Feb. 24, 2012 at 4:25 PM ET
When she heard the cost of shipping a pet via United Airlines from the Pacific region to the United States would shoot sky high, Mary Seward-Yamada knew the calls would start pouring in — and they did. Seward-Yamada, a kennel owner and pet-shipping expert in Okinawa, Japan, said the military families she serves were panicked that fees of up to nearly $4,000 would be needed to send their pets home when they were reassigned to the states.
So news that United on Friday decided to backtrack on their fee policy for servicemen and women comes as a great relief. “People were already trying to find homes for their pets because they didn’t have the money to ship them home,” Seward-Yamada told msnbc.com. “There’s been a lot of panic in a brief amount of time.”
Mary Ryan, a spokeswoman with United, said that they were happy to change the rule for those in the military.
“After all the feedback we were getting, we realized the impact of the change in policy,” Ryan said, “specifically in Japan with the third-party freight forwarding fees. We’ve developed a special process for these families by which they can technically check pets as luggage.”
The rule change is an exemption only for those in the service, she emphasized. “Obviously, it’s a very special exemption for families traveling on orders or what they call a permanent change of station,” she said. “That means it doesn’t apply to leisure travel. I think the (military) families are happy with it, pleased that we thought about it and what we could do to alleviate their burden. We value our relationship with the military very much.”
The rule change United had proposed to take effect next month would have reclassified pets as cargo, rather than as excess checked baggage. Many military personnel are placed on commercial flights with United because of government contracts with the carrier, but personnel must pay any fee required to ship a pet.
That change in how pets were classified would have triggered Japanese fees on third-party cargo shipping that greatly increased the total cost from several hundred dollars up to as much as $3,900, depending on the size of the animal. The news about the pending fee increase sparked scores of comments, many angry or outraged, on social media sites this week, including on the airline’s Facebook page, and accompanied online media accounts.
Seward-Yamada said it means a great deal for military families to be able to take the four-legged members of their family home with them when they are transferred.
“When you drag a military family complete with children halfway around the world they have to give up so much,” she said. “Then sometimes you’ve ended up in a foreign country and your husband has to leave for six months to a year on deployment and your pet is like your mainstay, a little bit of home.”
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