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United Airline’s Dog Mistakes

They’ve messed up repeatedly
By Karen B. London PhD, March 2018, Updated June 2021

United Airline’s recent in-flight incidents with dogs range from terrible to deadly. The worst incident out of three in a about a week involved a French Bulldog puppy who died during a flight. A flight attendant insisted that the guardian put the dog in the overhead bin instead of under a seat, even though the dog’s carrier fit in the space beneath the seat, as required. The guardian objected but was told that her family would not be able to fly if she did not comply.

With no air flow into the area, the dog suffocated. One passenger on the flight said that the puppy was whimpering at the start of the flight, but then went quiet. Another passenger told reporters that she held the guardian’s baby while the woman attempted to resuscitate her unresponsive dog at the end of the three-hour flight.

United Airline’s track record when flying animals, including dogs, is appalling. It was the carrier involved in 18 out of 24 fatalities when transporting animals last year and in 13 of the 15 reported cases involving injury (2017 report, pages 58-59). Statistical note: Although United Airlines does transport more animals than any other airline, their rate of problems is still nearly several times higher than even the second-worst airline.

In addition to the death of the French Bulldog, United Airlines had additional errors that resulted in dogs being flown to the wrong destination. In one case, a family moving from Washington to Kansas were horrified to find a Great Dane waiting for them instead of their German Shepherd, who had been accidentally flown to Japan. They were reunited after four days, which was hard on the people, and who-knows-how-traumatic for the dog. The dog who was supposed to be flown in Japan also eventually arrived at the proper destination after the detour through Kansas.


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In a third incident, a flight from Newark to St. Louis was diverted when the airline somehow figured out that they had a dog onboard who was supposed to be flying to Akron. To the airline’s credit, they chose to fly directly to Akron to deliver the dog to his family, even though that delayed every person on the flight for hours. The company says all passengers were compensated for the delay, but the specifics about what they received are unknown.

After dealing with all of these mistakes in about a week’s time, United Airlines has announced that they will suspend indefinitely their PetSafe program for flying animals in cargo. Reservations will be honored for people who have already made reservations to fly with their pets. The company claims to be taking this step to allow a thorough review of their procedures. This change only applies to animals who would fly in the cargo compartment of flights. Those pets eligible to travel in the cabin will continue to be allowed on board.

Have you flown with your dog on United Airlines?

Photo: Bianca Ackermann / Unsplash

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life