United Airlines Apologizes After Dog Dies in Overhead Compartment

Posted March 13, 2018 7:11 p.m. EDT
Updated March 13, 2018 11:09 p.m. EDT

United Airlines apologized Tuesday after a dog died on a flight during which it was stored in a passenger’s overhead compartment. A witness said a flight attendant had ordered the pet owner to put the dog in the compartment before the plane took off.

The dog, a black French bulldog that was traveling in a pet carrier, was placed in the compartment shortly before United Flight 1284 left Houston for New York around 6 p.m. Monday, said Maggie Gremminger, 30, who was seated behind the pet owner. She said the owner was instructed to put her dog there shortly after she boarded with two children, one of whom was an infant.

“The pet owner was very adamant that she did not want to put the pet carrier up above,” Gremminger said. “She was saying verbally, ‘My dog is in here, no, this is my dog.’ The flight attendant, in response, really just continued to ask her to put it above because it was a hazard where it was, it was a safety emergency, someone could trip.”

Eventually, the pet owner, whom United declined to name, complied with the flight attendant. Gremminger said the owner was preoccupied by her infant during the flight and did not check on the pet, which fell eerily silent after barking during takeoff and as the plane ascended to its cruising altitude.

Putting animals in the overhead compartment is against the airline’s policies, which say pets are required to travel in carriers that “must fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times.” United said it was investigating who had put the dog in the overhead compartment and why.

“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin,” Maggie Schmerin, a spokeswoman for the airline, said in a statement. “We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them.”

The airline declined to comment on what role, if any, its personnel may have played in the decision to put the dog in the overhead compartment. But Gremminger said the flight attendant, whose name she did not know, appeared distraught after the flight in New York when she learned that the dog had died.

The dog’s death is the latest in a string of alarming customer service incidents for United, including an episode last year in which a passenger was dragged screaming off an overbooked flight at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Video of his rough treatment was shared widely online and in the media.

In Monday’s episode, the pet owner discovered her dog was dead shortly after the plane landed at La Guardia Airport. Gremminger said she, like the other passengers, was rummaging for her bags and looking for her coat when she “heard sobbing and gasping.”

Gremminger turned around and saw that the pet owner had collapsed to the floor, rocking back and forth while clutching the dog’s body.

“She realized the dog was dead right there and she just started crying,” she said. “Then the daughter started crying, then a passenger, a stranger, took the infant and held the baby while they cried right there in aisle 23.”