Did this traveler really abandon his dog “curbside” at the airport?

Aron Szekely’s complaint stunned our advocates — but not in the way he had hoped. When American Airlines refused to allow his faithful dog on a flight to Japan, did this military man simply abandon the animal at the airport?

We certainly hoped not — but Szekely’s email to us stated that he had been forced to do just that.

Szekely’s case is a reminder that there are complicated rules and restrictions for international travel with animals — and the check-in counter is not the place to familiarize yourself with these requirements.

“I showed up to the airport on the day of travel to Tokyo with my family,” he says. “I was told the flight was ten minutes too long and my dog could not fly. I had to abandon my pet curbside. I had no choice being military and being on official orders — I had to leave.”

Szekely spent the next two months writing letters to American Airlines asking for a full refund of each of his family member’s tickets.

The rationale for this refund was unclear — his family flew to Japan using those tickets. But our team was more concerned about what had happened to his dog.

When we reviewed his paper trail with American Airlines, he repeatedly told the airline that his dog had been left “curbside.”

I had a pitiful vision of a dejected little dog being left all alone at the airport as he watched his best friend walk away — leaving him to fend for himself (cue the heart-breaking music).

Could someone really do that?

Before we could go any further with this case, we asked Szekely if he had simply abandoned his dog at the airport.

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Thankfully he had not.

Szekely explained to us that he had called a friend who was able to come and get “Fido.”

No such clarification was given to American Airlines in any of his ongoing complaints. And, unfortunately, the approach he took with the airline would never be advisable. His letters were filled with demands and threats of legal action — although no actual damages were indicated.

Since I cannot get a response from anyone and the fact that my dog having to be left curbside because of your airline’s neglect — I have submitted my story to both San Diego and Los Angeles news. Because I am military I have no control over who I fly with. I have engaged with AA customer service since then and still nothing. What could replace a pet?

Again I am offering a resolution in the way of a full refund of all four tickets as compensation for leaving my pet behind. If your intention is still not to reimburse me then please respond with a negative so I can file.

Although this email implied that he no longer had his dog, he assured us that he had been able to find an alternative way to transport his dog to Japan at a later date. This was done through a shipping company that specializes in pet transport.

But why was his dog refused on the family’s flight to Japan?

To find out, we went to the American Airlines Traveling with Pets page. There, we quickly discovered all the information that Szekely needed prior to heading to the airport.

Although you can travel with a checked pet from Japan to Los Angeles, pets are not allowed as checked baggage to Japan. According to USDA restrictions, animals should be offered water every 12 hours, so for travel with a checked pet to Los Angeles, you must book a flight less than 12 hours. This includes the time it takes you to check your pet and clear customs at your destination city.

When we showed this page to Szekely he told us that he was sure that information wasn’t there in August.

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American told him that this information had been available on its website, but as a gesture of goodwill the airline offered each of his family members a travel voucher of $200.

What was intended to smooth out any hard feelings only seemed to fuel Szekely’s belief that he had a case that he could bring to court.

When our advocate asked him if the government had paid for his tickets to Japan, he said it had. It was then that he acknowledged that he was requesting a refund for something he had not paid for.

Yes, this was a government funded trip so perhaps asking for a refund for the government’s purchase seems wrong. I just didn’t know how else to ask for the compensation I thought I was due.

Despite all of these facts, Szekely told us that he would be escalating his case.

I feel like the last step I have would be to go to a lawyer. I really don’t want other military members to have to go through this. I have already contacted the military to offer my experience and will be reaching out to see if they will stop purchasing tickets through AA for members going overseas. I know for a fact that had I flown with United there would have been no issue.

But is that true?

I went to the United website and found that Szekely would have encountered the same problem on that airline.

Although United does have a military-friendly policy for traveling with pets, it is not possible to bring dogs into Japan as checked baggage. This information is listed on the United website.

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And in case you are wondering, Delta also has a policy that would have prevented Szekely from traveling to Tokyo with his dog.

On its website Delta notes that:

Effective, October 1, 2016, Delta and Delta Cargo will no longer accept warm blooded animals on flights with an average flight time of greater than 12 hours.

Since it is not currently possible to fly from the United States to Japan in less than 12 hours, Delta would also not have been a valid option for Szekely.

