Best Friends Blog

United Airlines’ breed ban is a big step backward in customer service

They used to fly the “friendly skies” but United’s new policy of canine profiling is anything but friendly to families who travel with their dog if their dog happens to look like a pit bull.

Americans love their pets and view them as family members. United’s new arbitrary and unfair restrictions, adopted since acquiring Continental, represent a giant step backward from their formerly progressive policy, which treated dogs individually, based on behavior.

Now, sadly, responsible owners of many breeds — including American Staffordshire terriers, pit bull terriers and several other breeds — are prohibited from flying with their beloved pets on United. The ban extends to dogs who simply look like a targeted breed.

This policy doesn’t only affect people traveling with the family dog. Best Friends and many other rescues routinely transport dogs to new adoptive homes via the airlines, and we were hoping that the United-Continental merger would result in breed-neutral policies being adopted by both airlines. But as it stands, many dogs helped by Best Friends Animal Society would be denied transportation to their new homes, thereby complicating their placement and slowing admission of other dogs to the Sanctuary and our shelter rescue programs.

The fact that the policy depends on visual identification of a dog’s breed only makes matters worse, and it is particularly harsh in the case of mixed-breed dogs. Recent studies by Dr. Victoria Voith and Dr. Julie Levy show that visual identification of a mixed-breed dog’s heritage is inaccurate 75 percent of the time when compared with DNA testing. So unless all canine passengers are DNA-tested, there is no way to accurately identify a dog’s breed(s) to determine whether a canine passenger should be on the embargoed list. With more than 20 breeds commonly mistaken for the dogs on United’s banned list, this arbitrary policy could result in a loss of lives, not to mention loss of business for United.

It is a very regressive move for a customer-oriented business, especially in light of the fact that state and municipal governments across the U.S. have repealed or are in the process of reconsidering archaic laws that ban dogs solely because of appearance.

Please contact United Airlines and urge them to repeal this unnecessary and, in many cases, life-threatening policy.



Gregory Castle
CEO, Best Friends Animal Society


  • Connie Carroll Furrer

    I agree w/ the last commenter. I own dachshunds, and am very responsible and take them to obedience training, etc. But I know that this breed has, in fact, bitten more people that MANY of the large breeds combined, and that’s not even counting any more of the little breeds that bite as well!! I won’t be flying this airline now, or ever, whether or not I have my dogs w/ me!

  • Savoroskidina

    There’s only one thing to say- This act by United is discrimination. Yes, there are dogs who do not act “appropriate” at times but I am sure that there are ways to fly an animal without injury to anyone (employees). Veterinarians know how to calm an animal that is going to travel. All breeds should be able to fly as long as precautions are taken by everyone and fees have been paid. Slavery was bad- but it ended. Look how far we have come…….Pit Bull dogs are being mistreated and misunderstood by ignorant people who choose not to hear, educate themselves or listen to facts. I’m a pit bull owner. I’m a pit bull rescue. My husband is a veterinarian. My life wish is that one day (just like slavery)….there will no longer be discrimination against this breed of animal. And that one day pit bull/pit bull mix dogs are not euthanized simply because of the color of their fur. To anyone who reads these and has had a negative experience with a (pit bull), try to remember that all breeds have the potential to fight, bite, etc….Education is key. Just because a few people bombed our country and destroyed our Trade Center does not mean that every person who wears a turban or comes from the Middle East is a  terrorist. Do you see my point? This is a beautiful country but we are killing millions of dogs simply because of the way they look. Now children……let’s turn our  energy into some positive things for the animals…..ALL of them! AMEN

  • Celeste

    I suppose what I don’t truly understand is aren’t all dogs in airline approved kennels to begin with inside the cargo of the plane? So why does it matter on the breed of dog unless they are planning on opening the gate and letting them out? I had to sit next to a thug gangster type young man on my flight to Vegas…I’d rather sit next to a pit.

