Pet policy spat reveals fliers’ distrust of airlines

By | June 2nd, 2012

Can I come to Mexico? Pleeeeze? / Photo by Mindy - Flickr
Perrito is a 4-year-old terrier from Yelapa, Mexico, who’s proud of having made it to “El Norte” with his human companions, Raoul and Baerbel Schuhmacher. At least that’s what his Facebook page says.

The fuzzy white lap dog is also an accomplished globe-trotter, regularly traveling the United States from the San Francisco Bay area, where Raoul Schuhmacher works for a biotechnology firm. Perrito prefers flying in business class and is known as a “quiet” passenger, according to Schuhmacher.

But Perrito may not be flying back to Mexico with his owners later this year for their annual visit home, at least not in the main cabin. A United Airlines representative recently phoned Schuhmacher to let him know that a “new” Mexican law bans pets in the passenger cabin.

“Perrito is devastated that he might not be able to go on his annual trip to the homeland,” Schumacher says.

Schuhmacher and other pet owners are upset, too. And they’ve started a petition on Change.org to persuade United to reverse its decision. They say that the laws are being applied inconsistently by U.S. airlines with an eye toward maximizing onboard revenue (flying pets in the hold costs more than bringing them on board). And even though at least two other airlines — US Airways and Delta — have similar pet restrictions on flights to Mexico, they’ve put United in their cross hairs.


This latest spat between pet owners and United exposes a deep distrust between the airline industry and its customers — one that grew by orders of magnitude when United’s chief financial officer, John Rainey, recently referred to certain elite-level passengers as “over-entitled.”

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“This is nothing but a cash grab,” says Suzanne Montigny, who regularly flies to Cancun, Mexico, with her two calico cats, Angel and Isabella. Sending her kitties to the cargo hold would more than double the cost of traveling with them, she says. Besides, she adds, “there are so many of us who would never subject our small beloved furry companions to the hold of an aircraft.”

United says that it’s only obeying Mexican regulations. It cites three applicable laws: one from 1950, requiring that animals fly cargo class; a 2004 law according to which only seeing-eye dogs are allowed in the main cabin; and a 2007 law that appears to reiterate that rule. What prompted United to begin enforcing these requirements? A March 28 letter from the Mexican government reminding United of the restrictions. “It’s the law,” says Mary Ryan, a United spokeswoman, “and we’re complying with it.”

She said that unlike an online campaign that succeeded last month in pressuring United to reverse a ban on transporting certain supposedly dangerous breeds of dog, the current petition doesn’t stand a chance; United will change course only if the Mexican government revises its rules.

Arthur Wolk, an aviation lawyer based in Philadelphia, says that everything hinges on how United’s lawyers interpret international aviation law. A strong case could be made for United accepting in-cabin pets, at least on flights originating in the United States, where the airline would be governed by Federal Aviation Administration rules. The FAA allows pets on commercial flights. “United is using this law as an excuse,” Wolk says. “It’s a new revenue stream.”

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  • As I read it, it’s not that rules “have changed”. It’s just that United has now decided to comply. Their motive is unknown. As a PR boost, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t put the letter from the Mexican gov’t on their website so flyers can see for themselves. In the end, it’s their company, and they can decide what they want, no? Don’t like it? Fly another airline.

    Now when is there going to be a law that all children must also go in the hold? haha. (JUST KIDDING…)

  • Finally! Relief for allergy sufferers!
    Please ban pets from cabins, for the safety and comfort of other travelers if nothing else.

  • I’m a little surprised at the early poll results. Looks like the allergy crowd is out in full force today.

  • Elmo Clarity

    I think it is more than just the allergy sufferers reflected in the poll. I’m sure there are several in the ban category that have horror stories of the problems of flying with a pet in the cabin.  (I’m in that category myself)

  • Raven_Altosk

    Well, at least they aren’t claiming they are “emotional support animals” to get around the rule.

    Oh wait.
    I just gave them an idea…

  • Raven_Altosk

    Overhead bins can be quite roomy for badly behaved children…

    *snerk*

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’m just of the mind that if it isn’t a legit service animal or a long distance relo, pets need to stay home.