So how can a person get his/her dog to Japan?

A specialized pet transportation service such as the one United offers called Petsafe can get your pet virtually anywhere in the world. It is important to note that advanced reservations are required and there is a rather hefty fee involved (depending on the size of the animal and destination); a fee that is significantly more than the $200 that Szekely had originally hoped to spend to get his dog to Japan.

We are always sorry to hear about such travel fiascos, but we are happy that Szekely’s dog is now safe and sound with his family. Unfortunately, the facts of the case are not on Szekely’s side, and we will have to file this one as a Case Dismissed. But we thank this military man for his service.

Does American Airlines owe Szekely any compensation for rejecting his dog?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at Elliott.org.

  • finance_tony

    “I have already contacted the military to offer my experience and will be reaching out to see if they will stop purchasing tickets through AA for members going overseas.”

    Oh yea, sounds like you have a lot of pull.

  • Charlie Funk

    I don’t recall ever seeing any poll on any topic Chris covered that was unanimous

  • The Original Joe S

    This guy is something else……

  • Mel65

    Having traveled dozens of times with the military as a dependent of 52 years, you have to try really hard to be that willfully ignorant of requirements for PCSing overseas.

  • Chris_In_NC

    This is probably nit picking but last I checked a flight from Tokyo to Honolulu is approximately 7 hrs.

  • Flyonpa

    He was flying from LAX or SAN (From the going to the media) , While he could take a connecting flight, Since he was PCS’ing not sure how much control in booking is available under the government contracts with AA. He would have had to tell the PCS office he needed to connect thru HNL or maybe ANC, With layovers long enough for them to tend to the dog, before continuing the trip.

  • finance_tony

    and by now, apparently, you shan’t today either :)

  • James

    I think Chris_in_NC’s point was that Michelle said “it is not currently possible to fly from the United States to Japan in less than 12 hours.”

    That is only true if Hawaii is no longer part of the United States.

  • Alan Gore

    Did LW include the dog on his reservation to begin with, and don’t you have to when flying with pets? If he did, then wouldn’t the flight length limitation have come up at the time of booking, rather than being a last-minute surprise at the airport?

    Although when I lived in Japan I worked commercial, I worked with a lot of military people who were a part of our large presence there. Most of them had the option of taking military flights to and from, which would have been less convenient for scheduling but which had their own totally different set of rules for what could be carried. Did he consider one of those flights?

  • Annie M

    Holy cow! Thanks for your service but this is an absolutely ridiculous request. HE didn’t read the rules, HE didn’t follow the rules and expected the airline to bend over backwards. Whether he is military or not, what if they would have accepted the dog and the dog passed away during the flight because he hadn’t been fed or it was too long? He’d be the first one to be hiring a lawyer for that too.

    Sorry – this is obnoxious for him to even ATTEMPT to get money back for tickets he didn’t pay for. AA did their job – they got his family from point A to point B. The fact he didn’t bother to read the rules is his problem. not AA’s.

  • Bill

    entitled, self-important jackass … puts our courageous military personnel in a bad light.

  • C Schwartz

    Thank you for your explanation. Is it possible that he thought he could get away with it because of bureaucracy? However refunds are usually given to the purchaser so did he think that AA was just going to send him a check?

  • C Schwartz

    I think the term should have been contiguous US…

  • andi330

    Speaking as someone who just moved with my cat from the US to South Korea in July, I can state that yes, you absolutely do have to make a reservation in advance to have your animal with you on an airplane, for both in cabin and as checked baggage. This is also required for service animals and emotional support animals. In no case can you simply show up to the airport with an animal and expect to get it on the plane, you must give at least 3 days notice, though for pets that do not qualify as ESAs or service animals, reservations should be made early as there is a limit on the number of pets allowed in the cabin.

    Additionally, you have to make sure you have all the required paperwork to enter the country to which you are traveling. For example, to bring a pet to South Korea, I had to have proof of a rabies vaccine within the last year, as well as a titer test proving the level of the vaccine in my cat’s blood. I also had to have him microchipped, with the right type of microchip to work with South Korean scanners or bring my own scanner with me to prove he was chipped, and I had to have a Health Certificate, filled out by a USDA certified vet within 10 days of travel and endorsed by the USDA. Without all of those items, my cat could have been held in quarantine, and even been returned to the US at my own expense. Pet owners who are moving internationally with their animals have a responsibility to make sure they have learned all the rules for the process and are following them.

