United Onboard Pet Death Leaves Several Questions

United Onboard Pet Death Leaves Several Questions

The recent death of a pet while traveling on a United Airlines flight from Houston to LaGuardia made my skin crawl. I can only imagine how devastated the family of this pet must be. I travel often with my Yorkies, so this story definitely concerns me. I also find the rush to pin blame on the flight attendant to be just as concerning.

I have some questions:

  • Did the family misunderstand the flight attendant’s request to stow their carry-on bags, which were protruding into the aisle, by choosing their pet carrier rather than one of their other bags? The family claims the flight attendant helped them place the dog carrier overhead; in my many years of experience, I cannot imagine any flight attendant knowingly being a party to stuffing a pet into an overhead bin.

Every flight attendant knows that overhead bins are never to be used to stow pets or any other living thing, other than perhaps a plant and even then most would use extreme caution to prevent injury to the plant. Intentionally placing a puppy overhead? Didn’t happen.

Unfortunately, the family lost their beloved 10-month old French bulldog. That has me wanting to dig a little deeper:

  • How long had the dog been in transit?
  • When was the last time the dog had been given water?
  • How many other carry-on bags were being juggled on this trip?
  • Had the dog’s carrier been dropped during the journey?
  • Even in the highly unlikely event, the family had been told to stow the pet overhead, why would they not refuse to comply? A pet is a family member. Would they have allowed a baby to be placed overhead?
  • Wouldn’t travel with a snub-nosed puppy demand an owner’s extra attention? After all, airlines banned them from being transported as cargo for that very reason. Here are more details:

“Because the length of the muzzle is so short in snub-nosed breeds, soft tissue blocks the airways in the nose and throat impeding airflow in dogs or cats at a young age and progressively worsens as the pet ages. Additionally, the condition is aggravated when the dog or cat is exercising or under stress as is the case when traveling. Increased respiratory efforts can lead to a collapse of the airway which is why owners of these breeds must take great care when transporting them.” —

  • When are the results of the puppy’s autopsy to be expected?

If I were told by a flight attendant to place my pet overhead, they would have to pry the carrier from my cold, lifeless hands. My Yorkie, Fergie has flown with me on at least  100 flights and I’ve never been told to place her in the overhead compartment. My biggest problem has been trying to keep Fergie from being passed around the plane by adoring crew and passengers.

I do not know a flight attendant in the free world who would ever ask a passenger to place their sweet little French bulldog puppy, or any other dog, into the overhead compartment. It’s impossible.

I’ve received an email from someone who knows the flight attendant and they know her to be a very compassionate, highly experienced crew-member who’d never give a passenger such an outrageous direction.

This story will be updated.

Note: Photos used are from my own extensive travels with my Yorkie.



Gailen David is co-host of the nationally syndicated travel talk show, "The Jet Set". A former flight attendant, he leads a global discussion about "Jetiquette", the rules or code of civilized travel. Gailen is a frequent contributor to CNN, HLN and USA Today on topics related to the airline travel experience and of course, Jetiquette. Visit Gailen's website

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