On Monday, a woman boarded United Airlines flight 1284 from Houston to New York with her daughters and a French Bulldog. Three and a half hours later, she would leave that same flight with her daughters, blinded by tears, because her dog had passed away in that time.
The woman had abided by United Airline regulations. She had paid US$125 (S$163.80) to bring her pet onboard and even had him in a Transportation Security Administration-approved pet carrier—all under United Airline’s guidelines that dictates travellers with pets need to keep them in approved hard-sided or soft-sided kennels. In addition to this, the kennel must be able to fit completely under the customer’s seat and stay there at all times. Hence, it was understandably shocking to the woman when a flight attendant insisted that she keep her pet in the overhead carrier compartment which would mean no food, water or air for the pup during the three and a half hour flight. The woman refused, but the persistence of the flight attendant and her assurance that the dog would be fine, eventually coerced the woman (albeit hesitantly) that her pooch would be alive and barking once the flight landed.
However, that was not the case. As the woman unzipped the carrier, it was silent. Calling the pup’s name—Kokito—brought no response either. The pooch, once bubbly and alive as they had boarded the flight, was now no longer breathing. French Bulldogs are a brachycephalic breed—which means that they have short nasal passages which makes them vulnerable to heat stroke and oxygen deprivation, so keeping Kokito in that overhead bin was a death sentence.
Several other passengers who witnessed the incident recalled that the flight attendant was very insistent, despite the woman’s distress. She had, after all, paid for her pup to be brought into the cabin with her. She had abided by the regulations, so what was the problem?
June Lara, one of the passengers on the flight said on his Facebook post: “I held her baby as the mother attempted to resuscitate their 10 month old puppy. I cried with them three minutes later as she sobbed over his lifeless body. My heart broke with theirs as I realised he was gone.” Maggie Gremminger, another passenger onboard the flight further echoes June Lara’s sentiments in a series of tweets, “She sat in the airplane aisle on the floor crying, and all of surrounding passengers were utterly stunned.” Several other passengers also claimed that they could hear the dog barking during the flight, but not once did it cross their minds that it was a cry for help. With each passing minute, the pup was struggling for air.
(Photo credit: June Lara)
(Photo credit: @MaggieGrem)
United Airlines called the incident “a tragic accident that should have never occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin.” The airline has taken full responsibility for the pup’s death and has launched an investigation. But how many of such investigations would it take before pets’ safety is ensured onboard an United Airlines’ flight?
United Airlines has the highest number of on-flight pet deaths. Last year, the carrier was sued by the owners of a giant rabbit that passed on one of its flights. United Airlines also had the most animal deaths of all U.S. airlines in 2017 for the third year in a row. In 2017 alone, the flight had 18 pet deaths and 13 animal injuries. A simple online search will reveal plenty of passenger accounts detailing United Airlines’ ill-treatment of their pets. From 2012 to 2017 over 53 animals have died under their care.