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.

Our Thoughts on the Dog Dying on United Flight in Overhead Bin  - Montecristo Travels

Me, flying from Toronto to Fort Myers on United. Seen here on Mom’s lap with my carrier open even!

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.

And the irony is that United has a great “frequently asked questions” page – better than most airlines. In fact, it has a page dealing specifically with in-cabin pet travel.

 Restrictions based on aircraft, cabin and seat

  • In-cabin travel for pets is booked on a space-available basis.
  • One pet per flight is allowed in United Global First℠, United First®, United BusinessFirst® and United Business® (select aircraft only).
  • Pets are not permitted in United Global First, United First, United BusinessFirst or United Business on Boeing 747, 757, 767 or 777 aircraft due to inadequate storage space under the seat.
  • Four pets per flight are allowed in United Economy® on all United and United Express flights. (Four pets per flight? that right here tells me that United needs to beef up the pet awareness training.)
  • A customer traveling with an in-cabin pet on a Boeing 757-200 aircraft must be seated by the window.
  • A customer traveling with an in-cabin pet may not be seated in the bulkhead or an emergency exit row.

Other restrictions

  • Pets are not permitted on flights to, from or through Australia, Guam or Hawaii.
  • Pets are not permitted to travel with unaccompanied minors.
  • Pets must remain in their kennels with the door secured at all times while in the boarding area and on board the aircraft.
  • The customer is responsible for complying with all state entry requirements which may apply.
  • Pets younger than eight weeks old are not permitted.
  • Pets must travel on the same flight(s) as the customers who are responsible for them.
  • In the event of an emergency, oxygen service will not be available for pets.
  • United’s in-cabin pet policy applies to flights operated by United and United Express only. For codeshare flights, please check with the operating carrier for that airline’s in-cabin pet policy.

The procedure for flying your pet in-cabin is the same for almost all airlines, including United. This is the process:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Our Thoughts on the Dog Dying on United Flight in Overhead Bin  - Montecristo Travels

Getting a drink of water – this time on a United flight to Austin, Texas.

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.

69 Comments on “Our Thoughts on the Dog Dying on United Flight in Overhead Bin

  1. I’m heartbroken over this situation, and incensed that anyone–ANYONE–would not stop the incident. I truly hope charges will be made. No excuses, period, for this flight attendant.

    • None. I agree. And I do not wish to blame the owner either … I just wanted to – in the post – remind people that we owe it to our fur kids to be their voice and that means being armed with the rules and challenging those in so called “positions of authority” at times. Honestly – I would have recorded the whole interaction with my phone and posted it on social media. Then complained to United as I walked OFF the flight.

  2. This incident had me in tears. I can’t imagine being on this flight and NOT saying something. So many at fault, so preventable, and so terribly sad.

    • As a passenger even … I would have spoken up and I am (Sonja typing) an introvert with an anxiety disorder. But there is no way I would have remained silent.

  3. I saw this story too and just couldn’t read it. I would have walked off the plane before I put my dog in an overhead bin. We defer to ‘authority’ too often – good judgement must prevail, yes even at the airport. (Yes, I have questioned TSA – not banned yet).
    I like the advice about printing an email answer from the airlines and travelling with it. Good advice. Unfortunately, my dog is too big to fit under the seat. I’ve never understood why I can’t buy a seat for him.

    • I don’t know why you can’t buy a big dog a seat either. Really it makes no sense to me and it would actually be easier for the airline than this whole cargo nonsense. We too have questioned TSA – no arrests yet! Good for you. And yes you have a right to challenge and question. Being empowered with facts helps.

  4. If I were on that flight, I wouldn’t have stood for that dog being placed in the overhead! No one messes with my animals…or anyone else’s within earshot. Poor doggy; I am heartbroken for the family, and really pissed off at the airline!

    • I think a lot of pet lovers are furious. And I am so glad you are the kind of person that would have stood up for the pup.