  • Raven_Altosk

    There’s an article around where USAir actually transported a “service pig” that destroyed first class.

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95217&page=1

    Whoever allowed that needed to lose their job.

  • fedupgerry

    United is in a fierce battle with AA, US Air & Delta to become the worst airline in the USA. It’s attitude towards it’s top tier frequent fliers allows it to survive only because it is aware that it’s comiptition is as arrogent & lacking of customer service as it is.
    Once again; allow “Open Skies” in the USA. Allow airlines like Singapore, Thai, Lufthansa, Emirires, etc., to pick up passangers within the USA & fly them to another destination within the USA. Once the American travelling public sees & experiences their level of service, they will never fly United, AA, DElta and/or US Air again.

  • LJBROCK

     I do not have allergies and I still replied “no”.  Last flight I was on there was a little dog yipping and barking most of the flight.  No pets in the cabin is my preference.

  • I LOVE my dog, but as someone who was recently “eaten alive” by fleas on a Southwest flight, I am now against animals of any kind in the cabin. 

  • chevy4wd

    I agree…no pets in the cabin period.  Maybe that will stop the lady I saw on a plane not long ago that claimed her 4 lb chihuahua was a “service animal” and had to be with her at all times (all the while feeding it little bits of people food and talking to it in a baby voice).   

  • BillyGe

    No problem with them if they are in a container and the passenger buys them a seat.

  • BillyGe

    My python is an emotional support animal.   I have a certified note from a licensed therapist.  Don’t like it?  Find your own scam. 

  • jikinn

    I voted “Yes” because I don’t think animals should ever go in the cargo hold (and I do have allergies). But after reading the comments, I’m seeing why other passengers would not want animals in the cabin. However, I think the big problem is the OWNERS, not the animals. I run into ignorant (to put it in the kindest possible terms) dog owners every day when I walk my dog, and it’s aggravating. Of course, not everyone is an irresponsible pet owner (don’t want to be too negative).

  • Chasmosaur

    I don’t think pets should be allowed in the cabin, and I do not have pet allergies.  (Though I do think that’s a good enough reason to ban pets from planes – that and the fleas Kim Larsen mentions below.)  I do find it amusing they say United is trying to rig up profits – they don’t think $250 for the privilege of shoving your pet under the seat isn’t already a profit center?

    I don’t have kids, I do have an English Bulldog.  While I’m not crazy dog lady, my dog is truly a companion animal and part of my family, as my husband travels frequently.  But I have never considered air travel with her, and would also never have done so if she was a tiny, cabin-sized dog. Because I want her to be happy and healthy, and I don’t consider modern air travel to be particularly pet-friendly.

    Even if she were small enough to bring into the cabin, I wouldn’t do it.  Why?  Because the smartest dog has the mentality of a toddler at best.  How well do toddlers do on planes and in airports?

    Sure, it’s warm and lighted and heated in the cabin, but there’s still strange noises and odd smells and cramped space.  Not to mention the trip through security and subsequent time in the airport.  Your pet would rather be at home with a pet sitter or in a kennel they are comfortable with.  My dog is kenneled at her vet with her bedding and toys and food and is adored by the kennel staff – she obviously misses her couch and carpet (since those are the things she makes a beeline for when she gets home), but she is obviously well cared for loved whenever I pick her up.

    If I say to my dog, “Want to go to the vet?”…she runs to the door so she can go see her second family as soon as possible.  It’s *almost* insulting how happy she is to see her favorite kennel employee – mostly I’m glad I’m giving my dog a comfortable environment where she’s safe and I know she’s having a good time.

    Pets like their people and their territory.  Make a good kennel part of their territory, or an in-home pet sitter one of their people.  It probably costs as much and you are saving your pet the supposed devastation of Perrito.  (Perrito isn’t devastated.  Perrito wants a treat and a good scratch behind the ears.)

  • TonyA_says

    Agree. Like x 1000.

  • TonyA_says

    oops.

  • TonyA_says

    another oops. can’t seem to reply today.

  • TonyA_says

    I give up, Disqus is acting up.

  • MarkKelling

    I’ve seen many unruly pigs in 1st class over the years.  And none were of the barnyard variety.

