United halts pet shipments after animal mishaps

United Airlines (UAL) is hitting the pause button on letting customers pay to ship pets as cargo.

The carrier's decision on Tuesday comes a week after United inadvertently flew a German shepherd to Japan instead of Kansas, compelling the airline to charter a private jet to carry the canine back to his human family.  

Two days later, another United flight traveling from Newark to St. Louis made an unplanned landing in Ohio after crew members realized a dog meant to do to Akron had been mistakenly been loaded onto the craft's cargo.

United said its suspension of the PetSafe reservations will continue as it reviews the service, which charges fees of up to several hundred dollars for a medium-size or big dog. It expects to finish the review May 1.

United spokesman Charles Hobart said the airline is looking to improve the program, not get rid of it.

The carrier's move does not impact customers bringing pets in the cabin like the French bulldog that died last week after a flight attendant ordered its owner to store a carrier holding the 10-month puppy in the overhead bin. 

Hobart said the airline also will give airport crews more advance warning about the number and type of animals flying in cargo, and a ramp supervisor will oversee the loading and unloading of all animals.

United last week said it would put brightly colored tags on carriers containing pets in plane cabins, saying the flight attendant who ordered the carrier be put in the overhead bin didn't understand that there was a dog inside. The family and other passengers dispute that account.

The airline's recent mixups involving animals are not the first. 

In 2017, United apologized for the death of a dog put in the cargo hold of a plane held for hours on a tarmac last summer. A similar incident ended in the deaths of seven puppies in 2010. The airline also was sued last summer over the death of a giant rabbit on a flight from London to Chicago.

Last year, United reported the deaths of 18 animals on its planes, far higher than other major carriers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That said, United transported a greater number of animals than others, the data showed.  

Another public relations fiasco had United weathering public ire and congressional hearings last year for having a man dragged off a plane.