  • Melarrieu

    Just sent a letter and refuse to fly with them although I am a Mileage Plus member. This it discrimation at its ugliest and the fear mongering has to stop. I have two pit bulls. My daughter has one. Her best friend, two. I would trust an infant with any of them. The only dog that has ever threatened to bite me was a chihuahua! I am more afraid of them than any pit bull I’ve ever met. My “girls” are like my children and for United to discriminate against them discontinues my use of the airline permanently even if they should rescind the ban. That they made the stupid mistake in the first place makes me worry about their decision making processes regarding other things such as airplane maintenance and other major matters involving my safety. GOOD-BYE UNITED!!!

  • Anonymous

    Pardon the long comment and poor formatting; I just sent this (nicely formatted and bulleted) to

    Dear United Airlines Policy Makers,
    Your recent decision to ban certain breeds, based on appearance, from being
    transported on United flights is unfounded.  As a veterinarian, I am a
    stringent believer in people adopting the right breed; however, your
    breed profiling policy should be rescinded for the following reasons:

    * It is is ill-informed
    * It is a step backwards in animal welfare
    * It will create very poor public relations for your company

    Consider the following:
    – Recent studies by Dr. Victoria Voith and Dr. Julie Levy show that visual
    identification of a mixed-breed dog’s heritage is inaccurate 75 percent
    of the time when compared with DNA testing.

    – Untrained cargo
    attendants are not in a position to even attempt visual determination.
     As a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about breeds, I am wrong much of
    the time; how can they make such a call?  – Animals that are properly transported are not a danger.  Any dog,
    cat, or bird can bite.  This is why they are shipped in approved
    kennels.– Breed profiling is a silly basis for banning transport.
     A pit bull is no more likely to cause a problem on a flight than any
    other animal–or a human, for that matter.  Because some humans are
    unruly passengers, do you ban all people from flying?  
    This new ruling is creating much bad press and poor public
    relations for United.  I recommend that you do several things to repair
    the damage that this ill-conceived policy is doing:
      ** Convene a panel of knowledgeable breed, welfare, and veterinary experts to review this issue  ** Keep the public informed; keep the investigation open; show that you have the best interests of all at heart  ** Create
    an education program for your employees in conjunction with any labor
    organizations who may be involved so that cargo handlers do not have to
    be unduly concerned or frightened due to media scares; teach them proper
    handling  ** Create tighter policies (if necessary) to insure the proper crating
    and respectful care and transport of all animals on your airlines
    Please consider the repercussions of your policies and rectify this mistake.

  • Anonymous

    I used to own a dog grooming business years ago and was never bit by a pit bull. The only dog that really ever bit was a lasa  and small dogs nipped.  Pretty unfair practice.  I will not be flying United either!

  • Anonymous

    You make a good point.  It’s about the headlines.  Scare media is a problem.  I’m a vet, and I think that well-meaning people lean the other way and forget what inhumane people bred and continue to breed the pit bull to do.  We have stacked their genes against them.   Unprovoked attacks (what we consider unprovoked) SEEM to have a higher incidence in some breeds. However, this is still breed profiling, and not all pit bulls are a danger. A properly crated dog of any kind should be safe to transport. This increased incidence is a matter of degree and should not preclude them from being shipped.  Any dog can bite in unfamiliar circumstances.  This makes all dogs (and cats and some humans) a risk.  All animals require cautious and informed handling, not banning.

  • Babette’s owner

    You are ignorant. My pit bull is an angel. My beagle, on the other hand, had to be put down for mauling one too many people.

  • Doreenmeyer

    Discrimination results from ‘bad’ breeders/owners.  My dogs have been attacked by pit bulls 7X in the last six years–including pits that were ‘former friends’. Only one of these pits was a(n abandoned) ‘fighting’ dog-the rest family pets. I fear pits due to this, & avoid them so my own anxiety doesn’t cause a problem.  No probs with any other breed, so I ‘discriminate.’  I know it’s not the dog, but the breeder/owner…I have no ‘control’ over that, so avoid all pits.  Sorry, but the problem(‘bad’ owners) is real.

