17 FEB 2012: As of March 3, United Airlines is adopting Continental's pet transport programme known as "PetSafe." That means your pooch can no longer be checked as luggage, but must travel as cargo. That’s a price differential of over a thousand dollars from many foreign destinations.

Most outraged by the new ruling are military families living overseas, who have been told it could cost up to US $1,400 to fly pets home as cargo, rather than the $250 they have paid till now.

Some are concerned that people living abroad and unable to afford the flight for their pets will simply abandon the animals, and families have launched online petitions to get the policy change reversed.

United says the cost of shipping pets as cargo isn't significantly greater than for checking them.

The cargo rate for an animal that weighs between 10 and 50 pounds coming to the US from Micronesia, for example, would be $309. A smaller animal would cost $259, according to United spokeswoman Mary Ryan.

More significant are costs for animals coming from Japan, where a law requires an extra fee be paid to a third-party handler, says Ryan.

"There's some confusion,” she says noting, “That's not a United-Continental cost. That's a government-mandated cost. Our pricing remains competitive."

Most big U.S. airlines will ferry pets, but their policies vary.

⋅ US Airways allows some pets in the cabin, but they can't be sent via cargo. Starting March 1, they can't be checked like bags.

⋅ American allows some dogs and cats in the cabin on some flights, as well as their checking and shipping.

⋅ Southwest will carry dogs and cats only in the passenger cabin.

⋅ United says it's making the switch to PetSafe because of the programme's many resources for handling those in its care. The programme has been applauded by pet-transport professionals.

Things are different in Canada

Air Canada allows small cats and dogs in the cabin, for a $50 or $100 cost (depending on the itinerary)

Larger animals can travel in the baggage compartment, at prices beginning at $105 per direction

See details: http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/airport/baggage/pets.html

Westjet allows domesticated dogs, cats, rabbits and birds, providing you are not travelling to/from Honolulu or Maui.

Only domesticated dogs, cats, birds, chinchillas, guinea pigs, hedgehogs and rabbits are allowed to travel as checked baggage. (I don’t make this up I just report it.)

Once again Honolulu and Maui are verboten, but now also cross off Phoenix and Palm Springs.

If you are travelling to Tampa, Orlando, or Fort Lauderdale between May 1 and September 30 – Spikey stays home (I named the hedgehog) but other than that they can fly.

The cost - a decidedly generous $50 each way - regardless whether in the cabin or hold.

Check out the details at WestJet:

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