrier would take up more than one shipping pallet space.

For some time I’ve suggested that United has a problem with its pet shipping operation. They have killed more animals than all other US airlines combined. They seemed to divert pets more often than competitors, too.

Nonetheless most pets made it safely to their destinations. And United suspending new bookings while they evaluate their system has left many people in a bind. For instance United was the only carrier which permitted shipping pets between Guam and the mainland U.S.

In this case United was one of the best options for a direct flight, and historically by far the most economical. So hopefully their review will conclude expeditiously, and with findings that allow them to transport animals more safely and reliably — and in time for Lieutenant Commander McKay and George Jefferson to return to the States.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Did I miss something. If she can get her dog to Seattle why can’t she rent a vehicle and drive to Houston? Sure it’s a long ways, but it wouldn’t cost very much.

  2. Unfortunately we rarely ever hear about UA’s successes, like transporting rescued Korean meat dogs and flying them to the US for adoption. Or little is mentioned of the dog accidentally shipped to Japan being flown home on a private jet chartered by United.

    But when UA makes a mistake, social media is there to pounce on them, calling for boycotts of UA. United does need to refine their PetSafe program and it appears that is what they are currently doing. But I wouldn’t blame UA if they decided there is too much downside to pet transport and decide to scrap the program. It’s a shame because UA does transport of lot of pets for people in the armed services at a fair price.

  3. Apparently the dog is too heavy for milair. Seriously 250 pounds? My Doberman isn’t even half of that. Sounds like she needs to train the dog to sniff out seizures or diabetes, I’m pretty sure so long as the dog is actually trained you can travel with the animal if you’re a trainer or transporter. I know I can walk around my local wal-mart all day long if the animal is in training. Book a seat in F. Still absurd that you can’t buy an extra seat just for more floor space for the animal.

  4. Just put an “emotional support animal” vest on him and bring him on board for free like everybody else does.

  5. @Yossarian, right on,!
    Airlines, governments and businesses are run by people, people make mistakes. United is intentionally murdering animals.

  6. United’s PR department needs to get to work. If they are responsible for most of the accidental deaths to pets, but they also are responsible for transporting the most pets (apparently they are because they charge 1/10th what others charge), then they should publicize that fact.

    I am not a big pet person, but if UA has any spare space on their planes, any of their planes, and they can figure out how to fly a plane filled with pets and their owners on specific flights or specific days or to specific airports, then they need to make it happen. Southwest figured out how to do this with people, UA can figure out how to do this for pets.

  7. Airlines get and deserve all the bad press they receive. They treat us like animals and make poor business decisions that end up costing them more that if they would have done the right thing. In this case, set up a gofundme and move on.

  8. How do we start a goffund me page for Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Jennifer McKay?

  9. Join thousands of others who have gotten fake emotional support certificates. Then, the dog can sit in the seat next to her.

  10. K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid. Do not take your dog on a plane. Do not take your dog overseas. Duh! Cut the cord!

  11. I am this dog’s owner and I appreciate your kindness and support as we work through trying to find a viable, safe solution to get George Jefferson home.

    The recent United Airlines suspension of all pet cargo leaves no viable options to transport my dog from Japan to the US during my PCS transfer this summer. Only United and All Nippon Airlines (ANA) fly direct from Tokyo, Japan to TX. United plans to complete their internal pet cargo transport review NLT 01 May 2018, at which time no guarantee exists that transport will resume; additionally, as of 20 March 2018, United is considering banning the shipment of English Mastiffs. ANA quoted $32,000 USD (¥3,256,000 yen) to transport my dog.

    Extensive research and contact with commercial pet shippers yielded no safe and viable options for unaccompanied summer pet transport. The following eleven commercial airlines will not ship an English Mastiff: Japan Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Alaska Air, Air Canada, Korean Airlines, Cathay Pacific Air, Singapore Air, EVA Air, Turkish Airlines, and Qantas Airlines. Hawaiian Air will not ship live animals to/from Japan. The following commercial cargo aircraft will not ship mammals or will only do so for businesses: UPS and FEDEX. Shipment via commercial cargo vessel is potentially hazardous and unreasonable. No cruise ships voyaging between Asia and the US allow pets on board.

    The following commercial airlines offer unreasonable and potentially dangerous routing options that include two or more connections and unaccompanied overnight storage in Amsterdam, Istanbul, Dubai, or China over a period of two days: KLM, Turkish Cargo, Air China, Lufthansa, and Emirates Air Cargo. These flights range from $5500 to $7700 USD (Initial United flight to Japan was $2300 USD). Various third-party pet shipping agencies demand payment up front, instilling worry of fraud potential.

    The military rotator aircraft that goes to Seattle maintains a strict 150 lb. limit for pet and kennel combined, so that is not an option. This is the second time I have served overseas and shipped my English Mastiff with me, so I am well versed in the logistics of making this happen, and happen safely.

    Please know that I have not, and will not, start a GoFundMe donation drive for my dog’s transport expenses. If you see one online, it is a scam. I will not endorse one, nor will I accept the money (and I am NOT paying All Nippon Airlines (ANA) the $32,000 USD they think they can greedily price gouge from us). There are many other families’ dogs here in Japan that are affected by United Airlines’ pet cargo suspension and collecting donations for my flight does not solve the greater problem for our service members and their pets.

    This is not a unique case, as many other giant breed dogs owned by military and government civilian families in Japan will also require assistance in the coming months. If you feel strongly enough about the situation United has put us in one such short notice, please kindly write them a passionate (but respectful) argument via email at: petsafe@united.com and ask them to serve those of us that serve, but allowing a military exemption for our family pets that need to depart Japan in the coming 60-90 days. If you feel compelled, please call them out on social media via Twitter, Facebook, etc. United brought us here to Japan and said they looked forward to helping us return to the USA in two years; yet here we sit stranded… Thank you very much.

  12. Lieutenant Commander McKay, again thank you for your service. I will follow your suggestions.

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