No new pets in cargo on United – for now

United Airlines is temporarily suspending its program for flying pets as cargo on airplanes.

The announcement came Tuesday after much-publicized incidents involving mix-ups involving pets being transported as cargo and another in which a dog died after a flight attendant insisted its owner place the in-cabin pet carrier in an overhead bin.

“We are conducting a thorough and systematic review of our program for pets that travel in the cargo compartment to make improvements that will ensure the best possible experience for our customers and their pets,” United said in a statement, “To achieve this outcome, we will partner with independent experts in pet safety, comfort and travel.”

United said it will honor reservations for transporting pets as cargo that were already in place as of March 20. But the program is not accepting new reservations until at least May 1, when United says its review process should be completed.

In its statement, United said that the PetSafe suspension would not affect pets traveling with passengers in the aircraft’s cabin.

“We are also reviewing this service and have already announced that beginning in April we will issue bright colored bag tags to help better identify pets who are traveling in-cabin,” United said.

Dog dies after United tells flyer to put carrier in overhead bin

[UPDATED statements from United at bottom of story]

United Airlines has confirmed the death of a dog on United flight #1284 Monday night from Houston to New York. The dog’s owner was instructed by a flight attendant to place the pet carrier in an overhead bin.

“Tonight I was on a plane where I witnessed a @united flight attendant instruct a passenger to place her dog carrier (with dog) in the overhead compartment. The passenger adamantly refused but the flight attendant went on with the instruction,” tweeted Maggie Gremminger, a passenger who says she seated nearby the dog owner.

Passengers interviewed by The Points Guy heard barking from inside the bin during part of the flight. “By the end of the trip, horrified passengers found the dog had died in-flight,” The Points Guy reported.

“Immediately after the flight landed, myself and another witness stayed to speak with various United employees,” Gremminger told the One Mile at a Time website, “The flight attendant denied knowing it was a dog, but the man seated next to me said he heard the flight attendant respond to the passenger, ‘You need to put your dog up here.’

United Airlines’ statement on the incident expresses condolence to the dog’s owners and assumes full responsibility for the incident which, the carrier says, is being thoroughly investigated.

“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.” 

For now, United says it has refunded the family’s tickets and the $125 in-cabin pet charge and has offered to fund a necropsy (an animal autopsy) for the dog.

“Incidents like this one are inexcusable, and every member of the flying public should be outraged at United’s callous disregard for the safety of this family’s beloved pet,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, “United was right to quickly apologize and take responsibility for this shocking event, but more needs to be done to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Placing an animal in an overhead bin – even in an approved pet-carrier – is not part of United Airlines’ (or any airline’s) in-cabin pet policy.

United’s policy states that, “A pet traveling in cabin must be carried in an approved hard-sided or soft-sided kennel. The kennel must fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times.”

Passengers are also required to make advance reservations when taking a pet in the cabin. United places a limit of four pets in the economy cabin of any flight and two pets in the premium cabins of select aircraft.

U.S. carriers are required by law to report the incidents involving the loss, injury or death of animals during air transportation to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

For 2017, 24 incidents were reported by carriers. 18 of those incidents were on United airlines and involved injuries or deaths of animals that had traveled as cargo.

Of the 18 incidents, United reported that several animals injured themselves clawing at the interiors of their shipping containers and that medical exams determined several others died during the journey due to natural causes. An Abyssinian dog named Riko escaped from a shipping container and was hit by a vehicle and Lulu, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, died from heat stroke on a flight to San Francisco although the incident reports notes that two other animals on that flight arrived healthy.

And then there is the case of Simon the 3-foot long prize rabbit that died either during – or after – a United flight from London to Chicago.  

Update 3/14/18: United has issued an updated statement on the dog-in-the-overhead bin incident.

We have spoken to the family, our crew and a number of passengers who were seated nearby. We have learned that the customer did tell the flight attendant that there was a dog in the carrier. However, our flight attendant did not hear or understand her, and did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin. As we stated, we take full responsibility and are deeply sorry for this tragic accident. We remain in contact with the family to express our condolences and offer support.

 To prevent this from happening again, by April we will issue bright colored bag tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets. This visual tag will further help our flight attendants identify pets in-cabin.


