02/05/2018 15:30 BST | Updated 02/05/2018 15:38 BST

U.S. Airline United Bans Many Breeds From Cargo Holds After Pet Deaths

The airline unveiled new restrictions in its pet transportation policy.

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Gary Hershorn via Getty Images

Following several high-profile pet deaths and mishaps, U.S. company United Airlines has revealed a more stringent pet transportation policy.

The carrier said on Tuesday that it will only accept dogs and cats ― and no other type of animal ― in its cargo holds, starting from June 18. Dozens of snub-nosed and strong-jawed dog and cat breeds will also be banned from flying in the airline's PetSafe programme, which applies to animals traveling in the cargo compartment.

The banned breeds — which include mastiffs, Pekingese, shih-tzus, several bulldog breeds, as well as Burmese and Persian cats — were singled out because of "higher adverse health risks," United said, adding that it had worked closely with the animal welfare group American Humane to improve its pet travel programme. Snub-nosed, or brachycephalic, dog and cat breeds are known to be more vulnerable to flying-related health problems.

"We are doing this to further minimise risk and ensure the comfort of pets we fly," United spokesperson Charles Hobart told People magazine of the pet policy overhaul. "Prior to today, we flew all sorts of animals. Geese, foxes, leopards; you name it, we pretty much flew it. That will change moving forward."

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Snub-nosed dog breeds are known to be more vulnerable to flying-related health problems.

Hobart added that the airline previously prohibited only six dog breeds from flying in cargo compartments. Concerns about pet health and comfort prompted the more extensive ban, he said.

"We understand that [the new policies] can present challenges to folks who have traditionally flown their pets where they need to be, but our overwhelming concern is ensuring the comfort of those animals and this is how we have to do it," Hobart said.

Among domestic carriers, United had been one of the most lax when it came to the transportation of higher-risk breeds. Other domestic U.S. carriers, like Delta and American Airlines, already have blanket bans on brachycephalic dogs in their cargo compartments.

Under the new guidelines, United also will limit the travel of pets to and from Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Phoenix and Tucson between May 1 and September 30, due to concern about hot temperatures.

United's policy overhaul follows the March death of a French bulldog on one of its flights. That dog had been traveling in an overhead luggage bin in the main cabin when it died. United temporarily suspended its PetSafe programme for pets travelling in the cargo compartment after the animal's death, and said it would conduct "a thorough and systematic review" of the programme.

The airline has said also that it is reviewing its policy for cabin animal transport. For now, the carrier continues to allow "domesticated cats, dogs, rabbits and household birds (excluding cockatoos) to travel accompanied in the aircraft cabin on most flights within the U.S.", so long as the animal's kennel can fit completely under the seat in front of the passenger.

United, which boasts the ignominious title of having had the highest number of animal deaths of any U.S. carrier in 2017, also recently drew criticism for other mishaps involving pets, including transporting two dogsto wrong destinations earlier this year and the death of giant rabbit in the cargo compartment in April 2017.