United Airlines’ breed ban is a big step backward in customer service

Family with their pit bull terrier dogThey used to fly the “friendly skies” but United’s new policy of canine profiling is anything but friendly to families who travel with their dog if their dog happens to look like a pit bull.

Americans love their pets and view them as family members. United’s new arbitrary and unfair restrictions, adopted since acquiring Continental, represent a giant step backward from their formerly progressive policy, which treated dogs individually, based on behavior.

Now, sadly, responsible owners of many breeds — including American Staffordshire terriers, pit bull terriers and several other breeds — are prohibited from flying with their beloved pets on United. The ban extends to dogs who simply look like a targeted breed.

This policy doesn’t only affect people traveling with the family dog. Best Friends and many other rescues routinely transport dogs to new adoptive homes via the airlines, and we were hoping that the United-Continental merger would result in breed-neutral policies being adopted by both airlines. But as it stands, many dogs helped by Best Friends Animal Society would be denied transportation to their new homes, thereby complicating their placement and slowing admission of other dogs to the Sanctuary and our shelter rescue programs.

The fact that the policy depends on visual identification of a dog’s breed only makes matters worse, and it is particularly harsh in the case of mixed-breed dogs. Recent studies by Dr. Victoria Voith and Dr. Julie Levy show that visual identification of a mixed-breed dog’s heritage is inaccurate 75 percent of the time when compared with DNA testing. So unless all canine passengers are DNA-tested, there is no way to accurately identify a dog’s breed(s) to determine whether a canine passenger should be on the embargoed list. With more than 20 breeds commonly mistaken for the dogs on United’s banned list, this arbitrary policy could result in a loss of lives, not to mention loss of business for United.

It is a very regressive move for a customer-oriented business, especially in light of the fact that state and municipal governments across the U.S. have repealed or are in the process of reconsidering archaic laws that ban dogs solely because of appearance.

Please contact United Airlines and urge them to repeal this unnecessary and, in many cases, life-threatening policy.