  • C Schwartz

    I wonder if he will tell the military that he tried to get a refund for a ticket they paid for.

  • C Schwartz

    The OP did manage to get a travel voucher for $200 for each family member for not reading the rules and asking for reimbursement for insurance tickets that were paid by the US government.

    Where is his sense of honor?

  • C Schwartz

    Just wait something will mention EU 261 or how it was too much work to look it up or the evil AA hid the information just to screw the customer– and that AA is unpatriotic..

    I do not even fly AA or like the company. I do not think AA should have rewarded the OP with a voucher of 200 per family member. They likely did this to avoid the headline of “airline refuses to transport loyal dog of military man fighting for your freedom’ being on numerous petitions and social media posts.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    Or possibly pay for one family member to fly to Honolulu with the dog and on to Tokyo from there.

  • Marc

    Some people you really don’t want to help.

  • jsn55

    This is a stunning story of rage, greed and stupidity. Sometimes I wonder how you can stand to deal with sleazy people like this.

  • technomage1

    The military isn’t responsible for shipping your pet, but they do provide a briefing and plenty of documentation to help members do just that. As far as not being able to not take the flight, as long as he didn’t bust his Report No Later Than Date, he could’ve easily modified his ticket to fly out later at no expense. If he was close to the date, his spouse could’ve stayed behind to take care of shipping the pet.

    I spent 15 years of a 20 year career overseas. It’s not rocket science if you pay attention and do some research.

  • Carol Molloy

    As the wife and mother of Marines, I was disgusted by this behavior by a member of our military. Totally dishonorable. Thank you for sharing the potential consequences of his behavior. Fortunately, our armed forces are full of dedicated men and women who serve honorably.

  • Ellen Chiantelli

    Thank you for your letter, Andi 330, and for clarifying that everyone, prior to animal/flight travel, needs to do their homework. Andi 330, you also provided a great example for future travelers.
    As an aside, any veterinarian will be happy to address your questions concerning pet travel. The REQUIRED health certificate needs to be obtained and is valid for within 10 days of travel.

    Unfortunately, this military man did not do his homework, nor use any common sense.

    I also question how devoted this military man is to his animal. Animal abandonment represents sheer neglect.
    When charges are brought against him, let’s rightfully tack on animal neglect, abandonment and abuse.

  • Lindabator

    NO – T Powers is correct

  • Lindabator

    was probably booked by the military if he was on orders — but should have let THEM know, and thy could have told him limitations

  • Bill

    “if this isn’t the only time AA has done this”?? Done what? Transported a family of four to Japan? Followed their published rules on pet carriage? Not rebated the full fare for four people who ACTUALLY travelled, but didn’t get to take their dog? I’m fairly sure you don’t mean this, but the tone of your statement suggests there was something AA should have done differently. I’m curious what that something is? I’m also curious if you think the traveler bears any responsibility here?

  • Nancy Marine

    And you are basing this on…?

    I’ve been either a military member or a military wife (who handled all the travel arrangements whenever we were PCS’d) and have seen this very scenario play out, again and again, when it’s a military family traveling.

    They’ll be told one thing, then another on the day of travel, only to be told, “It will cost you X number of dollars to do this.”

    And, yes, if an airline does enough of these shady tactics, they CAN be blackballed and will have to earn the right to transport military members, their families, and their goods.

    When were you in the military, Lindabator?

  • Noah Kimmel

    But there was no abandonment, he had a friend come and get the dog. “Szekely explained to us that he had called a friend who was able to come and get “Fido.””

    That being said, I agree, it seems in his quest for personal greed and compensation, he tried blaming and shaming everyone else, and used the dog abandonment as a sympathy card to frame the story against AA vs. admitting his own ignorance.

  • Nancy Marine

    I agree with you, both as a former member of the military, and as a former military wife. Also, both my sons are active duty and if either of them were to bring this situation to me, telling me how shamefully they’d acted, I’d have given them a serious piece of my mind.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “When we showed this page to Szekely he told us that he was sure that information wasn’t there in August.”

