Dog’s Death on United Flight Sparks Calls for New Rules on Flying With Animals |

March 14, 2018 10:17 pm

United Continental Holdings Inc. UAL -2.56% said a flight attendant didn’t realize a bag that a passenger was made to stow in an overhead compartment contained a dog, which died during the flight.

The dog’s death on a flight from Houston to New York on Monday touched off outrage among some flyers and fresh debate over the transport of animals in plane cabins.

“The customer did tell the flight attendant that there was a dog in the carrier,” United said on Wednesday. “However, our flight attendant did not hear or understand her, and did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin.”

United apologized again for the dog’s death and said it will issue new bright yellow tags by April to passengers traveling with pets in carriers. The union representing United flight attendants on Wednesday defended the crew member.

“There is not a single flight attendant working for any airline who would knowingly direct a passenger to put their pet in an overhead bin,” a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said.

The number of pets on planes has soared in recent years. Passengers generally pay to bring dogs and cats with them in the cabin but are also carrying a wider range of species, from snakes to spiders, as support animals.

Some airlines have tightened their policies to rein in instances of poor behavior by animals on board. Delta Air Lines Inc. this month began requiring that passengers provide more health information on their animals and sign a document attesting that they will behave.

Sharon Pinkerton, head of legislative and regulatory policy at the Airlines for America trade group, said the Transportation Department was expected to soon revise its rules on flying with service and emotional-support animals.

The industry wants the department to clarify its guidance, she said, adding that it would “make it clear that carriers have the ability to ensure the health and safety of passengers and crew.”

Transportation Department officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.

United carries more animals than any other U.S. airline, according to Transportation Department data, and has also been involved in more fatalities in recent years. In 2017, the airline, the nation’s third-largest, was involved in 18 of 24 animal deaths reported to the department.

Some social-media users called for tighter restrictions on animals in flight, while others urged flyers to boycott United, whose shares fell 2.6% on Wednesday.

Last April, the carrier took a hit to its reputation after United gate agents in Chicago called in airport police, who subsequently dragged a passenger off a flight.

United on Wednesday also had to apologize for a mixup at its Denver hub that sent two dogs to the wrong destinations, with one arriving in Tokyo instead of Kansas City, Mo. The airline said both animals arrived safely—albeit at the wrong airports—and would be rerouted as soon as possible.

Write to Doug Cameron at and Patrick McGroarty at

Appeared in the March 15, 2018, print edition as ‘Dog’s Death Puts United in Center Of Debate on Pets.’