  5. Thank you for your blog. I’ve avoided flying with my toy poodle because she has such anxiety and I’ve had this irrational fear of her suffocating in a travel bag. So the United story struck a nerve. But after reading your blog more closely, I realize that I need to be more in control of the situation if and when we travel. I will definitely make sure our bag is the right size and that I print out the rules. I had wanted to punish United with a boycott so that they would better train their staff. And maybe not hire people with such a lack of compassion for animals. Seems like a case of someone following the letter of the law and not seeing the situation humanely. I just want to give that mom and child a big hug. I can’t imagine what they’re feeling.

  6. I am outraged and heartbroken over this incident. If I were on the plane I would have definitely stepped in to help that family. Thank you for writing this and sharing your thoughts.

  7. Thank you for reminding the rules Sonja! I agree 100% with every word you wrote… People trust airlines’ staff but I have noticed myself that only few of them are properly trained for pet transport. I would have definitely stood for this dog if I was in that damn flight… It’s a revolting!

    • Bet it is even MORE important when traveling like Shark does via Cargo/fragile hold. I believe you when you say you would have stood up for the dog. I have no doubt of that. This was avoidable. SO very sad.

  8. Such a heartbreaking incident. I don’t understand how this could’ve happened and how no one stepped in to stop it. Thank you for this very informative post. Like you said, having to turn a tragedy into a teaching moment isn’t ideal…but obviously people need more training and just plain common sense. Hopefully people planning on traveling with their pet will read your post.

    • I hope so. It’s why I wrote it. I felt like if I didn’t I was in a way no better than the rest of the people that stood silent on the side lines you know? Thank you for reading it.

  9. I’m so glad you wrote this. I do not travel with my dogs at 80 lbs a piece but this information is necessary to anyone traveling with their animals. The owners have to be an advocate for them. Yes, the flight attendant was wrong. Without a doubt. But the owners were also wrong for not knowing the regulations, standing up for themselves in a respectful manner and realizing that their is NO AIR in the storage area. I want to cry for the torture of this poor animal.

  10. I travel often with my little Yorkie he is 16 he is usually in his carrier or on my lap since he is a US Service Dog the love of my life never would have put him where there is no air . I couldn’t stand to hear of this awful incident and who wouldn’t check on the little puppy if he was crying or stuggling. A loving Yorkie Mom

    • Especially since it was a Frenchie so a short snout breed that already has breathing issues. I have no idea how not one passenger stood up and said “What the heck?!!” … wish I had been there to stop this.

  11. As someone like Sonja who is an intovert with anxiety I would never allow this to happen to my beloved furbaby or anyone else’s for that matter. That being said this very tragic incident could have easily been avoided both pet parents and the airline are responsible for this. As saddened as I am for this furbaby and others involved no one is blameless except the victim (furbaby)

  12. Great post as I was discussing this with my vet yesterday,both the story and taking Layla on board with me if I visit South Africa next year. As this is my biggest fear is the airline would give me problems but she assured me also that when I know when I am going she will help me plan it in a better and faster way. South Africa does allow me to bring Layla but there are a lot of testing etc she has to do before then plus an import license.

    I feel that United should punish this attendant and start retraining all their staff.

    • Oh let us know about your trip! South Africa is on our list although with the draught we may wait. Let us know if we can help you!

      Yes I think the employee needs to be held accountable. The airline as well.

  13. Like you, Peep #1 was enraged when she read United Airlines callin’ this an “accident.” Accident, my tail. That’s not what the word “accident” means, at all. That flight attendant made deliberate decisions. She deliberately took the time to convince the little doggy’s peeps about putting him up in that overhead bin. As far as my peep and I are concerned, that dog was murdered. Paws crossed this never, EVER happens again. purrs

    • I hope not but sadly United doesn’t have the best track record. Hopefully the bad press will do something OTHER than them deciding to ban in cabin pets. Yes, I agree with your thinking.

  14. Thank you for sharing these tips that are potentially life-saving for people who fly with their dogs.

    I feel so sorry for the woman who lost her dog. I’m sure she didn’t realize that the storage area was airtight. I can’t help but wonder why other passengers didn’t speak up or open the bin themselves during the flight and let that dog get some fresh air. However, I suspect that they also didn’t realize that the compartment was airtight. (And I’m sure some didn’t even know that the dog was up there.)