  • Anonymous

    I think a bit of rationality is due in this discussion.  Both the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association and Mortality and Morbidity Report, along with many other reputable publications who only report the statistics, have shown that the pit bull, rottweiler, and some other breeds head the list of dogs involved in fatal attacks, maulings, and dog bites leading to human death.  Media has turned this into a hysteria. But what is the balanced view?  What is the percentage of each breed that does this?  That is, of all the dogs of each breed, what percentage performs these dangerous behaviors?  Is it that different between all the breeds?  That would be a VERY informative and educational statistic and not as misleading as the relative and absolute number of attacks.

    Also, we must consider which breeds are still being bred to fight and kill in the U.S.  That is, which ones are actively adding psychological instability into the gene pool by breeding for the instinct to attack and kill? We have to consider the fears of other when they contemplate being possibly mauled and killed by an animal.  Humans have a fear of wild animals that eat us–and pets that behave in the manner of a wild animal by stepping outside of their domestic role and biting to kill.  Education of the public–and United– is what is necessary, and legislation, and enforcement so that these genes are no longer being perpetuated in the dog population.  Have sympathy for a fearful person. In some respects, their fears are well-founded. 

    Of all the attacking dogs in dog parks, the ones I have run into that the owners could not pull off my dogs were pit bulls.  I am not prejudiced against them.  I’ve owned a mix.  However, I am aware that we humans are breeding them for these characteristics, so there is a higher likelihood of those genes popping up in the breed population.  It’s just common sense that more will behave the way we bred them.  To ignore this is to create more polarization of the two sides in this argument and to doom more pit bulls to death.

  • Sammyannat176

    I used to always try to fly United. This new policy will change that for good, unless they change the policy back to one that is fair.

  • Mamu043

    Letter sent to protest this development.

  • Carrieord

    I have been fighting my Homeowners Association for years regarding breed banning.  I don’t think it benefits anyone.  They came up with a list of 10 breeds that are supposedly dangerous.  There wasn’t one small breed on it.  I have three yorkies but I take care of a pit bull and two bull mastiffs for my friends.  I have never had a problem with any of them.  They have been in my house and around my yorkies continually and have shown such gentleness I was amazed.  Of course no one on our HOA board said a thing about the chihuahua that had attacked every dog in the neighborhood.

    One of my yorkies came from Florida to California seven years ago on Continental Airlines.  She was only 8 weeks old and flew alone.  Continental was superb in transporting a live animal. It was December 29th and freezing cold with a plane change in Texas.  First, they had a special hold for animals NOT the cargo hold.  it was heated and comfortable.  Next, the animals were taken directly from the plane into a heated van and transported to the next plane where they were loaded once more without being subjected to the weather. She arrived active healthy and adorable.  I did a lot of research on which airlines were the best for transporting animals and Continental won hands down.  Now that United has purchased Continental and intituted breed bans, I not only will not fly United, I will be forced to stop recommending Continental for transporting live animals.  For seven years I have never hesitated referring customers to Continental based on my wonderful experience.  Too bad… 

  • carole

    After 43 yeas with ual—-let me tell you it was co taking over ual—it will never be the same and i feel they may not make it as an airline–if they do it will not be a nice place to work 
    We used to love ALL animals!!!!! 

  • Jye4

    won’t be flying united.

  • Jye4

    won’t be flying united.

  • Frequent Flyer

    More idiotic regressive thinking prevails in the boardroom again. Nice going United/Continental. As if things weren’t going poorly enough for you, this “pre-emptive” litigation guard will cost you more in flying customers than the unlikely lawsuit you have imagined.

  • Luckynottobeyourneighbour

    poor man.

  • JDS

    It seems some animal bigotry dies as hard as does the human kind. Anecdotal crap has always been used to support one crackpot theory or another. Witness this fool.

  • Diane

    What if the dog in question is a therapy or service dog with documentation from a doctor?  

  • Richard Selbig

    So  United Airlines is not going to allow Handicaped People to use there Air Lines.
    A lot of breeds are used like the sheperd, Pit Bull , Even St. Bernards. Guess us handicap no longer count. A lot of those Handicaped are Veterons severly wounded in the last few wars. I guess I don’t get it?

