A dog died aboard a United Airlines plane Monday, after a family says it was forced to stow the pet in the overhead bin for the duration of the flight.
Catalina Robledo and her 11-year-old daughter, Sophia Ceballos, were traveling with their 10-month-old French bulldog, Kokito, on United Flight 1284 from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. In an interview with ABC News, Sophia said the flight attendant knew their dog was in a carrier but insisted the pup spend the flight in the overhead bin.
“The flight attendant came, and she was like, ‘You have to put him up there because it’s going to block the path,’” Sophia told ABC News on behalf of her mother, who is not fluent in English. “And we were like, ‘It’s a dog, it’s a dog.’ And she said, ‘It doesn’t matter, you still have to put it up there.’”
When the plane landed, the family found the dog dead in its carrier.
Fellow passengers say the flight was rocked by the tragic accident. Passenger Maggie Gremminger tweeted at the time that a flight attendant “pushed” the pet owner to put her dog in the overhead bin. Gremminger told the “Today” show on Wednesday that she could hear the dog barking as the flight began.
A spokeswoman for United said the airline is conducting a full investigation into the matter.
“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin,” she stated. “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.”
The family says the flight attendant told them after the flight that she didn’t know a dog was in the carrier.
“She’s basically lying to us now,” Sophia told ABC News.
Small pets are allowed to fly aboard airlines in approved carriers, and the dog was in a TSA-approved carrier, according to The Points Guy. United’s website says pets that come on a plane must remain under the seat in front of the customer throughout the flight. It makes no mention of ever putting an animal in the overhead bin, which lacks proper air circulation for a living creature, according to The Points Guy.
The news comes less than a year after United faced highly publicized pet deaths on its flights during a tumultuous customer service year for the airline.
A giant bunny, which was expected to grow to be the world’s largest rabbit, was found dead in a plane’s cargo area in April 2017. In August, a family’s 5-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Lulu died in a plane’s cargo area. That flight had also departed from Houston.
Data from the Department of Transportation shows United Airlines had the highest record for pet deaths among U.S. airlines in 2017 and 2016. In 2017, a total of 18 pets died and 13 were injured among 138,178 total pets transported by United Airlines.
The incident on Monday renewed interest in the airline’s track record with safety transporting animals. DOT data shows that 24 dogs died when put in the cargo area of planes in 2017 ― 18 of them were on United flights.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) wrote to United on Wednesday demanding an “immediate explanation for the number of animals who have died recently in United Airlines’ care.”
“This pattern of animal deaths and injuries is simply inexcusable,” he added.
This post has been updated with additional details of the flight, comments from the dog’s owners and a mention of Sen. John Kennedy’s letter.