United: Don’t Blame the Flight Attendant For Killing That Dog, Have a Bright Bag Tag Instead

Yesterday we learned that United required a passenger to put her dog in the overhead bin on a flight from Houston to New York LaGuardia, and the dog died.

United immediately “assume[d] full responsibility for this tragedy.”

Now however, and although a flight attendant did insist the woman put her dog in the overhead bin for the flight, United wants us to know that it’s not really the flight attendant’s fault. Here’s the airline’s new statement.

We have spoken to the family, our crew and a number of passengers who were seated nearby. We have learned that the customer did tell the flight attendant that there was a dog in the carrier. However, our flight attendant did not hear or understand her, and did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin. As we stated, we take full responsibility and are deeply sorry for this tragic accident. We remain in contact with the family to express our condolences and offer support.

To prevent this from happening again, by April we will issue bright colored bag tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets. This visual tag will further help our flight attendants identify pets in-cabin.

United takes full responsibility, but the crew member who created the situation shouldn’t be blamed. And it will never happen again because of bright colored bag tags. Which is sort of like the beginning to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where Douglas Adams explains that most solutions to unhappiness involve moving around small green pieces of paper.

This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

There’s no suggestion of course that these small bright colored pieces of paper will stop United from shipping dogs to the wrong city or even to the wrong country.

At least focusing on the lack of bright bag tags rather than a flight attendant’s instructions gone wrong will help avoid union problems.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The flight attendant should be charged criminally with animal cruelty. Some type of example needs to be made of him/her.

  2. I’m surprised given this blog’s focus that the managerial aspects of this situation weren’t taken into consideration – how can anyone let alone decision makers provide a clear-headed input on a situation of he “said-she said?”

    The bright tag will be helpful in the future for providing not only a visual cue that the bag contains a live animal, but will also provide a kind of “receipt” that can be checked against – that’s how management will know if it’s negligence or a mistake.

    Leaving aside emotions, the issues UAL is having with shipping of live animals probably points to years of underinvestment in the IT and operational processes rather than cultural issues.

    As a final note, and hoping that the dog in Japan comes back safely, it’s kind of neat that the dog’s been where no one in his family has (probably) gone before.

  3. Until an autopsy is performed on the dog, no one will know why or how the dog died. I find it hard to believe believe that overhead bins are air tight.
    For everyone who is calling for the FA to be made an example of, it’s good to know there are so many perfect people in the world. MAYBE she should be suspended for a day or two, but fired? Really?

  4. I’d like to know what firm (if any) United has retained for crisis management…

    @Ed. C — even if air was sufficient, overhead baggage shifts in flight and could squash live animals

    @Justin — +1

  5. How about leaving the dogs at home?

    Among the many discussions on this incident, apparently if another passenger is allergic to the pet in the cabin, he or she would have to leave the plane and look for another flight.

    What happens if the dog didn’t die but urinated or defecated on the other passengers’ luggage?

  6. I still think it’s weird the customer didn’t just get her dog out of the overhead bin once the plane took off. I doubt there would have been an issue since it was clearly a dog.

  7. I LOVE my dog and leave her at the kennel to romp and play. And yes it’s expensive. Put the flight attendent in the nice, safe, air filled, n luggage crushing, temperature appropriate for a fur coat overhead cabinet until she’s dead.

  8. Very funny this new comment from United. First of all I worked 3 years for the airline industry including American. Every flight there’s a passenger manifest that includes every detail from passengers that require wheelchair, unaccompanied minors, special meals, or pets in the cabin. The purser who is the lead flight attendant of the flight should inform the rest of the crew of such details. Therefore that flight attendant was not doing her job by not knowing or not caring if a pet was on board or in the bag. The passenger follow the procedures by paying the fee which includes filling out a form for the pet and putting the dog on a carry on. All of a sudden they want to blame the passenger for not putting a bright identification that a pet was inside the carrier???!!!
    United you already assumed responsibility, why don’t you keep your mouth shut, because it’s making it worst. #passengerbeater #petkiller

  9. Is this the same airline that dragged Dr Dao off. Time for a another big lawsuit against an airline (United here) and the flight attendant. Get huge undisclosed settlement from airline .

  10. This is going to push the fake ESA crowd into a self-righteous fury. They will try to use this as an illustration of how all airlines treat pets, which in turn will “justify” their deception. Obviously not the case, but some people…

  11. @Jason So, now the dog was crushed to death? I thought the internet court had determined it died from suffocation. Good grief.

    @JL100 What you said.

    @wco Absolutely agree.

  12. I literally just 30 seconds ago watched a news report on TV where the woman is claiming that the FA is lying and was perfectly aware that there was a dog in the bag.

    The FA and the union are trying to cover their asses. This thing stinks to high hell.

  13. Just like redneck baboon Trump Supporters should be required to wear their hicky red hats at all times so we can stay out of their way so they won’t get us killed with their verifiable stupidity.

    These are the same rubes my Grandpa pointed out filing into the con man’s midway tent. I was about five but remember every face and I swear they are the same doofuses planted like potatoes behind Trump at his Hitler rallies.