  • Ctoc

    Bad breeding in upper management….

  • Tracy

    How do you get bit when the dog is in a crate?!

  • Calentine

    I understand your attitude, but I have had a Collie that bit and a Keeshond that bit too.  And I met a sweet Pit that was used as a bate dog that was the sweetest dog I ever met.  Lots of dogs bite no matter what their breed or size.  It’s not fair to lump one breed as bad.  Personally, I don’t trust German Shepards!

  • Ski

    Absurd!  United is not the only carrier that now discriminates against certain breeds.

  • Susan

    I have just contacted United Airlines to urge them to repeal this ridiculous policy. I also told them that I will not fly United again. I am livid over what they have done.

  • Irene

    We have to educate people, companies and everybody regarding this wonderful dogs.  It is unbelievable a big company like United would fall back on something like this.  I will not fly with United but then I never did.

    I like Celeste’s comments.

  • MissKkitty

    “United” means joined together – they need to change their name to “Divided”!

  • Sherry Mustic

    Just another example of how messed up our country is becoming! Hope the other airlines don’t follow suit.

  • arthur cox

    I am upset that the “Friendly Skies” would treat animals and passengers with such a negative policy.  There are many other airlines out there wanting our business.  I will never fly United or Continental until there is a policy change.  If we all stand up against United and hit them in the pocket book things will then change.

  • BmbSqdWife

    No more United for me. Get educated.

  • Jean

    An excellent number of comments – good and bad but I cannot see why United would have a problem shipping peoples’ companions.  It is profiling breeds and should not be as such.  I’ve known small dogs also who have bitten people, visitors and yet their other dogs never made such a move.  I also would rather sit by a dog than beside someone of seemingly unscrupulous character, at any time!  Give me a dog.  No one person, nor is any rescue organization going to ship any animal without being in a safe (from harm), humane airline carrier.  Get real people.

  • Gvr4996

    Ignorance is bliss, the propaganda you read
    and the lies you perpetrate are dangerous!  The answer to your fear is
    education….give it a try.  It worked for me.  Through this simple
    process you may find out that you have been talking out the wrong hole.

  • Mike T

    As an airline pilot (not United, thank goodness) and owner of the bully breeds, I’m astounded but not surprized by United’s policy.  This company is so fraut with bureaucracy and a general lack of common sense, it took them over a year with a team of highly paid excutives to determine what type of coffee they were going to serve!  The answer is to avoid the airline altogether, both for animal transportation and passenger travel.  I would do the same for any company that discriminated against anyone or any being.

  • Mike F

    Made it plain and simple for them in my note – I won’t be a customer nor share holder anymore while they are making such stupid decisions in the company.  “Pit”iful.

  • Shellimichelle48

    This is CRAP.  I am sick and tired of the haters of Pitts spreading their lies about ALL Pitt bull breeds.  They are DOGS that learn behavior from how they are treated!  You suck United Airlines.  PIT BULLS don’t take AMERICAN planes down killing thousands of people, unlike HUMANS!!!!  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  • Janschohl

    How ridiculous and ignorant for United to profile any breed. We just spent time volunteering at Best Friends.One of our most joyful memories was having a pitbull puppy named Pepsi join us for the night.

  • Leslie Saffell

    No No Bad United!!!


  • Leslie Saffell

    There are no bad dogs — only bad owners.

  • Buffalo262

    Pitbulls were bred to be “people dogs”.  I know many police officers and law enforcement types who LOVE pitbulls, have their very own at home, and they have children.

    United Airlines needs to wake up and smell the coffee?  If they don’t wake up,  someone will get smart and develop a speciality new AIRLINE which would 
    transport all types of breeds and have special handlers – and make a ton of money,because of United Airlines Breed Prejudice.  

    Who knows, maybe someone will file a great lawsuit against them for initiating
    such a campaign against pit bull owners??????  

