Foreign Service Officers Against United Airlines

So if you’re friends with State Department people, this little bit of news is probably well, not news to you.  For the rest of you, click on the link above for the whole issue, since I can’t write it better myself.

Well, apparently, United doesn’t think US Government employees, who are not in the military, sacrifice for their country.  Let’s ignore the fact that we know at some point Karl will have to go to an unaccompanied post, like Iraq (where many Foreign Service Officers are currently posted), but nope, that’s not a sacrifice in United Airline’s view.

It seems that to our next post, Rio de Janeiro, we will have to pay for our own Delta tickets (Delta, please do not change your pet policy!), because US Airways, the airline that owns the DC-Rio fare, has the same policies as United, and not only we can’t bring pets as excess baggage (being in the same flight as we are), but they don’t even allow us to carry our pets in cabin to Brazil, which is how we usually take them with us.  These babies are carry-on size, after all.


So it’s no surprise, FSOs actually want to boycott United Airlines.  And it’s also no surprise that a lot of FS bloggers are blogging about this new change.

And yes, when I read United’s reply to our emails, I was – and still am! – very upset.  So what if my pets are carry-on size?  How about everyone else with bigger dogs?  Or those that have more pets than family members (since for carry-on there is a one pet per person restriction, and it’s not unusual for a single person to have two pets, or a couple to have three!).

But you know what else upsets me?  A lot of FS bloggers are now saying how they can’t take their pets with them, so they will be forced to abandon their pets at post.  (I really hope some wrote that just to be extra-dramatic to get their point across, but I have a feeling that’s not always the case.)  For the ones that are seriously considering leaving their pets behind?

NO, just NO!  You took on a responsibility when you adopted/bought a pet.  You knew the risks – be it transportation or vet bills.  YOU DO NOT GET TO ABANDON YOUR PET.  I can’t possibly be the only person that thinks pets are part of my family, can I?  Heck, if I were forced to take US Airways, it would still be cheaper to pay for a friend to fly over and bring the pets in a different carrier than using United’s Pet Safe program.

At some posts, you don’t even have an option but to use a pet shipper, and you knew this when you joined the foreign services or when you adopted your pet!  We obviously bid those posts low, but there’s always that chance you might end up in a place where a pet shipper is your only option.

I don’t care who you are, what you do, but always remember:


Yes, boycott United.  Yes, write to whoever you can to make them change the policy – including our own transportation department allowing us to cost-construct to another airline when our pets are banned from flying with us (right now, we are not allowed to do that, even though we are the ones who would be personally paying the difference in fare price – why does anyone care if I pay the difference myself?).  Yes, write to Congress if you want them to change the rules to making it a requirement before any airline bid for those fares, that they must allow pets as excess baggage and in-cabin for overseas moves (when country entry requirements and pet size – for the in-cabin part – allows).  But DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT, in any circumstances abandon your pet.  You have a responsibility when you adopted them, you do not leave them behind.

After I wrote this, I saw Sadie’s post, where she remembers how her dog passed away due to her being forced to ship her dog as cargo.  Read her heartbreaking story, that could have definitely been avoided, here.  (Sadie is not one of the people that claim her pets will have to be left behind.)  I think she also explains pretty clearly why United’s decision is not just a matter of a financial burden, but also how it increases the risks that something might go wrong with your pet during transit.

Edited to add:  A friend seems to have taken offense by what I wrote, as she left her elderly dog with her mother instead of making her pooch endure a long flight on the cargo hold.  For those of you in similar situations, please note that there is a BIG difference between leaving your pets in care of a family member/friend and abandoning your pet, and for the people that have had to make the sometimes hard decision of what’s best for the pets, are not the people I am referencing in this post. Pet abandonment when leaving post is sadly an issue in the foreign services, and an even bigger issue in the military community.


Filed under Foreign Service

13 responses to “Foreign Service Officers Against United Airlines

  1. Great post, and I very much agree with your sentiments. I did not know that this was going on, but I’ll try to do my part to petition change.

    We were lucky that Mike’s company gave us an allowance of $3000 per pet to move them via Worldwide Pets transport company. And guess what? After the carriers, the overnight boarding needed, then the drive from Madrid to our house, the whole bill came to about $6000. It’s absolutely ridiculous to expect people to pay that if they’re not getting help from their employer and airlines need a suitable and safe option for others.

    Leaving our pets behind is not an option. I am most worried about if we choose to go to Australia and the required quarantine can be as much as 30-90 days for animals!! My heart breaks at the thought, but I still couldn’t leave them behind because of that! Hopefully, since they’re household pets, they’ll be on the lower end of the quarantine spectrum.

    I hope things can change by the time you guys have to go to Rio. We still have time to make it happen.

    • I really hope things change — isn’t it ridiculous that it would be cheaper to pay our own way than it is to ship the pets separately? The government will never give us help to ship the pets (taxpayers don’t really like their money going towards that), but Congress certainly has enough power to change things and make sure that airlines allow us to bring our pets before they are even allowed to bid in those routes.

      Quarantine is a big issue too, some countries require 6 months (!!!) quarantine. That would be one scenario where I would get my parents to take care of the babies until we got back. Hopefully we never have to make that decision.

  2. I hear you. When I adopted my kitties from the shelter there was a question on the application along the lines of “If you move, what will you do with you pet?” I remember thinking “what a stupid-ass question!” Pets are family. They go where you go. I love my furbabies and it breaks my heart to think that anyone would voluntarily separate from their little loves. Ugh!

  3. FWIW, I have never actually known anyone in the FS who abandoned a pet and we are on our sixth overseas tour. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen, but I think it’s much more common to find another home for them. We’ve done this successfully three times. It’s a hard thing to do, but definitely not the same as “abandonment.” I wonder sometimes if the two terms are being confused.

    • There was a discussion on FS pets a few weeks ago, and someone mentioned that at the post they were at, FSO’s were known for abandoning pets (when she went to her vet to talk about what to do with her pet when she was moving, the vet misunderstood and thought she wanted to put the pet down, as it had been done before for other families — she was actually interested in finding out what the correct forms were to take the pet to the next post).

  4. Thanks for the mention, and I completely agree with you about pet abandonment. I actually do know of someone who abandoned their cat when leaving post (before I arrived). We occasionally see the cat lurking around the housing compound, but he’s gone completely feral and can’t be caught. I hope this is a rare case, because this reflects extremely poorly on the FS. Not to mention the harm caused to the animals. (Now that I think about it, I think the story goes that the person found the cat a new home, but the new (non-FS) owners gave it up right away. So maybe not a great example. Anyway.)

  5. absolutely love your post. we’ve encountered a lot of people who can’t seem to understand when we turn down invitations to go on vacations where we cannot bring our babies. they are as much part of us as children are with their parents.
    We brought our Angel with us from the Philippines to Canada and everybody seemed surprised by the decision. Well, you wouldn’t immigrate to another country without family if you can bring them, right?

    • Exactly! I’ve had some people surprised I brought two pets from the US, but the thing is whether we’re in temporary housing or a brand new house, once we’re here with the two of them, we’re instantly home. They’re our family, always.

  6. Pingback: Palau! | Carla Runs the World

  7. Has the situation with these airlines changed at all? I am curious partially because I am applying for the Service and I have a kitty. So, obviously his safety is paramount.

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