  • Sadie_Cee

    Agree 1 trillion percent.

  • technomage1

    In an ideal world, pets could accompany travelers in the cabin.  However, the world isn’t ideal.  Other people can have allergies to the pet, the pet could bite or injure someone or be allowed to run around or make noise (bark).  I think, given all the circumstances, putting pets in the hold makes the most sense.

  • y_p_w

    I wonder about service animals.  I’m guessing that Mexico has different laws than the US.

  • EvilEmpryss

    The scary thing is that the law technically only allows for “Seeing-eye dogs”.  I have a mobility assistance dog who is, yes, also what you might call an “emotional support” dog as I have PTSD.  If they were to try to tell me that she couldn’t fly because I’m not blind, they’d have a whole new kettle of fish to worry about than the pet crowd being upset.

    But I agree with you, at least the pet owners aren’t claiming service animal status to try to get around the law.  In my opinion, those people who abuse the service animal label should be lynched because when their animals act up they make it difficult for the legitimate owners to get the treatment they are entitled to by law.

  • Cybrsk8r

    “Perrito is devastated that he might not be able to go on his annual trip to the homeland,” Schumacher says.

    HUH?  How did the dog find this out?  Did the dog check United’s web-site?  Or did Perrito whip out his cell phone and call United’s customer service? I’d love to hear the tape of a United CSR talking to a dog.

  • Raven_Altosk

    You’re giving me flashbacks of having to sit next to an “emotional support snake.”

    I ended up joking with the FAs in the galley about “mfking snakes on this mfking plane…”

  • Raven_Altosk

    I was under the impression that the law had changed and that all documented and trained service animals (dogs, cats, monkeys) are protected under ADA. But I could be mistaken; this isn’t my area of expertise.

    The problem with “ESAs” is that they are an oft-abused “gray” area. They do not have to be trained to perform any specific function and people often use them to get around airline fees and pet fees in rentals.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    I am usually so miserable flying United airlines to Europe.  Why subject your pet to such misery?

  • BillCCC

    I stopped caring at “Perrito is devastated that he might not be able to go on his annual trip to the homeland,”

    Put your pets in a kennel when you travel.

  • OldUncleDave

    I’d rather sit next to a dog or cat than some woman wearing perfume that smells like bug spray. 

  • TonyA_says

    Feel the same way with AA or DL since I fly these from JFK to Europe. Maybe I’ll stay home and let someone’s pet take my seat instead. Rather them feel miserable than me. :-)

  • shishibeach

    I think taking your pet on vacations with you is crazy.  However, I did bring my daughters cat onto a plane once, when she was moving from Arizona to Washington.  Also took a parakeet on a plane when moving from Washington to Colorado.  Both times had no choice but to fly with the pets, and I would never have dreamed of sending either of them to the cargo hold.  Too many stories of pets being lost in the airport or dying en route.  I once saw a dog crate fall off the cart onto the tarmac (from my window on the plane) and the employee just picked it up and threw it back on.  Literally.

    Thinking my pets (cats, dogs, birds) would ever choose to fly with me to visit Grandma or Aunt Betty?  That’s just stupid.

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  • EvilEmpryss

    I agree with you on the ESAs.  At a minimum they should be held to the same behavior standards as any service animal, which is stringent for ensuring proper public behavior. 

    But as far as documentation for service animals goes, that’s where people make a BIG mistake: there is NO required documentation for a service animal.  The ADA makes it very clear that none can be asked for and none is required to be offered.  By law, there are only three things a person can ask someone with a service animal:
    1. Are you disabled?
    2. Is that a service animal?
    3. Is the animal assisting you in your disabilities?

    Which basically keeps anyone else from taking my service dog places they shouldn’t.  If she’s not working with me (ie, I’m not flying), she’s to be treated like any other animal.  I cannot be asked what my disability is nor what service my dog is trained to provide beyond a very basic concept such as “mobility assistance” (privacy issues).  While many animals *are* professionally trained and therefore have a form of “certification”, a growing number of animals, like my own, are owner-trained and are perfectly legal for use as service animals (there’s a large online community supporting owner-trained service animals).  The uneducated do not know this and think they can demand “proof” that the animal is specially trained or required for a particular purpose.