  • Buffalo262

    All people require skilled and special “handling” too when flying.
    Prisoners, drug dealers, chemical brain disorders who are refusing to take
    their medications, terrorists?  This does not mean they cannot FLY on 
    United Airlines, right?  

    Why pick on a poor dogs appearance.  There is racial profiling, and now 
    we indeed see breed profiling happening – this should be ILLEGAL.

    I have one pit I always transport inside a crate.  The other pitbull does not
    have to be transported inside a crate.  In fact, he is terrified of a crate.
    He has no social interaction problems with the others, and was the easiest
    to train.  He learned commands quickly, has a willing, obedient spirit.

    The one who loves the crate, I manage by simply keeping her separate
    from my other three dogs, her only social time is walking on a leash with 
    the other three – and this is no problem at all.  She loves children and is
    trustworthy with them.  

    If you had a special needs child, you do what you must.  
    The same should apply to owners of pitbulls.
    The airlines need to have a meeting with CESAR MILLAN of National Geographic
    Channel show “Dog Whisperer”.

  • Richard Selbig

    It just came to mind, Would 9/11 have happend if they had a Rotwiler, Pit Bull or any of those breeds on the plane. I know if I had my old Fox Hound on there She would have put any one that looked like a thret to me in their place real quick. I just do not get it.

  • Sharon

    A United employee told me that when United merged with Continental, they adopted their pet policy. All short-nosed dogs, including French Bulldogs are banned because they have a hard time breathing; especially under stress in a cargo pit. She told me that too many of those breeds have died in transport. She went on to say the policy was implemented by a pet lover, who is very concerned with pet safety.

  • CH

    This article is painting the wrong picture. United adopted Continental’s pet policy when they merged. It is called pet safe becuase the pet’s safety is number one. United does not allow any short nose breeds to travel in cargo. It is due to these breeds have a difficult time breathing. Especially under the stress of being in a cargo pit. The new United pet policy was developed by vets and animal lovers from Continental. They even built play areas at some airports for pets and owners stuck due to a delay or long layover. So this rule applies to Pugs, French bull dogs, English bull dogs, etc. They are allowed if small enough to be carried on board and also I have seen a pit bull and german shepherds travel in cabin as someone’s guide dog.

  • lissy

    i will no longer fly with united. its a shame the continental airlines logo will be a part of united. for all of you complaining about Pits and their stories, take a good look at the passengers you or your kids sit next too and tell me if that guy in a suit isn’t a child molester. just becuase he wears a suit doesn’t mean he’s not a convicted felon. and just because a dog carries a gene of a certain breed doesn’t mean he’s a killer. stop wasting your time being opinionated and get out there and volunteer and work with the breed.  

  • PJ Alexander

    How ridiculous!  Statistically, the dog that most frequently bites is not a pit or a rottie, etc., but a dachsund.  I won’t fly them either. 

  • Richard Selbig

    do not understand how a dog caged for transport can threaten any one. Ok maybe a young child would not know the dangers of picking on an imprisoned Dog.. Grownups that have a job should know better. Ones I was a garbage man driving a truck. I had a partner that would jump off and throw the bags on.
    I Pulled up to one customer’s yard and my partner started to pic up the load, when a Doberman came running around the corner of the house Barking and growling. I jumped out of the cab and ran face on to that dog. He/She turned and ran. Now how can any publication list them a bad and mean?????
    oooooh…….. I forgot 99% of what is printed is bad stuff. I know of dogs that have saved children even ones not in their family. But I guess because it is a Shepherd that is originally bred to protect sheep (and the such) they are classified as mean??????? Does that means that we want to get rid of an animal that protects children. I keep thinking back to 911 How could we have Prevented that from happening? Highly trained bad breed as United calls them would have stopped it from happening. People are too young to remember how those breeds protected everything from a politic to a baby, Kept small business from failing because of theft. All breeds are genetically bread for specific reasons, learn what the reasons are and then train your pet accordingly.
    Big thing is keep your dang hands out of the cage of a nervous dog you are definitely going to be bit.