United Airlines faces new criticism for the death of one dog and a mix-up with two other pooches

A French bulldog appears at the 2009 Westminster Dog Show. The same breed of dog died on a United Airlines flight Monday.
(Chris McGrath / Getty Images)

United Airlines, the carrier that endured harsh criticism last year when a passenger was dragged from an overbooked flight, is under the gun again.

This time the Chicago-based company is taking heat after it apologized for the death of a dog that was put — at the instruction of a flight attendant and in violation of airline policy — in an overhead compartment. A day later, United conceded that it mistakenly shipped another dog that was bound for Kansas City, Mo., to Japan.

“We take full responsibility and are deeply sorry for this tragic accident,” United said Monday in response to the death of the dog in the overhead compartment.


The controversy involved a French bulldog that was in a small carrier on a flight from Houston to New York. A flight attendant, worried that the carrier did not fit under the seat, instructed the owners to put the carrier in the overhead compartment, where the dog perished after the flight of three and a half hours.

United said in a statement that the flight attendant didn’t know the carrier contained a dog and “did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin.” The airline said its policy calls for owners to put dogs in carriers under seats or in the cargo hold.

In interviews with media outlets, the owner of the dog, 11-year-old Sophia Ceballos, said the flight attendant knew the dog was in the carrier.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued a statement calling for the flight attendant to be fired and charged with cruelty to animals.

United also acknowledged that, due to a mix-up Tuesday, a German shepherd bound for Kansas City from Oregon was accidentally flown to Japan. The owners of the German shepherd were instead presented at the airport with a greyhound that was supposed to fly to the island nation.

“An error occurred during connections in Denver for two pets sent to the wrong destinations,” said United spokesman Jonathan Guerin. “We have notified our customers that their pets have arrived safely and will arrange to return the pets to them as soon as possible.”


Though animal deaths involving commercial flights are rare, they spark outrage whenever they occur.

In November, a college student who was flying home to Miami said an employee for Spirit Airlines refused to let her board with her miniature hamster, Pebbles, suggesting instead that she flush the creature down a toilet. The tearful girl did just that and later regretted it, hiring an attorney to consider legal action against Spirit.

In 2017, 24 animals died, 15 others were injured and one was lost on commercial flights, out of nearly 507,000 animals that were transported, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

That amounts to a rate of less than one animal incident for every 10,000 animals flown. Most of the incidents — 31 out of 40 — occurred on United Airlines.

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