Republican Senator, John Kennedy has said he will file a bill on Thursday that will prevent airlines from putting animals in overhead bins following the death of a dog onboard a United Airlines flight. In a letter to the airline’s president, Scott Kirby, the Senator said the “pattern of animal deaths and injuries (at United) is simply inexcusable”.
The incident occurred Monday on a United Airlines flight from Houston to New York LaGuardia airport. Catalina Robledo claims a flight attendant insisted she place the TSA-approved dog carrier her French Bulldog puppy was in into the overhead bin despite Robledo pleading to keep the bag at her feet.
Robledo’s daughter who was also onboard has recounted her version of the incident, claiming the flight attendant ignored their concerns the puppy would not be able to breathe in the locker. Both Robledo and her daughter were unable to check on the puppy’s welfare during the flight due to turbulence and only discovered the dog had died on arrival in New York.
Senator Kirby has published a copy of the letter he sent to United’s president on Twitter:
“I write to demand an immediate explanation for the number of animals who have died recently in United Airlines’ care…”
“This pattern of animal deaths is simply inexcusable. For many people, pets are members of the family. They should not be treated like insignificant cargo. Frankly, they shouldn’t be placed in the cargo hold much less an overhead bin.”
The passenger had apparently paid $125 in order to carry the puppy in the cabin with her. United only allows pets in the cabin when carried in an approved carrier which must fit under the seat in front of them. The airline already prohibits pets being placed in the overhead bin or at emergency exit rows and bulkhead seats.
For its part, United Airlines has said it accepts complete responsibility for what happened, calling it a “tragic accident”. In a statement, the carrier wrote:
“We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.”
But having now completed its investigation, United Airlines has said it is backing the flight attendant who ordered Robledo place the puppy in the overhead bin. While acknowledging the fact that passengers tried to tell the flight attendant a dog was in the bag, United says the crew member either “did not hear or understand her, and did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin.”
In order to prevent such an accident happening in the future, United says it will now start issuing bright coloured bag tags that will “further help our flight attendants identify pets in-cabin.” The bags will be rolled out by April.
Commentators, however, have expressed concern that the flight attendant is being backed by the airline in this case. On the face of it, it does seem troubling the flight attendant was unable to hear or understand the legitimate protests of the dog owner and her daughter.
Of course, there are two sides to every story and we haven’t heard a first-hand account from the flight attendant – and we are unlikely ever to. Insiders suggest the crew member was trying to secure the cabin in anticipation of heavy turbulence.
According to U.S. Department of Transport data, the vast majority of animal deaths onboard American carriers last year occurred at United. The airline was responsible for 18 out of 24 such incidents while Delta and American Airlines only reported two such deaths each.