It’s every pet owner’s worst nightmare. On Monday night, when United Airlines Flight 1284 landed at LaGuardia Airport, passengers were met with a heartbreaking sight – A family grieving the loss of their 10-month-old French bulldog puppy Kokito following an avoidable tragedy aboard the flight.
The family boarded the flight with the pup in a TSA-approved pet carrier, as stipulated in the airline’s guidelines. The United Airlines website reads: “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.” With their pet adequately secured, the family was prepared for a smooth flight for the whole family, including their beloved dog, without incident. Unfortunately, the actions of a flight attendant turned their flight tragic.
Reports from other passengers on the flight explained that a flight attendant has approached the woman, instructing her to place the dog in the overhead bin. When she insisted on keeping the dog under the seat in front of her, as policy states, the attendant continued to push her to make the switch, insisting that she was required to do so for the duration of the 3 ½ hour flight.
Early in the flight, and during take off, it was reported that the dog could be heard barking in the compartment before falling silent. Due to heavy turbulence, the passenger reported that she was unable to get up from her seat during the flight to check on the dog, and upon arrival, it was discovered that the dog had not survived the flight.
One of the flight’s passengers, Maggie Gremminger, took to Twitter to share the ordeal. In a tweet, that is no longer publicly available due to increased security settings on Gremminger’s Twitter account, she wrote: “I am disgusted and traumatized. Pets are family. How could a trained flight attendant instruct a passenger to place her dog in that bin. It was her job to understand the plane and it’s rules/limitations.”
Another passenger, June Lara, took to Facebook sharing her account of what happened. Her description painted a picture of an upset passenger, reluctantly trusting those with experience only to be met with tragedy, writing: “…the flight attendants of flight UA1284 felt that the innocent animal was better off crammed inside the overhead container without air and water. They INSISTED that the puppy be locked up for three hours without any kind of airflow. They assured the safety of the family’s pet so wearily, the mother agreed.”
While the overhead compartment is located within the pressurized cabin, the airflow in that area of the plane is severely limited. As the American Veterinary Medical Foundation explains, brachycephalic breeds, or short-nosed breeds, including Pugs, Boston terriers, Boxers, some Mastiffs, Shih Tzus, Bulldogs, Pekingese and Lhasa apsos, are at a higher risk during airline travel as they are more likely to deal with respiratory problems. They explain that “brachycephalic breeds are prone to respiratory problems because, although they have shortened noses, they still have to pack all of the same anatomical structures in there that dogs with longer snouts do.” For this reason, the risks associated with the lack of airflow in the compartment would have been far greater for the short-nosed French bulldog.
The company released a statement, in which they said: “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.”