  14. @wco

    I can say we never vacation with our pets. That said, there are a variety of wholly valid reasons to travel with pets, including long distance moves, transporting a new animal to its forever home, and, of course, working animals which aren’t limited to animal actors, show animals, and herding dogs.

    And we can’t forget that much of the explosion in animals in the cabin is a byproduct of how difficult and dangerous airlines have made cargo transport. No changes of plane, only during fine weather, and for a hefty surcharge, are all impediments to loading animals as cargo, not to mention the high mortality rate.

  15. This is big BS, Enough of this bull Crap .

    United should be held responsible and the flight attendent should be criminally prosecuted for her/his BS Story to cover up .

    This is not the first time and won’t be last time unless United pay for it so deeply that they feel the pain everywhere… This is more then DR Dao, he suffered broken nose , concussion but here we have lost a family member ………. no more excuses By United

    Good initiation by Sen. Kennedyhttps://www.kennedy.senate.gov/public/press-releases?ID=DAD3DDBF-4AC3-4A2E-80E5-64A3D59FE43B

  16. “However, our flight attendant did not hear or understand her, and did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin”
    I find it very difficult to understand that a person wouldn’t be able to feel the extra weight of a critter in a carrier, or to feel the shifting of that weight as the carrier was lifted up to the overhead. Also, it hasn’t been mentioned that it gets quite cold in those overheads.

  17. “I find it hard to believe believe that overhead bins are air tight.”

    We’ll just put you in something where the airflow is restricted but not entirely air tight, subject you to massive stress, and see how you do, shall we?

  18. I’m also a animal lover but the increasing number of pets I see thoughout the terminals is get getting out of hand. It is getting so bad you have to where you step!

  19. @Greg
    Funny you should mention about Trump. I voted for him and I also just happen to be African American. You were saying what exactly about baboons?

  20. The United “excuse” of the FA not knowing there was a dog in the carrier does not hold water. If the FA did not understand at first there was a dog in the carrier; it was definitely obvious sometime after takeoff as many passengers reported heard the dog barking.

  21. And what steps are taken when the first animal with a bright tag dies on an airliner due to the FA not understanding? Will addition of a constantly ringing bell be suggested as the solution to this ‘faultless’ tragedy?

  22. The FA is absolutely at fault. But, I would never allow my small dog to be put in an overhead compartment. I would be kicked off the flight first. So, the pet owner is an idiot and also at fault.

  23. United was wrong.

    The passenger was wrong. She should have not allowed anyone putting her dog in the overhead bin and more importantly, not have left it in there for the full 4 hour long flight.

    The people sitting around and knew that there was a dog were wrong. Someone should have done something.

    Too easy to just blame the flight attendant who may really not have understood that there was a dog in the bag.

  24. Greg—You are keyed as Russian spy. Americans beware, there are enemy es for n our midst.

  25. Why do they travel with pets and not paying whatever fees to check in the dog appropriately? It’s their fault to bring dog to cabin and expected it be like a human.

  26. Imagine a leathery-looking bag, sticking out from under someone’s seat. Maybe it’s partway in the aisle. Anyhow you see a hundred instances a day, where someone has put all their luggage at their feet. So you tell them like you told everyone else, put that mess in the bin. Maybe they yammered something at you, but it was ambiguous, it’s noisy, you weren’t really listening. So you repeat the same phrase you’ve said a thousand times again. Then you move on to your next task without thinking further about this. Anyhow, consider that maybe the FA isn’t the monster everyone thinks.

  27. Oh, and to top things off, the passenger with the dog, was not a fluent English speaker. So there is plenty of room for tangled up communications here.

  28. It’s sad the dog died, but the customer has to take responsibility, and not the flight attendant (or United).

    Nobody I know is going to knowingly do something to risk their dog’s life just because a flight attendant says to do something that no flight attendant *ever* has asked anyone to do. I flat-out don’t believe the anonymous “witness” that claims the flight attendant saw the dog and insisted it go overhead.

    As @Vincente above observes – flight attendants tell people to put their bags away hundreds of times a day. This one didn’t realize it was a pet, and the passenger stupidly complied rather than showing the flight attendant the animal, or pushing the dog carrier under the seat in front.

    We should be glad the passenger wasn’t traveling with a baby or we’d be hearing how United killed a baby by telling a passenger to put it in the overhead bin.

    In a world where we revel in ranting/laughing at the stupid things our fellow passengers do everyone is suddenly surprised that a passenger is stupid enough to put their dog in an overhead bin and then is surprised and traumatized that the dog died? That the dog was barking was perhaps another signal that the passenger (and stupid fellow passengers) ignored that indicated there was a problem with the dog.

    People want the flight attendant “criminally charged”. If anyone should be charged, it is the passenger whose dog died because she did something stupid that no thinking adult would do.

  29. They should attach a “bright-colored” tag onto Oscar’s big backside, and then release him in the African desert….see how long before he turns up as someone’s trophy.

  30. This was the worst apology I’ve ever heard. That flight attendant should be fired. I’m sure she feels terrible about what happened, but she should have to deal with the consequences.

