United Halts Pet-Hauling Service After Dog Death, Bungles

(Bloomberg) -- United Continental Holdings Inc. won’t take new reservations for its animal-transport service after drawing worldwide scorn in recent weeks for the death of a dog and other blunders in handling pets.

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

United announced the move following a bruising week of public-relations fiascoes involving pets. A French bulldog died March 12 after a flight attendant had the dog and its animal crate placed in an overhead bin. In a separate incident, the airline sent a Kansas-bound German shepherd to Japan. A U.S. senator called United’s handling of pets “simply inexcusable,” saying 18 of 24 animals that died on a major airline last year were in the airline’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 airline rose less than a percent to $70.35 at 11:42 a.m. in New York. Its shares are up 4.3 percent this year, compared with a 1.6 percent gain in the S&P’s 500 index.

Cargo Only

Since the PetSafe service is only for animals in the cargo compartment, new rules for the program wouldn’t have made any difference for the French bulldog, which died in the passenger cabin. United has already announced a plan starting April to issue brightly colored bag tags to identify in-cabin pets. The service suspension won’t affect those animals.

Among other issues being examined for PetSafe, United will consider which pets to accept, said Charlie Hobart, a spokesman for the Chicago-based airline. In the past, the carrier has been willing to transport certain types of dogs with a higher risk of death or injury than some other breeds.

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