    I hope United and the other airlines retrain their staff so this never happens again.

  15. This was such a tragedy indeed. I’m glad you called United out on referring to this as an accident. It was not and I thought that too as soon as I read the news of this tragedy. Making it a teaching moment is one of the best ways to work through such a heartbreaking experience. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. My heart aches for this puppy and her family.

    • Thank you. It wasn’t sure I should and then decided – it was the only thing I could do. I just wish this had not happened.

  16. A tragic story with no one to blame but the airline — there are no words to comprehend this. I love your tip on printing out the pet policy for the airline! That is something that is so critical.

    • I do think that the owner should have been more informed so that she could not be bullied. The Stewardess now claims she did not know there was a dog in the bag. Not sure I believe that….. you?

  17. I could scream how upset this makes me. I would never fly with my dog unless if was a matter of life and death. I know many dogs travel by airplanes all the time but I just would not do it unless it was to save my dog’s life.

    • Travel is what we do and enjoy. And we’ve been at it for over 7 years with 17 countries under our belt. It’s about being prepared. Like with nearly everything. We don’t let the huge number of car accidents prevent us from going on road trips; we make sure we have a safe car and are alert and so on.

  18. Such a horrible tragic incident. It seems to me that United Flight Attendants have a bad track record with both humans and animals. There is a certain arrogance and lack of training. I would have intervened and I certainly think if it was my puppy I would have made a stink, even if I got kicked off the flight. I can not imagine how awful the owner and kids felt hearing the puppy cry for 2 hours then finding it dead. I am crying and will have nightmares. Kilo the Pug will not be flying.

    • I would have made a stink – especially since the plane had already taken off so … no risk at being kicked off!
      Having said that – we’ve flown for over 7 years and we’ve been fine. Statistically we are more likely to get injured taking the car to the park. Sadly.

  19. First I want to say thank you. Thank you for spreading this information for those who are traveling with a pet in the future. Also for keeping this factual and not making me bawl. I just can’t take more sadness around animals let alone this poor pup! Honestly, if I were the human in this scenario, I would have lost my shit. I totally would have been thrown off the plane with my pet and banned for life. I get VERY defensive of people and animals I love.
    Uggg glad I am not crying but now I am just pissed again.
    I am sorry but these airlines need to get straight on their rules and TRAIN their employees!
    I hope to see a huge dang lawsuit over this!!!
    What is the damage?
    That is all a lawyer will ask and you can’t put a dollar sign on the VALUE of a pet to a human!!
    At best they could be “awarded” any money they may have paid for the pup and MAYBE vet bills and food expenses for it’s lifetime up until death.
    Yes, that is how our legal system works and I am sorry but they lost a loved one!
    BAHHHHH sorry, I am totally ranting.

    • I think I tried to write something balanced because for all our blame on the airline I find there is also some questions as to the owner and ALL the other passengers that listened to the dog bark for help and sat by and did nothing. I really don’t think this is all on the airline. My fear is that the way they will deal with this will be in a knee jerk reaction and just ban pets from flying with their airline.

  20. Fantastic post. It is very evident you know exactly what you are talking about based on your research and travel experience. At the end of the day I wholeheartedly agree that we (as pet parents and some parents of bipeds) are their voice and must be their greatest advocate and protector. We cannot expect or leave it up to others to protect or have our pets best interest in mind.

    • Indeed. Yes the airline is at fault – but throwing only them under this “bus” isn’t the whole story. I for one am MOST shocked that not ONE passenger did anything … if I was listening to a dog bark for help for more than 5 minutes I’d be opening a can of whoop ass on anyone and everyone until it was resolved. (Sonja typing) and I am an introvert with an anxiety disorder. I know … because I HAVE. Wish I had been on that flight.

  21. Thank you for an excellent post. This situation both angers and saddens me. Everytime I read or see something about that poor puppy, my eyes well up in tears again. I’ve heard the fight attendance claimed she didn’t know it was a dog carrier. If this is true – DUH! – where has she been? This is just so sad and unnecessary! I don’t know if I’ll ever attempt to carry my girls on a plane.

