The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2012

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 7 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 baggage.” 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 officer. 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- pretation. 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. ■ P RESIDENT ’ S V IEWS Foreign Service Pets: Not a Peripheral Issue B Y S USAN R. J OHNSON