Our Thoughts on the Dog Dying on United Flight in Overhead Bin
When an article such as the one about the poor dog dying on a United Flight in an overhead bin shows up in my news feed on FB my heart breaks. It breaks for the unnecessary death of the pet. It breaks for the family that lost a loving companion in a horrible preventable way. It breaks for the airline staff that either did not know what was happening or did not intervene in time. They will live with this on their conscience. It breaks … for all the people that out of fear may no longer consider travelling with their little dog.
And of course when a story like this makes the headlines my Readers bombard me with questions.
To make answering all of you at once a little easier and because I have spoken up in the past and I am comfortable with that (trolls I see you coming) I’m sharing my thoughts. It’s nothing new from me. I’ve had my rant over Via Rail, And Delta too … and well … it seems that I am now sadly going to add a post on United.
Let me be clear in my thoughts regarding the airlines response: United I call Bullshit.
Referring to this incident as “a tragic accident” is absolute nonsense and I am not buying it. This was not an accident and you don’t get to brush it off as such. You see “Accident” by it’s very definition implies that this was something beyond the airlines control. And of course it totally was. It’s called training. This employees lack of training and supervision by United led to animal abuse.
In my humble opinion three things went wrong to create this perfect storm:
1) As mentioned, the airline did not train this staff member properly on pet policies and no colleague stepped in to set things straight. When we flew with them in 2013 the staff were very informed. Seems they have grown lax in this.
2) The owner sadly did not know the rules and wasn’t empowered to put her foot down. The carrier may have also been bigger than the standard for under the seat. That’s always trouble.
3) Lack of compassion for the pet from both the attendant(s) and other passengers that stood by and did nothing.
I hate to turn a tragedy into a teachable moment … but…this is what, after flying for over 7 years and to more than 17 countries has taught us:
- Always print the rules and keep a paper copy on you for EACH airline you will use. Wi-fi may not be available so saving a link isn’t always the best way.
- Staff are never (NEVER) properly or fully trained on pet policies. Knowing the rules and having them with you to SHOW them (as in literally pointing) arms you with the information you need to take a stand. Sadly these days, most airlines rely on the clients to do the training.
I know that the bipeds would certainly have lost their proverbial shit, if an attendant had asked them to place me in the overhead bin. But they are experienced “with pet” travellers. They would have been comfortable confronting the employee armed with their research.
Restrictions based on aircraft, cabin and seat
The procedure for flying your pet in-cabin is the same for almost all airlines, including United. This is the process:
- Request an in-cabin pet booking through united.com or by calling United Reservations at 1-800-UNITED-1 (1-800-864-8331). Advance reservations are required. If not available online, get the rules emailed to you at this point.
- Pay the fee of a $125 service charge each way. For travel exclusively on United Express by Silver Airways, the service charge for an in-cabin pet is $50 each way.
- Check your carrier size. The maximum dimensions for hard-sided kennels are 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high (44 cm x 30 cm x 19 cm). The maximum dimensions for soft-sided kennels are 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high (46 cm x 28 cm x 28 cm). I have seen too often a pet carrier being too large creating all sorts of trouble.
- Print out all paperwork to take with you. (We once arrived to check in and the system was down, so it was a good thing we had our own copies!) Take all of your paperwork with you to check-in at the United counter.
- Bring the receipt if you have paid the surcharge in advance. Your payment may not show in the system. You can also pay the surcharge by credit card upon check-in, if you prefer.
We certainly have never had anything unpleasant happen when flying United; other than an occasional employee not being certain what to make of a canines presence. Having said that we favour the European airlines such as Air France, KLM and Lufthansa whenever possible. The staff just seem more … dog accepting.
Is there room for improvement? Obviously. There always is. I just hope that the airline companies will not resort to a “knee jerk” reaction and start banning pets from flying. It’s technically the easiest and cheapest solution. I offer instead this: The key lesson here is to – much like the Scout motto says – be prepared. Remember that just like when travelling with children YOU are your companions guardian and advocate.