    He’s wrong, it definitely was. Per the wayback machine, this is from the AA website as of 1/10/17:



  • C Schwartz

    I do not think AA did and thing shady here. The information on transporting a domestic animal on a 12 plus hour international trip is readily available on the website. The airline (in this case) did not try and pull a fast one.

    But demanding money back
    for a ticket that the US government paid for — would that be legal? The serviceman and his family did fly. The dog did not. Can one as for a refund personally for something the US government military paid for?
    I do not know if there are laws on this within the military — such as procurement– so this is an honest question.

    Also the serviceman insinuated that the dog was left at the curb and writing to the airline “what could replace a pet” but he has his pet in Japan.

    I find the serviceman to be less than forthright.

  • Nancy Marine

    Reading comprehension is our friend. Go back and read all of what I wrote in my first reply and you will have answered your own questions.

  • Nancy Marine

    Go back and read my original post and utilize reading comprehension. Don’t just read what you want to see…. Read ALL of my original post.

  • Skeptic

    As a former ex-pat in three countries, I would know better than to think I could fly my dog into any foreign country on any airline without a ton of paperwork and advance planning, and maybe not even then. At 12 I had to say good bye to my beloved Labrador — subsequently adopted by my grandparents — who could not move from Chicago to Melbourne with us because Australia has such stringent rabies quarantine rules. But young enlisted service members are typically not very experienced in the ways of the world. That’s one of the reasons there’s a Military Lending Act — to help protect a gullible population from being taken to the cleaners financially.

  • Skeptic

    “Since it is not currently possible to fly from the United States to Japan in less than 12 hours . . .” FedEx, UPS, NAC, ANA, and any number of other carriers fly heavies from ANC to NRT in a little over eight hours every day of the week. It’s a bit quicker on the return. Anchorage, where I live, is in the USA.

    What is true is that there are currently no year-round regularly scheduled passenger flights between AK and Japanese airports . . .

  • C Schwartz

    I read the jurisdictional issue. It would normally take a legal expert to ascertain whether trying to get a refund personally for a ticket that was used and that was paid for by the US government would constitute attempted fraud. You have concluded that there is no fraud and relegated this issue to a civilian complaint and contradicted T Powers.

    The point of this article was a specific case of one serviceman and what happened with AA —

    You speak of seeing difficult scenarios again and again affecting military families when traveling – but AA was not asking for more money not doing anything that was not on the website. What you referred to has nothing to do with the specifics of this article.

    You wrote “what if this isn’t the only time AA has done this to a military member” when the issue discussed is not transporting a dog as cargo on a flight over 12 hours — is that what the “this” in your statement is? Or is the this referring to other problems you have seen that are unrelated to this article?

    Reading comprehension is hindered by imprecise writing.

  • Nancy Marine

    You’ve made a lot of assumptions based on only a few sentences.

    In addition, it’s not against the law to make the empty threats this military member made.

    Also, the military doesn’t nearly as much as you assume they do.

    Finally, please look up the word “hypothetical”.

  • Tommy Hagerty

    Unfortunately service members are not briefed enough on what it takes to ship a pet overseas. As a clerk, I take the traveling of pets on our aircraft very seriously. I’d suggest to anyone looking to ship a pet overseas via military go on YouTube. There are many videos to help walk you through the process. Imagine yourself being locked in a dark cargo hold for over 12 hours. You wouldn’t like it either.

  • Mel65

    I love when people say things like, “I’ve contacted the military” like there’s a phone number for “the military” and you just call them up and be all, “Hey I’m mad at AA, can you stop purchasing tickets from them? That’d be great. Thanks.” SMH..

  • Lee4You

    Grrrrr….I find such self-entitlement really pathetic and annoying. When someone doesn’t take the time to learn all that is necessary to know for such an important thing as transporting a pet even when all the requirements are there for the taking and then blusters and tries to bully: So unfortunate.

    His dishonesty with the airline too about not admitting the pup had not been left to shiver on its own curbside is really disgraceful as well – plus seeking a refund for something he didn’t even pay for –

    This is someone in the military….This is the sort of behavior the military truly wants from its members? Shameful.

  • Lee4You

    What “shady tactics”? The information is available for the world to read on their website? Why is that “shady”? Is this a thing? Military and others blaming airlines because they don’t bother reading policies available to them right on the airlines’ websites?

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