    Now I have no problem chatting about my dog and her abilities and how she helps me.  Other people do.  I try to make it clear that others should not be expected to give their medical history to anyone who asks.

    And while the American laws don’t for the most part distinguish between the types of service animals now (species, breed, or assistance training), other countries may be making that distinction still.  I personally would not bet my airfare that United would interpret “seeing-eye dog” to include a mobility-trained *dog*, much less a mobility assistance miniature pony (which is just as legitimate and still only about the size of a large dog).

  • jim6555

    We are talking about a Mexican law. ADA does not exist south of the border.

  • jim6555

    I miss Continental Airlines. The merger never should have been allowed.

  • Chasmosaur

    Relo’s are a different matter.

    I do wonder, though, why driving wasn’t an option.  In our family, any relo with a pet has included driving.  My brother – a veterinarian – has a great picture of his St. Bernard mix in the lobby of a Ritz Carlton (the only hotel they could find along their particular route that accepted pets and didn’t look like an utter fleabag hotel).

  • Chasmosaur

    Can we fly there and can we bring our pets?

  • Chasmosaur

    For anyone interested, I found Perrito’s Facebook page.

    https://www.facebook.com/perrito.schuhmacher

  • shishibeach

    In each of these cases there was no car available during the “relo” which is what necessitated flying the cat and then the bird.  I’m sure each of them would have preferred the car! 
    (and the cat did make it through a car trip from WA to Vermont several years later – although then had to fly back 2 years after…again, no car on that move)

    The cat was awesome on the plane trips; stayed quietly under the seat the whole time. The parakeet, on the other hand, did chirp and shout his name a few times…

  • Chasmosaur

    Fair enough.  I’ve heard so many people say it’s the *only* option, and then they discuss how they had to get their only car shipped as well – but they had a few weeks before the job started so that was okay.  I just look at those people and say, “Really?”

    As for the bird, it could have been worse.  My college roommate’s boyfriend taught her parakeet how to say various profanities when she wasn’t around.  I can’t imagine transporting that bird on a plane ;)

  • Raven_Altosk

    After viewing that, I’m nominating these people for a big kick to the head. They obviously have too much time on their hands. Get laid, get a job, volunteer at soup kitchen…do something!

    Oh, wait.
    They’re from CA.
    Maybe they’ve smoked too much “medicinal” weed or something.

    Yeah, I got nothin’ beyond WTF.

  • Raven_Altosk

    If it is, please wire me $5000 US to cover taxes and I will share my inheritance with you.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Interesting. Thanks for the info.

  • Raven_Altosk

    He probably speaks better English than the hacks UA has answering their phones (even on the elite lines) these days…

    *snerk*

  • chiefted

    Oh please…agree x 1000 too

  •  hehehe … apparently you have not flown recently or if you have you have not noted the size of the *carry-on* that cannot be wheeled down the aisle b/c they are toooo big  … and  as the passenger pushes and shoves everyone’s already stowed carry-ons our of their way, they manage to squash everything in the overhead … hence, there is no room for kids … aaaah, maybe they can be gate-checked along with the huge luggage …. LOL

  • Elmo Clarity

    You know, you can rent cars one-way.

  • cowboyinbrla

     What makes the most sense is leaving pets at home with a sitter, or boarding them at a suitable facility.

    Pets know their boundaries *at home*. How often do we see people who have pets that behave perfectly well at home, but when they’re outside somewhere else, they run rampant, exploring everything, challenging people and other animals for dominance, etc.? It’s because to a pet, everything “not home” is the big bad outside world, terra incognita.

    I love my pets. I love them enough to know they’ll be far, far happier and less stressed being cared for by a loving professional than dragged along into constantly changing territories.

  • Sadie_Cee

    I read this two days ago and am still laughing!  Can you believe some people?

  • I have severe cat and dog allergies and being anywhere near them just about does me in. Why should I have to be doped up with allergy pills and be forced to use an inhaler for dander induced asthma, just so someone can have their pet ride in the cabin for less money than what I paid for my seat? Plus, last year when flying Delta back to USA from Barcelona, a lady with her cat decided to empty the litter box in the galley – disgusting & stinky!!!