  31. While the mother didn’t speak English, the daughter did and she said she told the flight attendant there was a dog in the bag. Also, it was a TSA approved carrier with mesh sides…..not just a tote bag. And third, the dog was barking for more than 2 hours. Did the flight attendant also not hear that?

  32. United has spoken with the passenger, flight attendant and surrounding passengers to reach this conclusion. The passenger says she told the attendant there was a dog in the bag, and it sounds like one or more of the surrounding passengers verified this. The attendant says she did not hear her or understand her. I find it difficult to believe that the attendant did not know there was a dog on board but it’s possible. I find it more difficult to believe an attendant would knowingly want a dog to be placed in an overhead compartment, and can see how other distractions in the cabin or the passenger’s limited English skills may have contributed to the lack of communication about a dog being in the bag. It’s terribly unfortunate, even tragic, but that’s the nature of accidents.

  33. Greg,
    Can’t you understand that this is a travel forum. Stop the political commentary and stick to the subject. Don’t ruin the forum for everyone else. Go to a political forum where people may be interested in your rants.
    He’s your president now even though you’re unhappy with the election results.
    I am very unhappy that a passenger’s dog died unnecessarily.

  34. Since FAA laws REQUIRE passengers to OBEY the cabin crew I don’t see how this can be blamed on the passenger. Also, to the people whining about animals flying for “free” when I transported my cat from Miami to Boston I had to pay a $150 fee to use the space at my feet that I was already paying for. So neither observation is accurate.

  35. The rules require passengers to follow crew member direction, but that doesn’t excuse putting your own dog in an unsafe situation.

    If a flight attendant told you that it’s ok your seatbelt was broken, just sit down and hold on tight if it gets bumpy, would you do it? If you were told your child should sit on your lap for a ten hour flight despite him being a ticketed passenger with a seat assignment would you do it?

    These passengers have suffered a loss, and I feel for them, but to pretend like they’re not at some fault here is absurd. They were told to do something they should’ve known was wrong. It’s our duty as pet owners to protect our animals, and more so as thinking individuals to stand up for what we know is right.

  36. I’m sure she was issued a 25 dollar voucher from one of United’s foreign call centers good on her next flight and fully redeemable with the exception of blackout dates and other restrictions

  37. “As we stated, we take full responsibility” – umm no they didn’t. Here is a quote from another passenger in the NY Times article ““The pet owner was very adamant that she did not want to put the pet carrier up above,” Ms. Gremminger said. “She was saying verbally, ‘My dog is in here, no, this is my dog.’ The flight attendant, in response, really just continued to ask her to put it above because it was a hazard where it was, it was a safety emergency, someone could trip.””

    Clearly other people heard her repeatedly say DOG. Not to mention it was a dog carrier which should be obvious. On top of that witnesses say the dog was frickin barking. So no United didn’t accept responsibility and now not only should the flight attendant be fired but I think the airline itself she be on the hook because they decided to back the FA with this nonsense story.

  38. @Spiro when you are threatened with being thrown off the plane and maybe arrested and charged with federal crimes for ignoring a flight attendant I think its understandable that she didn’t cause a scene, especially given the fact that United has had paying passengers minding their own business dragged off the plane by police all bloodied.

  39. . I would have never allowed the flight attendant to put my dog up there. I would have caused such a scene on that plane. I don’t care if I violate FAA regulations, throw me off the plane I don’t care. My dog would NOT be in that overhead bin.

  40. I might have given the stewardess the benefit of not understanding if other passengers hadn’t said they heard the dog barking for quite some time. Criminal charges should be filed against her. And to the person who said the overhead bins aren’t air tight I don’t think he has ever flown in a passenger plane. The bins lock down. I can’t see how anyone could be so stupid as to lock a puppy up there. It would be like putting her baby up there. I would have gotten off the plane.

  41. On long haul flights pets and animals are put in the temperature controlled air conditioned hold. Should work for short haul too. The over head lockers are not air tight or sealed in any event

  42. @Theresa You are right. I’ve never flown on a passenger plane. Ever. I had no idea that because overhead bins lock down that means they are air tight. Next time I lock my car doors I will crack the window so I won’t suffocate. Thanks for the heads up.

  43. pls go and read some of the horror stories about how the owners checked the dog or animal to fly in a crate under the plane. many of these poor animals die of heart attacks or they freeze to death from the so called heaters not working that are supposed to be in place. There are also stories of animals being so frightended that they break out of their cages and get looose under the planes passenger area. It would horrify me to find out my beloved canine suffered on of these fates so I pay the extra money or travel with her as an ESA. six hour flights there has never been an issue.
    My guess is that the poor doggy – puppy ?? was scared to death and had a heart attack from fear. Better off the stupid human passenger that allowed it to happen should never be allowed to have an animal ever again.

  44. How about ,whether the attendant heard the entire conversation or not, put the beginning of this on the mother and child for not stating right then and there that this was the pet dog and will stay under the seat. If it did not fit under the seat then they should have gotten off of the plane and bought the proper carrier for this little baby. I really hope the attendant would not have ever put him up in the luggage area if she had known a dog was in there. Maybe this family did not pay the extra fair and was trying to sneak him on the plane. This is for this incident not for any of the others that have occurred on flights.

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