pets on planes

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.

 

Taking turkey: Delta changing rules on service animals

No doubt you know someone, or have set next to someone, or read an outrageous story about someone who has claimed their pet dog or, in some cases, pet turkey, monkey, snake, pig, parrot or miniature pony,  is an emotional support animal that qualifies for a free, uncaged flight inside the cabin.

Sometimes it is true. There are some people whose ability to function depends on an animal. But in more and more cases, people who say they are flying with emotional support animals are simply trying to get around the airline fees for taking a pet on a plane.

Now Delta Airlines – and no doubt other airlines in a second – is saying no more. They’re changing the rules, they say, because all those fake emotional support animals have led to serious safety risks involving untrained animals in flight.

“Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more,” says Delta, “Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”

Delta report an 84 percent increase in animal incidents since 2016, including urination/defecation, biting and even a widely reported attack by a 70-pound dog.

“In 2017, Delta employees reported increased acts of aggression (barking, growling, lunging and biting) from service and support animals, behavior not typically seen in these animals when properly trained and working,” said Delta.

Here’s what’s changing as of March 1 on Delta. Expect other airlines to follow the herd.

In compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act, Delta provides in-cabin travel for service and support animals without charge.

The new guidelines, effective March 1, require that all customers traveling with a service or support animal show proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance.

In addition to the current requirement of a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, those with psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals will also need to provide a signed document confirming that their animal can behave to prevent untrained, sometimes aggressive household pets from traveling without a kennel in the cabin.

“The rise in serious incidents involving animals in flight leads us to believe that the lack of regulation in both health and training screening for these animals is creating unsafe conditions across U.S. air travel,” said John Laughter, Delta’s Senior Vice President — Corporate Safety, Security and Compliance in a statement. “As a leader in safety, we worked with our Advisory Board on Disability to find a solution that supports those customers with a legitimate need for these animals, while prioritizing a safe and consistent travel experience.

Delta is setting up a Service Animal Support Desk for customers traveling with service and support animals. The desk will be where customers go to  verify that the new documentation is received and confirm the customer’s reservation to travel with the animal, prior to arrival at the airport.

The carrier also made it clear that is will no longer accept exotic or unusual service or support animals, including:

  • Hedgehogs
  • Ferrets
  • Insects
  • Rodents
  • Snakes
  • Spiders
  • Sugar gliders
  • Reptiles
  • Amphibians
  • Goats
  • Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird, & birds of prey)
  • Animals improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor
  • Animals with tusks, horns or hooves.

Look for the full details of the Delta’s new regulations on service and emotional support animals here.

About time, right??

Pets on planes

Each week on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin, I have the opportunity to answer a reader’s question. This week the topic was pets on planes.. A reader wanted to know if she could take her small dog in the cabin.

The good news is that, yes, on most airlines small pets may travel in the cabin.

The bad news: There are plenty of restrictions. And, in some cases, the ticket for your tabby or toy poodle may end up costing more than your own.

“The cost runs anywhere from $50 all the way to $125. And that’s each way,” says Kim Saunders of Petfinder.com.

“Pets will also need a recent health certificate, while will require a veterinary office visit that can cost from $35 to $100. You’ll also need to be sure your pet is in an approved pet carrier that can fit underneath the seat.”

Passengers taking a pet on a plane should also keep these tips in mind:

Make your reservation well in advance. Frontier Airlines allows up to 10 ticketed pets in the cabin, but most airlines only allow one or two. “You and your pet may not be able to take the flight you want,” said Saunders. And all pets need to remain in their carrier under the seat for the duration of the flight.

Give your pet food and water far ahead of the flight so that your pet can visit the relief area before going through security. (A few airports have relief areas post-security; but every airport has a spot for Spot outside). “Even then, it’s a good idea to put something soft and absorbent in the carrier. Just in case,” said Saunders.

Make sure your pet is social. Your pet must stay inside the carrier at all times, but at the security checkpoint, you’ll be required to take the pet out and either walk it or carry it through the metal detector. “If there’s an alarm because of the leash or a metal collar, the pet will be checked physically, in a sort of pet pat-down, by an agent to resolve any kind of issue,” said TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez.

Some people have tried to put their pets − and sometime their babies − through X-ray machines. “That won’t harm a pet or a baby, but we prefer they don’t do that,” said Melendez.

For more information about taking your pet on a plane, check your airline’s website or the resource section of a website such as Petfinder.com, which recently issued its 2011 list of the most pet-friendly airlines in the United States and Canada.