  • Bill Armstrong

    People have peanut allergies, and a big deal is made out of it.  People with pet allergies are ignored.  Passenger cabins are for people not dogs, cats, snakes, etc.

  • Bill Armstrong

    I fully agree.

  • Bill Armstrong

    Why do you have to have an allergy to not want other people’s pets in the cabin?  I love animals, but I do not love them in the plane.  There is a time and a place for everything.

  • technomage1

    I agree in general.  I can see situations where people have to travel on an airplane with pets, such as moving, so at least having the option to put them in hold should be available.

  • Actually, I’ve never heard of anyone with a snake allergy. No feathers or fur or anything. (Besides the point, I know, but personally I’d prefer a snake to a cat or a dog for that reason)

  • bodega3

    Do note that the airlines have temperature regulations for placing animals in the belly of the plane. Certain times of the year no animals may be shipped this way.

  • bodega3

    And so should their owners!

  • Elmo Clarity

    What about someone with phobias to snakes then?  That is probably a more legit psychological issue than someone needing an emotional support snake.  

  • sirwired

     They ARE allowed to request documentation for ESA’s.  For non-ESA, they are allowed to ask: “What specific tasks is your animal trained to do?”  If the flier does not provide a credible answer, (i.e., claiming a yappy Poodle is a “seizure alert dog”), then the airline is allowed to refuse transport.

  • That is a legitimate concern, but what if someone had a phobia to dogs or cats instead?
    (I wasn’t being totally serious about allowing snakes, but I personally would prefer one to a dog or a cat)

  • wedmed07

    I did some digging on this and it seems that the airlines are doing their own interpretation of the “no pets in cabin rules” regulation.  It seems that it only applies to NATIONAL FLIGHTS in Mexico and not INTERNATIONAL flights.  Why are they doing this, I guess we wil never know however, I would suggest to write to your airlines president about it.  I also called SAGARPA/SENASICA  and they didn’t know what I was talking about.  So the ball is on the airlines court now.
     

  • Jay

    Can we fit some badly behaving adults too?

  • technomage1

    They can on certain carriers that have temperature controlled areas in the hold. There are also agencies which specialize in pet shipping.

    This is not a new issue for military families with larger pets who get stationed overseas.

  • RG

    In today’s world some people need to travel with their pets. My dogs are silent and sleep in the cabin, but I understand that all dogs are not that way. If the airlines would simply provide safe, air conditioned pressurized areas in the hold for pets at a “reasonable” price, I would not object to checking my dogs.

  • Lindabator

    AMEN – am TERRIBLY phobic – believe me, even the SNAKE would run away in fear once I started up!  :)

  • Sue Jette Montigny

    The point that this article makes is NOT whether pets should or should not fly in the passenger cabin!!
    The article is about UNITED making claims that this ‘new’ policy of theirs comes from the Mexican government, when IN FACT, it does NOT!!
    I have personally seen the documents which UNITED is using to back up their claim.
    They are more than, 40 years old in one instance, more than 20 years old in another, and the 2007
    policy which they are claiming is “NEW” is from 2007 and is an ‘internal’ memo from one Mexican
    airport director to another Mexican airport director. The memo refers to rules that should be enforced in regards to ‘internal flights’ which originate and end within Mexico!
    I’ve also spoken with personnel in the Mexican department which handles the importation and exportation of animals into the country, and they have insisted that there is NO such new law, as, IF there were, THEY
    would be in the forefront of this and would be feeling the extra (paper)work that this would neccesitate!!
    It is their country and they can dictate whatever laws they want to!
    This article does NOT dispute that fact. What is in dispute is that IF IT WERE a Mexican government rule that pets could NO LONGER fly in-cabin on any flights coming or leaving Mexico, then ALL airlines would have to comply!!!
    I flew out of Cancun just a few days ago (May 28th) on Westjet WITH my husband and 2 cats onboard with us. Westjet has NOT heard of this new rule, and neither has American Airlines. It seems VERY STRANGE
    to me that the Mexican government would single out United/Continental (and now Delta Airlines) as the ONLY airlines that cannot fly pets in their passenger cabins!
    IF it were really and truly a new Mexican law then I can quarantee that it would apply to ALL airlines who fly into and out of Mexico!
    As to allergy sufferers, I too suffer from pet dander allergies, but still have long haired cats.
    I am pro-active in making sure that I take my allergy medication with me and carry an epi-pen in case of
    an emergency! Also, allergy sufferers can (and should) ask whether there are pets in the aircraft at the time that they book their tickets so that should there be, then they can be seated as far away as possible from the animal!

