United Airlines suspends transports of pets in cargo hold

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Starting Tuesday, the airline will stop accepting new reservations to put pets in the cargo hold of planes.

All three pets have since been reunited with their owners - but a Queens family wasn't as lucky when their beloved French bulldog apparently suffocated aboard a Houston-to-New York City flight.

United Continental Holdings Inc is halting reservations for its animal transport service after drawing worldwide scorn in recent weeks for the death of a dog and other miscues in handling pets. It will honor PetSafe reservations confirmed as of March 20, 2018, the airline said.

United has also announced that pets traveling in an aircraft's cabin will be marked with brightly colored bag tags to ensure they are not mistakenly placed in the overhead bin.

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United spokesman Charles Hobart stressed that the airline is not ending the program as it consults independent experts in pet safety.

United carried about 42 percent more animals in the cargo hold in 2017 than in 2015, and it accounted for about 27 percent of all animals U.S. airlines transported past year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That's higher than the second and third U.S. airlines that transport the most animals per year - Delta and American - combined.

United recently announced in a separate move that it would impose stricter rules on emotional support animals flying in cabins, after one passenger tried to take a peacock onboard. In 2017, 1.3 out of every 10,000 animals the carrier transported in cargo holds died, according to the Transportation Department, compared with 0.47 out of every 10,000 across all airlines that reported data.

Last week was an extraordinary bad week for pets flying on United. And not all airlines will transport dogs as cargo: Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways, for example, offer only in-cabin flights, for small dogs and cats. In 2017, airlines reported 24 deaths, 15 injuries and one loss in almost 507,000 animals transported, according to Department of Transportation data.