United Airlines Policy Change Could Cost Pet Owners Thousands

(Image credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

On March 3, United Airlines and its subsidiaries will change the way they transport pets. And although the airline's fees for transporting animals are in line with what other carriers charge, the change could end up costing pet owners thousands of dollars.

The change in policy means pets will now be transported as cargo rather than checked luggage. In certain countries, like Japan, it is required by law to pay a third party to ship cargo. And that's where the real cost lies: While the one-way fee for transporting your pet on United from Japan to the United States is about $300 for a 10- to 50-pound pet, per United's website, the additional fee means the consumer will pay an additional $1,440 to $3,869, according to Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of the U.S. military.

The additional shipping cost has the greatest impact on military pet owners who live overseas. United is a federal contract carrier.

United fees are based on the size of the pet and the destination, as are the third-party costs. United told ABCNews.com it does not collect any additional money from the third party.

Shipping pets as cargo rather than checked luggage will lead to a better experience for pets, company spokeswoman Mary Ryan said, adding that pets will now have a dedicated staff and temperature-controlled vans instead of the inhospitable baggage compartment. The change is an adoption of an existing Continental Airlines program called PetSafe . United and Continental merged into one airline, called United, in October 2010.

If United's Facebook page is any indication of consumer reaction to the new policy, people are outraged:

"As a military member with upcomming [sic] orders to Europe, and with 2 Golden Reyrievers [sic] my wife and I will be taking with us, I will do everything in my power not to use your airline. It is outrageous to charge so much."

"They [military] fight so you can stay in business and ya still put the screws to them. No more United for this family!"

"These new fees are supposedly the result of Japan charging a freight fee for cargo. Oh wait…this only happened after United reclassified pets as cargo instead of excess baggage. Seriously United? You get a huge government contract only to screw over US service members? Someone tell Jeff Smisek to shove it where sun don't shine!"