  • Elmo Clarity

    “Also, allergy sufferers can (and should) ask whether there are pets in the aircraft at the time that they book their tickets so that should there be, then they can be seated as far away as possible from the animal!”

    Hmmmm….  Let’s see.  I just booked a ticket for a flight in 3 months.  When I selected my seat, the seating chart showed every seat around me was still empty.  So, according to you, I should call the airline and ask if someone will be booking one of those seats in the next three months will also be checking a pet?  I doubt the airlines are hiring psychics to handle bookings these days.

    The fact is, when you make a booking, you don’t know if anyone else has made a pet booking, or will.  It is unreasonable to expect the traveler or the airlines to tell ahead of time.  Because traveling with pets is the exception to air travel, if someone on a flight has allergies and it might be a problem, the person with the pet should have to disembark, not the person with the allergy.  (in reference to the story a few days back about the women with dog allergies removed from a flight when she asked to be re-seated because of a dog on the flight.)

  • Sue Jette Montigny

    The point that this article makes is NOT whether pets should or should not fly in the passenger cabin!!
    The article is about UNITED making claims that this ‘new’ policy of theirs comes from the Mexican government, when IN FACT, it does NOT!!
    I have personally seen the documents which UNITED is using to back up their claim.
    They are more than, 40 years old in one instance, more than 20 years old in another, and the 2007
    policy which they are claiming is “NEW” is from 2007 and is an ‘internal’ memo from one Mexican
    airport director to another Mexican airport director. The memo refers to rules that should be enforced in regards to ‘internal flights’ which originate and end within Mexico!
    I’ve also spoken with personnel in the Mexican department which handles the importation and exportation of animals into the country, and they have insisted that there is NO such new law, as, IF there were, THEY
    would be in the forefront of this and would be feeling the extra (paper)work that this would neccesitate!!
    It is their country and they can dictate whatever laws they want to!
    This article does NOT dispute that fact. What is in dispute is that IF IT WERE a Mexican government rule that pets could NO LONGER fly in-cabin on any flights coming or leaving Mexico, then ALL airlines would have to comply!!!
    I flew out of Cancun just a few days ago (May 28th) on Westjet WITH my husband and 2 cats onboard with us. Westjet has NOT heard of this new rule, and neither has American Airlines. It seems VERY STRANGE
    to me that the Mexican government would single out United/Continental (and now Delta Airlines) as the ONLY airlines that cannot fly pets in their passenger cabins!
    IF it were really and truly a new Mexican law then I can quarantee that it would apply to ALL airlines who fly into and out of Mexico!
    As to allergy sufferers, I too suffer from pet dander allergies, but still have long haired cats.
    I am pro-active in making sure that I take my allergy medication with me and carry an epi-pen in case of
    an emergency! Also, allergy sufferers can (and should) ask whether there are pets in the aircraft at the time that they book their tickets so that should there be, then they can be seated as far away as possible from the animal!Not all of us can leave our pets at home, since many of us move to Mexico for anywhere from 4-7 months of the year and so, whereever home is, is where we and our pets live too! 

  • Cyn2

    If you’re moving there for 4-7 months, then drive.  Save your pets and the airline passengers around you the aggravation.

  • mendocinolover

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  • “In the end, it’s their company, and they can decide what they want, no? Don’t like it? Fly another airline.”

    Fly, Icarus, Fly, I agree!!!

  • EmilyE, I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • I don’t have allergies, and I still agree.

  • Me too!!

  • LBJRock, that’s my beef too.  Why inconvenience everyone on the flight because you have to have your animal with you.  I am with bodega3, the owners should stay home too!

  • Thank you.  I agree.

  • LOL!!!