Puppy’s death a wake-up call for airlines on safety policies for pets

By on March 14, 2018 with 10 Comments

It’s heartbreaking. A family on a flight from Houston to New York City is asked to stow their dog away in the overhead bin of a plane by a flight attendant. The dog, left without air in what is essentially a small, closed coffin, barks for help, gets none, and slowly suffocates to death.

It sounds like a nightmare, but this tragic story is all over the news today even as one family mourns the loss of a 10-month-old pet. The airline has since issued a statement saying that it accepts full responsibility for the tragedy and will investigate the incident to “prevent this from ever happening again.” We can only hope so.

The loss of a pet is devastating, and never more so than when it could have been prevented. It is our hope that this tragedy proves to be a “Katrina” moment for the airline industry, akin to what the whole world learned in the aftermath of that 2006 hurricane disaster. After Hurricane Katrina, public agencies responsible for disaster relief embraced the inclusion of animals in disaster planning as an imperative, and things have gone much better for animals affected by disaster since then. People care about their pets, and institutions and corporations at all levels must adjust their policies to encompass such concerns. This terrible event is an opportunity for airline carriers, pet owners who want safe travel options, and policy makers to come together to ensure that when animals travel, they receive the kind of care and safety precautions that every traveler deserves.

According to the Air Transport Association, more than 5,000 animals are killed, injured, or lost on commercial flights each year. Pets can face risks, including exceptionally hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation, insufficient oxygen, and rough handling in the cargo bay.

In April 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act, a measure The HSUS strongly supported. Many airlines responded to this law by implementing restrictions on accepting pets as cargo. But there’s more to do in this area, and we’re going to take a good look at our public education, corporate reform, and public policy work with the aim of improving the situation for animals in commercial travel.

The HSUS recommends that pets travel in the cabin of the plane with their families, and they never be placed in areas where airflow is restricted or temperatures become too warm or cold.

When you make plans to travel with your pet, follow these suggestions:

  • If you plan to bring your pet on vacation, consider driving instead of flying. If this isn’t possible, consider leaving your pet behind under the care of a pet sitter or boarding kennel.
  • If you are relocating across the country, use a company whose primary business is to transport animals.
  • Taking your pet on board with you is the best option. If your pet is a cat or a small dog, most airlines will allow you to take the animal on board for an additional fee. To explore this option, call the airline well in advance of your flight, because there are limits to the number of animals allowed in the cabin area. Make sure to ask several questions and get all the specific details so you can ensure a safe flight for your companion. We recommend you avoid transporting pets in the cargo hold if at all possible, and only use that method as an absolute last resort. If it is the only option, you can increase the chances of a safe flight for your pet by following these tips.
  • Finally, do not hesitate to complain if you witness the mishandling of an animal—either yours or someone else’s—at any airport.

Pets are family members, and when you make travel decisions, their safety begins with you.

Companion Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Peter says:

    The family themselves need to take some responsibility for this. It seems incomprehensible that anyone would willingly put their dog in an overhead storage bin, regardless of who instructed them or what they were told. It’s just too, too dumb. It’s also hard to imagine what the other nearby passengers were thinking… doing nothing, while this absurd instruction was given, and then, sitting by during the time that the dog whimpered and struggled? Comon… this is all just too stupid to accept for all involved.

  2. Michele O'Brien says:

    Hi…this story really shook me to the core. I was stunned! However, than I started to wonder about a number of things…..

    First of all why didn’t the dogs owner go to another Flight Attendant and ask for assistance? If she could not get any help from another Attendant on that flight WHY didn’t she get off???? Once she left the plane she could have gone to a United desk and explain what happened. Since putting a pet in an overhead was NOT an airline policy I’m sure she would have recieved some help.

    The dog barked and whined FOR 2 HOURS as the flight proceeded. Passengers were upset and uncomfortable. Several started to cry. WHY DIDNT’ ONE PERSON INCLUDING THE DOGS OWNER CHECK ON THE DOG???? WHY DID NO ONE SAY A WORD???

    NEVER, EVER, EVER would I tolerate a Flight Attendant telling me to put my precious companion in an overhead. It was NOT airlne policy but if it had been I NEVER would have continued my flight.

    My heart is broken for that poor little dog who must have suffered horrendously. My heart, prayers and sympathy are for the dog. I am overwhelmed with anger at United Airlines but I have questions regarding the dogs owner as well and am appalled that NO ONE stood up and demanded someone check on that poor dog who was begging for help!!

    I feel terrible saying it but the dogs owner actually does bear some responsibility for what happened because I cannot understand why she did NOTHING during the flight or why she even stayed on that flight in the first place.

    • Debbie says:

      You are absolutely right. If the owners wouldn’t check on this poor baby I sure as hell would have. It bothers me so much to think about what that poor animal was going through. Its incomprehensible. The flight attendant should be brought up on animal cruelty charges along with the owners for allowing it.

    • Susan Stillman says:

      You are 100% correct in what you say. It’s unconscionable that the dog’s owner and the other passengers did nothing to protect this poor sweet animal.

  3. Chris says:

    What are you doing about the united incident?

  4. jane says:

    should have shoved the flight attendant in the overhead obviously you don,t need any intelligence for that job

  5. Natalie Jarnstedt says:

    We fly with our 14 lb. dog in the cabin all the time; yes, we’ve been asked to do some stupid(er) things, nothing as outrageous as this, but have never obeyed. Some airline attendants are very nice and don’t mind (even suggest) that we take Cookie out of her carrier to stretch her legs, others are snippy and make a point of telling us “don’t take your dog out of that carrier”!
    I’m sorry, but people have to start thinking for themselves, taking responsibility, and not following stupid orders – are people really that brainless? Just allowing someone ordering me to stuff my puppy into the overhead compartment when in an airline approved proper carrier with the airline’s approval to be in the cabin, would make me livid.It’s not like a dog flies free in the cabin! If they insisted, I would rather get off the damned plane and make a big stink, calling the police, the media, anybody! The same goes for the previously reported case of a 21-yr. old woman being told to either dump her “comfort” gerbil outside or drown it in the toilet (which she did), or another woman traveling with a dog and her 2 puppies, drowning one of the puppies in the airport toilet so that she could get onto the plane. Such behavior is outrageous, cruel, and punishable – those evil deeds cannot be normalized!

  6. Natalie Jarnstedt says:

    We also travel with cats in the cabin, always in proper and airline-approved soft carriers – never had any problems. We had to send our dog and cat ahead to the UK years ago because they had to spend 6 months in quarantine (a huge business, no need for it!), which was also a most horrible experience for them and for us. Considering how many animals die in the hold of planes, we were very lucky both ways. Our family increased in size while we lived abroad; we came back to the US with 2 dogs and 2 cats….the cats came back in the cabin – the dogs, unfortunately, were too large. Phew…

  7. David Bernazani says:

    Peter is right. The entire sad event was a comedy of errors. The dog was killed by a series of events by people who didn’t understand the regulations (or chose to ignore them), and people unwilling to speak out or act to help the dog. Animals’ lives are literally in humans’ hands, and when those responsible are foolish and ignorant, lives are lost.

  8. Adam Hales says:

    Very nice information. Thanks a lot for sharing it

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