Military members worry over pet shipping fees

Posted By elaine on February 15, 2012

Amanda Powell, a military spouse from Yokosuka Naval Base, and her dog Tank await a flight out of Yokota Air Base during the evacuation following the March 2011 earthquake in Japan.  (Stars and Stripes/Grant Okubo)

Amanda Powell, a military spouse from Yokosuka Naval Base, and her dog Tank await a flight out of Yokota Air Base during the evacuation following the March 2011 earthquake in Japan. (Stars and Stripes/Grant Okubo)

Many servicemembers with pets are worried they can’t afford to take their 4-legged family members with them overseas because of new airline fees, but there may be a way around it.

According to a report in the Stars and Stripes, as part of its merger with Continental Airlines, United Airlines has announced that on March 3 it will drop its current flat rate for pets that are checked as excess baggage and instead require all animals to be shipped as cargo.

This could be a problem for local military members because United and Continental are both federal contract carriers, so military members traveling on official duty are often booked to fly on the airlines at a reduced cost to the military, but the cost to transport pets must be paid by the servicemember.

For those changing duty stations in the Pacific, the change could mean paying about $1,440 to $3,869 to fly with an animal back to the United States, depending on its size. Currently, United charges $283 for most pets, according to estimates provided Tuesday by Continental customer service.

“This is just going to be devastating and pets are going to be left behind,” predicted Mary Seward-Yamada, owner of Camp Canine Okinawa, a company that specializes in assisting military families with transporting pets between Japan and the U.S.

Seward-Yamada said the price increases are going to put the cost of transporting a pet out of reach for lower-ranking military members who do not have the income to spend thousands of dollars on airline tickets for the family pet.

The changes triggered a rash of concern on the United Facebook page Tuesday, with posts calling it a “rip-off” and “frustrating.”

“Our PetSafe program is industry-leading because of the high standards we set for flying pets,” United spokeswoman Mary Ryan said. “Due to Japanese law, anyone shipping their pets from Japan pays our PetSafe rate and a 3rd party forwarder at market rates. We realize this impacts military families, and are evaluating our pricing from Okinawa.”

But, if the travelers are willing to put up with a little less convenience, the Patriot Express flights will provide a cheaper alternative. Prices to transport pets from the Pacific theater to the west coast of the U.S. range from $112 to $336. Officials from U.S. Army Europe said pet shipment costs from Europe to the U.S. are $110.

Pet-accompanied Patriot Express flights are available only to those on official orders, and pets in their crates must weigh under 150 pounds. The flights must be booked through a government transportation office.

The down side is that Patriot Express flights are less direct than most commercial flights, and travelers are not guaranteed a seat.

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