At best, United Airlines' decision to exclude Foreign Service employees from the pet transport waiver it granted the military is disrespectful, indicating a complete disregard for the work of the State Department and its employees deployed abroad. United's language is insulting, as they are granting the waiver to the DOD “in recognition of the commitment made by members of our military and the family members (including the four-legged ones) who share in their sacrifice." Because of course, diplomacy has no role whatsoever in the the US's relationship with the rest of the world.
United's decision will certainly result in many Foreign Service pets finding themselves without a home. Most families can't afford the $3000+ it costs to ship a pet as cargo on a federal employee's salary. If you use a top quality pet shipper and fly your pets on KLM (which treats animals humanely), add another $2000 to the bill.
At worst, it will result in many medium and large sized dogs being abandoned in foreign countries or spending more than two days in transit, being cared for by people who may or may not bother to let the dogs out of their crates in the course of these two days. At absolute worst, it may result in the deaths of pets who are not handled properly, are delayed, or are misdirected while in transit. A dog-loving friend of mine swore she'd never ship her dogs as cargo again after she arrived at the airport to find someone else's German Shepherd waiting for her. By some miracle, she knew the Shepherd's owner, who had received her dogs.
When pets fly as baggage, they follow the same flight plan as their humans, which is, at most, around 25 hours of travel when flying to Asia, and it only costs between $200-300 per pet, a reasonable expense for most families. You can ask a flight attendant to confirm your pet is on board, and they are waiting for you at customs, where you can take them out of their crates for a potty break.
The following is a video created by a family whose husband and father has volunteered to serve in a war zone, and who, when reunited with his wife and children in a year, will be forced to separate from his canine family member if United is the only American carrier available at their next post. According to United, a Foreign Service tour in Yemen/Islamabad/Kabul/Cuidad Juarez is a sweet deal.
You might think that having a baby has distanced me from my dogs, and although I won't deny that it has changed my relationship with them, Kyle's relationship with Julie has only strengthened my desire to have dogs always be a part of our family. Kyle laughs out loud at the sight of Julie--how could I ever deny him this pleasure? In addition, having a pet teaches children compassion, responsibility, and to be comfortable with animals. When we leave Manila we will not be affected by United's new policy, but getting the dogs in to Albania may be more difficult.
Whether or not you care about Foreign Service families, if you care about animals, please advocate for our dogs by speaking out against United's discriminatory policy. You can contact AFSA, AAFSW, or even your local animal rights group. If you have any doubts about how much Foreign Service families love their pets, check out Foreign Service Tails.