No, your cat can’t fly on United without a pre-booked reservation

Mark O’Brien contacted us after he and his cat were denied boarding on a United Airlines flight because he did not make the required reservation for his pet. This is a great reminder to read all the terms and conditions before booking an airline ticket, especially if you’re bringing a pet onboard. Or else you could end up with a paws in your travel plans.

The Indiana native was hoping to bring home a pet from Taiwan. He thought he had done due diligence — checking United’s website and even exchanging emails with a United representative.

O’Brien explained:

It was my first time traveling with a pet. I had to get a “birth certificate” and have an RFID chip implanted (per local laws in Taiwan). I researched government websites in
the U.S. and Indiana for regulations, took the cat to the vet and had his shots brought up-to-date. I did everything I thought I needed to do.

As you can see on their website , they completely fail to mention the need to register in advance. I was fully prepared to spend $125 extra for the pet fee, but their “Petsafe” program was ridiculously expensive and not worth considering…although I did take the time to get a rate quote from the local shipper.

O’Brien showed up at the airport with plenty of time before his flight. However, he was rebuffed in his attempt to check in because he had not reserved space in the cabin for his cat prior to travel. He could not get a United representative at the airport to help him with his predicament, so he made arrangements with another airline to transport him and his furry friend to Indiana. Unfortunately, he was forced to spend two nights in a hotel before he could get out of Taiwan.

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He attempted to contact United customer service in the U.S. via its 800-number. But the number was inoperable in Taiwan. “I spent a day in a hotel room (buying phone card after phone card) trying to work with United agents who were happy to help me re-book, but with no credit at all for the flight I was not allowed to board,” O’Brien lamented. “Why on earth is there not a big, bold warning [on their website] that you need to make a reservation for your animal in the baggage compartment?”

O’Brien could have tried a local Taiwan number, but apparently never did. He also could have used a program like Skype, which works all around the world and would have helped him try to solve his dilemma.

He was able to contact the airline via email, but O’Brien used an angry tone when trying to get help from a United representative.

I would like to bring a cat on the flight with me to the USA. United’s website is WORTHLESS. It has no details other than a phone number for Taiwan, not even an email address….and I have trouble understanding recorded messages in Chinese and have been unable to get someone to answer the phone…probably they took it off the hook after the doctor-brutality incident… So….can you provide me with any information or not?

Upon his return to the States, he contacted our advocates to see if they would help get United to reimburse him $1,300 for his alternate flight.

Our advocate reviewed the United website and determined that O’Brien had referred to the wrong web page when planning his trip. He actually was looking at travel restrictions for pets by country but did not refer to the correct web page that referred to the airline’s policy for traveling with in-cabin pets.

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On this page appears the “big, bold warning” O’Brien asked us about. It reads

Advance reservations for in-cabin pet travel are required.
Request an in-cabin booking for your pet through united.com or by calling the United Customer Contact Center at 1-800-UNITED-1 (1-800-864-8331).

The web page also states, “Rules for international in-cabin pets vary. For additional assistance or information, or to book international in-cabin travel for a pet, contact the United Customer Contact Center.”

O’Brien failed to realize that because he was on such a long international flight, his pet would not have been permitted to travel in the baggage compartment as he desired. The only place for his cat would have been in the cabin, but he failed to register for one of those spots.

Because O’Brien did none of the above, we must dismiss his case.


Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined. Read more of Mark's articles here.

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