Kitty Xeli is the latest stress-buster at Denver Int’l Airport

To help ease the stress of travel, dozens of airports have teams of therapy dogs and handlers mingling with passengers on a regular basis.  At San Francisco Int’l Airport they let a therapy pig join the team. At Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, miniature horses are regular airport visitors.

Now a cat named Xeli (zell-ee) has joined the Canine Airport Therapy Squad (CATS) at Denver International Airport.

“Our CATS program has been extremely popular with passengers since its inception in 2015, and what a purr-fect way to take the program to the next level by introducing our first feline, Xeli,” airport CEO Kim Day said. “Just like all of our dogs, Xeli will visit passengers on our concourses, bringing joy and comfort to passengers of all ages.”

Xeli is a 12-pound domestic shorthair cat and will begin visiting the airport with her handler on October 13.

Like the dogs in the CATS program, Xeli will leashed and will be on duty to cuddle with passengers, be petted and pose for photos. And, like all the CATS, Xeli will have a trading card with her picture and assorted facts about her life, including her “pet peeves.”

If it looks like a duck…

The debate about emotional support animals on planes may heat up again after a recent Instagram posting by TSA about what was referred to as a passenger’s service duck.


“The traveler assured us there was no “fowl” play afoot and that this was simply her service duck. Our officers at Charleston (CHS) were overheard saying that this duck was pretty chill. Not lame at all…” TSA wrote on the Instagram post, while encouraging travelers to contact their airline about service animal policies before going to the airport because “It’s good to have all your ducks in a row.”

Cute, right?

But, as Charleston’s  Post and Courier  noted, the Instagram post is making feathers fly.

In addition to a wide range of duck puns along the lines of “I’m quacking up!,” are comments pointing out the difference between service animals and emotional support animals – “Ducks could count as emotional support animals but only dogs and is miniature horses are able to serve as legitimate service animals. There’s an important distinction between the two.”

Other readers commented on the trend of stretching the definition of service and emotional support animals to pets in order to skirt the fees airlines charge to take an animal on board.

Doing so will “dilute the important role that actual service animals perform for those with disabilities,” one reader said, “Individuals who encounter this animal are less likely to take a legitimate service animal seriously, leading to discrimination of those with disabilities.”

Feel free to wade in with your comments…



Touring Austin – and Austin Bergstrom Int’l Airport

I joined Delta Air Lines for the inaugural of its direct flight between Seattle and Austin and had one day on the ground to explore the city and the airport.

Base camp was the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin, downtown on Congress Avenue. The hotel is within walking distance of a food cart corner where we fueled up for the day at the silver trailer named My Name is Joe.

The menu includes hearty starts such as Texas Rancher Oats (oatmeal, tomato sauce, poached egg, queso fresco, black beans and avocado) and the proceeds help provide jobs and treatment program funding for service industry workers recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

Next, we set out on a portion of the 10-mile ride and hike trail around Austin’s Lady Bird Lake. Transportation – and excellent guides – provided by Rocket Electrics , which offers both organized and custom tours throughout the city on fun and surprisingly easy-to-ride electric bikes.

Then, it was off to Austin Bergstrom International Airport for a tour.

Upgrades galore are underway at AUS airport, with new shops, restaurants, baggage claim and gate areas under construction.

One work-around airport officials are especially pleased about are the four temporary jet bridges -or “elevated walkways,” as the airport calls them –  that have been set up to keep things moving smoothly at one end of the terminal while a new addition is built. The longest temporary jet bridge is 720 feet and AUS’s Derick Hackett believes it is currently the longest temporary jet bridge in the United States.

Record-setting or not, the bridge is so long that the airport has created a marathon-inspired set of posters to encourage passengers on their journey from one end to the other.

We also stopped by for a tour of the newly-opened Bark and Zoom pet hotel and valet parking center right next to the airport, where dogs and cats can be pampered while their people are away. In addition to the upgraded suites where pups can watch cable TV all day (CNN was playing when we toured, but programming is usually Animal Planet), we got to see the guitar-shaped pool pups gets to play in.

Notice the “No Diving” sign….