Monday, March 19, 2012

Why I Won't Be Flying United

As some of you may have heard, United Airlines has changed their rules so that flying with your pet is now MUCH more expensive. Basically, their new policies on pet travel restrict options, raise costs and pose enormous practical problems for the safe and timely transfer of pets at transit points where a change of plane and carrier is required. As in, just about every PCS any FS family will ever make. AFSA said the likely difference to Foreign Service families would be instead of paying around $250-$400 per pet, families would have to pay as much as $1,000 and $4,000 per pet.

United has, kindly, granted a waiver to members of the military traveling on permanent change of station orders. Although all the specifics are not clear, it appears that the main elements of the waiver are (1) optional use of professional pet shipper; (2) waiving of $40 fuel and security charges; (3) flat rate* for cargo under United’s PetSafe program; and (4) United will assume responsibility for the transfer of pets to the connecting airline. Without the waiver, the traveler has to somehow accomplish this on his or her own, coping with getting to a cargo terminal, collecting a crated pet, take it to the connecting airline and do all this within the transit time allowed. (*the flat rate for cargo appears to be much higher than the rate for accompanied excess baggage.)

So AFSA started a letter writing campaign, and 3,000 people, including me, wrote in asking that the waiver also be extended to members of the Foreign Service too. Because we are serving too. We are PCSing too. We are on government orders too.

And the response they got back? Well, all of us individuals got the standard "Thanks for writing. Your letter is very important to us. We'll look into it." But their real response to AFSA was from United's Senior Manager for Marketing, Customer Service and Business Systems. He said that United developed the waiver for the military "in recognition of the commitment made by members of our military and the family members (including the four-legged ones) who share in their sacrifice" and intends to limit this "special process" to military families only.

I guess that we don't make a special commitment. We and our families don't sacrifice. We don't serve.

The Fly America rule passed by Congress requires that if the government is paying for the ticket, the passenger must fly on an American carrier. This means that most of our tickets are either on an American flight or an American codeshare flight. And when you are on a codeshare flight, you fly by the rules of the codeshare company, not the company actually running the flight. I learned this trying to get my parrot on the United codeshare flight with Scandinavian Airlines. Scandinavian allows parrots. United does not. So if I got a ticket through United, I could not bring my parrot.

What I learned in all of that is that most of our codeshare flights are with United. And that means following United's rules. But what I also learned was that while Fly America means if the government pays for my ticket, I have to fly on an American airline if available, it doesn't mean I have to let the government pay for my ticket. I can buy my own. And at an additional up to $4000 per per moving cost, it is cheaper for me to buy on a foreign carrier to get myself and my pets home than to let the government buy the ticket for me. And because it is a moving expense for my job, I can take it off my taxes. So it isn't even saving the taxpayer money for me to buy my own ticket.

So unless United changes its policy to include the other people who are serving this country and PCSing on government orders, I will be buying my own ticket. And I will certainly avoid buying tickets on United for my vacations if I have to jump through these hoops in order to PCS. In order to serve.

And that is why I won't be flying United. And I hope you won't either.


Donna said...

Amen, sister! That whole "they serve, you don't" line really ticked me off. No more United for me whenever possible, thank you very much. They are just counting on Fly America to keep us on their planes, so they figure they don't have to pay attention to our needs. Poor, poor customer service on their part.

Kelly said...

Nice post with some useful information. I reposted to the AAFSW feed on Facebook because I think everyone should know that it may actually save them money to pay for their own ticket!

I think this is great example of why the Fly America act should be killed off!

Anonymous said...

United has long been my least-favorite airline. This newest thing just seals the deal. I will do everything I can to NOT fly with them again, even though my family seems to live only in United hubs.

Jill said...

B.S. Utterly ridiculous.

Enough said.

Daniela Swider said...

I too was livid when I saw United's response to the email campaign. I can't believe that they actually said what they did because as far as I am concerned that's discrimination.

It's true that the military serve in war areas but so do a lot of FSOs. The military folks and their families travel on government orders. Well, so do we. Their pets have to endure uncomfortable circumstances. Guess what, so do ours.

What's the difference? They serve in uniform. We do not. And for that, we apparently have to pay.


The airlines have been struggling for years. People traveling on government orders probably keep them going. You would think that they would go out of their way to treat us well. But they don't have to because there's the Fly American rule....

So infuriating...

Sadie said...

My only pet-flying experience ended with the death of my beloved dog (not the airline's fault, but still), and I am terrified of trying to get my cats back to the U.S. this summer from a United/Lufthansa codeshare post. It literally keeps me up at night. I'm looking at other options, including flying my mother to post at my own expense to be able to take the two cats carry-on back to the States. That will be cheaper and easier than using United's new policy. The responses I've gotten from United have been insulting at best and laughable at worst. Well said Digger, well said.

Heather Dray said...

Wondering if United would be willing to call and tell my children that my husband's year with the Foreign Service in Iraq wasn't a 'service'. Where the military no longer posts, but the protection of the embassy is still needed.

United could talk to our youngest, whose Dad missed his entire first year of life. To our middlest, who asked why her daddy had to go to Iraq when we needed him at home. And to our oldest, who pulled back tears when asked why his dad wasn't at his baseball games.

And then, United could also take the time to reiterate that since he doesn't 'serve' overseas, moving every 2-3 years, packing up our lives, our kids, everything...we can suck it up and pay $4000 to move our two beloved dogs. Who don't count as our family members. Since we're not military. And we're not serving our country.

I will never fly United again if I can avoid it. And I've let them know it.