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J U LY - A U G U S T 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
Following its recent merger
with Continental Airlines, Uni-
ted Airlines replaced its interna-
tionally oriented, pet-friendly
policies with Continental’s U.S.-
specific PetSafe transport pro-
gram. The announcement set
off alarm bells throughout the military
and Foreign Service pet owner commu-
nities because PetSafe imposes unreal-
istic requirements, unclear procedures,
high costs and increased risks for pets
traveling as “cargo” rather than “excess
After military protests, United
quickly announced a waiver program
that exempted DOD personnel on
transfer orders from certain provisions.
Following a vigorous advocacy cam-
paign led by AFSA, and supported by
State Department engagement with
United and the U.S. General Services
Administration, United extended this
waiver to Foreign Service personnel
traveling on transfer orders.
This may seeman unimportant issue
to some, but for Foreign Service pet
owners, it‘s huge. The companionship
pets provide is long recognized across
many cultures and throughout human
history. It is as valued to the nomadic
diplomat (and family) whomust pull up
roots and move on every two or three
years as to anyone, and perhaps even
more so. The important role pets play
in providing emotional support, joy and
even safety to singles and families alike
came across eloquently and
poignantly in the thousands of
e-mail letters AFSA members
sent to United’s chief executive
Here are a few excerpts:
“Because our lives are often
uprooted, we rely even more heavily
than usual on that which is familiar and
constant to us. The comfort of a pet is
so important to the mental health and
well-being of my family members and
many Foreign Service families.” “Our
pets are part of our families and help
provide the stability and grounding
many of us need.” “Somany of us value
the companionship to help us cope with
a major life change.” “Being thousands
of miles away from my wife while she
was alone in a dangerous place, one of
the few comforts I had was knowing
that she had our dog to help protect and
comfort her.” “Having pets can some-
times be the only link to ’normalcy’ in a
stress-filled environment.”
Even under long-accepted policies,
air travel with pets is complicated, often
anxiety-inducing and expensive. Post-
9/11 security measures and proliferat-
ing health documentation require
ments, which differ from country to
country, make traveling with a loved pet
a challenge. Inmany countries the per-
tinent laws and regulations are anti-
quated and subject to arbitrary inter-
The high costs and complications of
a PetSafe program far from ready for
global rollout would have pushed many
Foreign Service families to the break-
ing point. United’s waiver and the op-
tion to use other U.S. carriers have
helped somewhat, but we still have a
long way to go.
AFSA surveys suggest that close to
40 percent of Foreign Servicemembers
have pets. Recognizing their impor-
tance to this significant community, we
must continue engaging with airlines, as
well as host countries, to improve their
laws and regulations concerning the
transport of pets.
As a first step, United could revert
to its former pet-friendly policies, at
least for members of the foreign affairs
agencies and the military. In addition,
our embassies and missions, along
with diplomatic colleagues from other
countries, can approach host govern-
ments, and local airlines if necessary,
to develop streamlined procedures
that distinguish clearly between pets
traveling as part of a household and
animals imported or exported for
commercial purposes.
Pet owners are responsible for their
animal companions, but employers,
governments and airlines all have an in-
terest in recognizing the important role
that animal companions play in sup-
porting well-being and morale, and the
benefits of common-sense, streamlined
laws and regulations for travel with
diplomatic and military pets.
Foreign Service Pets:
Not a Peripheral Issue
R. J