Calling it a “tragic accident that never should have occurred,” United Airlines is apologizing after a flight attendant insisted that a 10-month-old puppy be stored in an overhead bin on a flight from Houston to New York. By the time the flight landed at LaGuardia the dog was dead.
“We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them,” United said in a statement issued Tuesday. “We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Maggie Gremminger, a passenger on United Flight 1284, was seated one row from the passenger with the dog, and took to social media to blast United for the incident.
“I witnessed a United flight attendant instruct a woman to put her dog carrier with live dog in an overhead bin,” Gremminger said in a Twitter post. “The passenger adamantly pushed back, sharing verbally that her dog was in the bag. The flight attendant continued to ask the passenger to do it, and she eventually complied.”
She said the dog was in a TSA-approved carrier, but the flight attendant still insisted the carrier be placed in the bin.
“There was no sound as we landed and opened his kennel,” another passenger, June Lara, wrote in a Facebook post. “There was no movement as his family called his name. I held her baby as the mother attempted to resuscitate their 10 month old puppy.”
The dog’s owner was left in tears.
“I assumed there must be ventilation [in the overhead bin] as surely the flight attendant wouldn’t have instructed this otherwise,” Gremminger wrote. “I heard the dog barking a little and we didn’t know it was a cry for help.”
Gremminger’s and Lara’s posts about the incident are now going viral on social media.
United faced backlash in 2017 when a dog died in the cargo hold of a United flight from Houston to San Francisco. It was suspected that a two-hour flight delay, with temperatures in the 90s, was the cause of the dog’s death.
The airline also came under severe scrutiny last April when Simon, a giant rabbit, died aboard a flight from London to Chicago. The owners of the rabbit filed suit against United three months later alleging that United has a poor record of transporting animals and that the airline accounted for one-third of all animal deaths via US air travel in the last five years.
Simon’s cause of death remains a mystery, but the lawsuit put forth several possibilities, including that it was exposed to low temperatures in the cargo compartment or that dry ice might have been left in the same compartment as the animal.
The 3-foot-long rabbit was the progeny of a Guinness World Record-holding giant rabbit.
“United’s in-cabin pet policy allows for domesticated cats, dogs, rabbits, and household birds to travel on most flights within the US for a cost,” said travel blogger Brian Kelly, who often brings his dog on planes. His website, the Points Guy, broke the story Tuesday morning. “The pet must be carried in an approved hard-sided or soft-sided kennel and fit in specific dimensions. Most airlines have restrictions to the number of pets that can be allowed on a particular flight, as well as the weight of each pet.”
Despite these high-profile cases, animal deaths on flights are still relatively rare. According to Department of Transportation statistics, 26 animals died while being transported on planes in 2016, a rate of 0.5 per 10,000 animals transported. A third of those deaths — nine animals — occurred on United Airlines and an additional 14 were injured. In 2016 United Airlines had the highest number of animal deaths.
In its apology, United offered no explanation as to why the flight attendant would insist the dog be stowed in the overhead bin, which lacks the air circulation in the rest of the cabin.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.