    • I totally call bullshit on that HOW could she not? the dog was barking!
      Having said that – it’s statistically safer to fly with a pet then to even drive to the vets office. This will certainly not deter us.

  22. I couldn’t believe my eyes reading this in my FB newsfeed. The flight attendant was probably not an animal lover or had no compassion at all. But what about the passengers, couldn’t someone have spoken up!? I read that there was turbulence on the plane so they were told to remain in their seats. I would probably have broken their rules.

    I haven’t flown with my cats in a long while but when I moved to different countries I flew with KLM who are very good with animals.

    My heart goes out to this family who lost their beloved family member.

    • Indeed the lack of others stepping in has me the most puzzled but also the owner. Honestly ….? I don’t get how that happened. There is NO way this dog would have ended up there. What I think should have been done? Record the stewardess on the phone… post it to social media #WTFUnited then ask to speak to the captain or head Stewart. Even as someone that doesn’t speak the language – and was travelling with kids … It’s up to the owners to put their foot down IMHO.

  23. You have the same reaction that I have to this situation. United is standing behind their flight attendant by saying that she did not understand what the pet parent was telling her. How can anyone mistake a ventilated pet carrier for a normal piece of luggage?…so sad on so many fronts.

  24. What blows my mind is the lack of common sense. From all the people you mentionned. Yes, have the rules and your article is perfect for empowering owners with facts.

    But um…. Hello????? People may not be equipped with the rules, but last I checked everyone is born with SOME common sense, no? Living being who needs oxygen to breathe. Enclosed area with no air. Anyone? Anyone??? What was the conversation? Pet owner: “but how will he breathe?”. Staff member: “oh don’t worry, he’ll be fine”??

    I don’t have kids. People sometimes claim that pet ownership is somehow less “parent-ey” than having human babies. And you know what? This story is playing exactly into that stereotype. Because you’d be hard pressed to find a mother putting her human baby in an enclosed area just because someone told her it would be OK.

    Is it wrong that I’m more pissed at the owner? For not defending your fur baby with your life!!! Your pet is your family, your baby. How dare you not stand up for him. How do your mothering instincts not flare up and sound alarm bells, and if they did, how dare you accept to comply and not listen to your inner voice.

    *deep breath*

    (Sonja, now you know why I don’t comment often, have you seen the length of this comment??). Thanks for writing this. Because you just had to. Because how can one not speak up, right? Thank you for doing it rationally and with facts and good advice.

    • I love your comment. And you bring up a really valid point. I frankly am most upset at the owner. I hate to point the finger but in the end as pet pawrents that’s the job. Kick up a stink, a fuss, record and post to social media … scream … ask to talk tot he captain whatever it takes. And yes – common sense is apparently in short supply. perhaps the owner didn’t know there is no air in those? But even then … The stress alone! Out of owner site and in a dark space with tons of loud noises? Yeah … if you wouldn’t put a baby in there …. My thoughts totally went there.

  25. Thank you for writing this with the facts. I had heard about the dog dying, but didn’t have time to read the article at the time. Hearing that poor dog cry out for help is a tear jerker. I could kind of understand the confusion, and putting the dog in the overhead during take-off if her bag didn’t quite fit under the seat, but if I had been the owner, I would have taken the dog out of the overhead during the flight. But of course, hindsight is 20:20. She also had a baby and a child.
    But the attendant should have known better!

    I really hope airlines start letting us buy a seat for our dogs and keeping them in the seat next to us – the BEST location.

    • I fear that the airlines response will be to not fly pets at all. It’s the simplest one and most cost effective solution. And we all loose. I am still in shock that not ONE passenger in the plane said or did anything. Just sat silent. And travelling with two human children does not absolve one of the responsibility of the pet care. I’m sorry but … no. This just boggles my mind all around.

  26. This is so terrible. And why it’s important to research traveling with a pet beforehand! I did print out guidelines for flying for a while but stopped. I’m going to start doing it again. One time a TSA guy wanted me to unharness Mr. N and have him walk through the metal detector by himself instead of me carrying him through. Another worker corrected him in time. Mr. N would have been fine but I can think of a lot of dogs and cats that would have run off!

