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Airline Pet Handlers Accuse United Of Animal Neglect

Two former pet handlers for United Airlines have alleged that the carrier's Pet Safe program is rife with animal welfare issues. NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit spoke with the two whistleblowers, who have chosen to remain anonymous, and reported that animals are often subject to dangerous neglect, despite United's guarantees that pets will travel safely:

According to their website, United Airlines' PetSafe Program guarantees that pets travel, "in climate-controlled vehicles for connections in United's hubs," and will "not be exposed to temperatures greater than 85 degrees for more than 45 minutes"...

[One of the handlers] told us, "they claim the vans are temperature controlled, but I know for a fact that there were many summers where the vans temperatures just didn't work."

The former handler also told NBC that while Pet Safe offers travelers the option to track their pets in transit, United does not take great pains to ensure that the animals arrive at the correct destination. "I was there when they sent a dog that was supposed to go to Florida to Hong Kong," he said. "Somebody just put it on the wrong plane! That person was back at work two days later."

According to the report, the former employees attempted to bring their animal welfare concerns to United's attention to no avail. Despite being presented with pictures of dogs suffering on hot tarmacs, the company has failed to address the allegations of neglect thus far; United released a statement that claims the company couldn't respond to the whistleblowers' claims.

Additionally, the investigators found, "finding out who is accountable is harder than it sounds":

By law, airlines that transport animals must report incidents directly to the Department of Transportation. Those reports are sent once a month to the USDA, which can then investigate and take action [...]

The DOT told us that the rules require airlines to report the "loss, injury or death" of pets while in the custody of the airline. "Illnesses are not required to be reported," said [a] spokesperson. If [a pet's] injuries were determined to actually be "illnesses" the incident would not have to be reported.

"Bottom-line is they need to change procedure," one of the former handlers told NBC. "Change regulations for the health of the animals. Not for the sake of making money... People need to be held accountable."