United Airlines suspends pet cargo bookings after complaints of pet deaths

March 20, 2018

by Patricia Garrett

United Airlines is suspending its PetSafe reservations of pets for the airplane cargo area until May 1, 2018, as the company undergoes an internal review of  its procedures for pets traveling on United flights. PetSafe reservations that were made before March 20, 2018 will still be honored, but passengers have the right to cancel their PetSafe reservations during this review process. The suspension applies to the cargo area of United flights, not the passenger cabin, where pet reservations will still be taken.

United has not yet announced what it will do about PetSafe cargo reservations after May 1, 2018, presumably because the company is waiting for the results of the internal review before announcing any possible changes to its PetSafe system.

United has come under massive backlash for the death of a 10-month-old French bulldog named Kokito, which died after being placed in a overhead compartment on a  United flight from Houston to New York City that took place on March 12, 2018. The dog’s owners (Catlina Robledo and her 11-year-old daughter Sophia Ceballos) said that a flight attendant forced them to put the dog (which was in a carrier bag) in the overhead bin, even though the owners protested and told the flight attendant numerous times that a dog was in the bag. The owners also claimed that the dog barked several times during the trip, but the flight attended claimed that she was unaware that there was a dog in the bag. United called the incident a “tragic mistake” and issued an apology and a full refund. There have also been numerous protests and calls for boycotting United after this incident happened.

According to the New York Times,  U.S. Senators John Kennedy of Louisiana and Catherine Cortez Masto introduced a bill on March 15, 2018, called WOOFF (Welfare of Our Furry Friends) to prohibit airlines from storing pets in overhead compartments. United Airlines, which already has a policy to prohibit pets from being put in overhead compartments, has said that in April 2018, United will begin issuing brightly colored bag tags to passengers who have pets in the passenger cabin.

The death of Kokito sparked further scrutiny of United’s track record for how pets are treated on its flights, particularly in United’s cargo area, where pet owners are unable to check on the welfare of their pets during the flight. Since Kokito’s death, there have been multiple incidents reported of pets being flown to the wrong destinations on United flights. And according to the Wall Street Journal, 18 pets died while flying in United’s cargo section in 2017, which was twice the number of pet deaths that United reported in 2016. United claims that almost all the deaths were for medical reasons outside the airline’s control. United is the largest carrier of animals among U.S. airlines, accounting for “almost a quarter of the animals transported in cargo holds and in cabins” in 2017, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The backlash against United Airlines over its treatment of pets is the latest public-relations fiasco for the company. In 2017, the United also faced a firestorm of negative publicity for the physical assault of passenger David Dao, who was forcibly removed by security personnel after he refused to voluntarily leave an overbooked flight. Video footage went viral of a bloodied Dao being dragged off the plane during the altercation. United made multiple apologies and reached an out-of-court settlement with Dao for an undisclosed sum.

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