    • Jeeeeeez! That just goes to show you really need to be comfortable with training employees be it public transit … hotels…. anything.

  27. Reading the People article, I was feeling bad for the flight attendant who made such a stupid and tragic mistake until it said that she “claimed that she was unaware a live animal was in the carrier.” Um, wasn’t that what the whole ordeal was about in the first place?

  28. This story is so terribly sad, for everyone involved. I can’t believe anyone would suggest an action knowing that the dog would die as a result, surely? Living in the UK we can’t take our dogs on board flights, even internal flights. I would never put ours in cargo, so we have never flown with our dogs. To me I think it would be too stressful for them. I do hope United learn from this, put proper training in place to all their staff and something like this never happens again. It is tragic and should never have happened.

    • Most of my UK friends fly in and out of France and then ferry or Euro tunnel back to the UK. 🙂

      It really should not have and in the same week United has TWO more incidences. *sigh*

  29. Since it’s been a few days since this tragic death, I’ve had some time to think. I have a personal loathing for United mostly stemming from how a cancelled flight was poorly handled when I was trying to travel to my mother’s funeral, so I’ll decline ranting about them. Instead, thinking about your post and the empowering advice you offer…

    It seems like more and more people are traveling with pets, including air travel. I have a friend who’s a flight attendant. She grew up with pets, but she’s leery of dogs. She would never never never put a dog in an overhead bin, but she’s commented on how people fly with emotional support dogs who are not always the nicest of creatures. I wish airlines would create pet-friendly flights. They could keep their rules in place (as is) for a certain percent of their flights, but then dedicate the remaining percentage to advertised pet-friendly flights with more flexible policies. People, including airline employees, who don’t like pets can opt out of those flights.

    • I have said this for years. And honestly we’d love to see that for young kids too! Sorry you had such a bad personal experience.

  30. I rarely jump on the social media witch hunt band wagon, but I too ranted about this on FB last wee. (I also ranted about H&M stealing street art, so maybe I’m on a tear right now!) I’m so glad you’re using your platform to discuss important albeit controversial topics and educating people. Keep using your voice for good!

  31. The perfect storm indeed. You’re also right in that, most passengers, especially the owners, and crew members will never forget this horrific incident. I pray that many learn from this and we don’t see stories like this again. Thank you for posting this useful information. I have shared.

  32. I’m glad you wrote about this. I added a note about this tragic incident in my Air Travel w/ pets blog post, which is actually my MOST popular blog post! It infuriates me that none of the flight attendants knew how dangerous it was to lock a live animal in a bin where there is very little air circulation! Poor training doesn’t even begin to cover that. Sadly, many passengers will not say anything because they are just as ignorant. If it were any of us pet bloggers, you know it would be so different. The airline is 110% at fault. If there wasn’t going to be enough under seat space they never should have let the pet board! A smart airline reservation rep asks questions, lots of questions, and makes sure they can accommodate the pet & carrier. I would have gotten off the plane asap. If the door had already closed I would go up & down that aisle and find someone with room under their seat! Those poor people just didn’t know any better, they trusted to stupid flight attendant and in doing so they lost their beloved furry family member. I’ll never fly United again as long as I live.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  33. I flew a puppy home with me several years ago, and it was a wonderful trip. We used the Sherpa Company’s Guaranteed On Board Program for our airline (not United), and I had great advice from many friends who fly with dogs…much of it is in this article. Have printed copies of _everything_ med clearance, airline regs, TSA info.

  34. I’m sorry, but I feel the owners are as much to blame as the employee. They should have known that a dog couldn’t survive in the overhead bin. My goodness, when closed, how could the poor dog breathe and must have been so frightened. There is no way that I would have allowed that to happen to my dog…stand up for yourselves people. I would leave the plane before I would put my dog (family member) in the overhead bin. If you don’t care what happens to your dog, don’t have one. The article made me so angry. With all the irresponsible adults, what is this world turning into.

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