On Monday, a black French bulldog died on United Airlines flight #1284 from Houston to New York City after an attendant instructed the pet’s owner to stow the dog in the overhead compartment.
Witness Maggie Gremminger — who sat in the row behind the unnamed female pet owner, a teenage girl, and a baby — told People she first saw the woman place the carrier, with the animal inside, underneathe the seat in front of her.
According to the community relations manager, a flight attendant approached the woman and told her the bag needed to be moved to the overhead storage bin because it was blocking part of the aisle.
The 30-year-old recounts:
“The flight attendant told the passenger that her bag was blocking part of the aisle. I could not see it, as I was already in my seat, but it sounded like it was somehow not completely fitting beneath the seat in front of her… After the flight attendant asked her to move it above, the woman adamantly refused, communicating her dog was in the bag. There was some back and forth before finally the flight attendant convinced her to move the carrier to the bin above.”
Although she was puzzled by the flight attendant’s orders, Gremminger understands why the woman eventually complied.
“My only thought is that if it had been me, it would have been a hard scenario. The flight attendant is the authority figure, who should be trusted. I was thinking ‘maybe there is an improved ventilation system’ or something of the sorts… Also, the owner had an infant and other daughter. Causing a scene before flight could risk being kicked off the flight. I can only imagine she felt stuck in her decision to comply.”‘
However, while the plane was taking off, Gremminger could hear the dog bark from the bin. The agonizing noise lasted for 30 minutes into the flight.
When the plane landed, the woman opened the bin, and discovered that her dog had passed away.
“A stranger offered to hold her newborn while she sat on the floor, there in the airplane aisle. She was holding her dog and rocking back and forth. Her daughter was also crying… People who could not see what was happening were confused as to what was going on. I tried to encourage people to let them off first but it was confusing and so we waited for the rows to filter out. It was absolutely horrible.”
The crew — including the flight attendant who instructed the woman to move her dog — immediately jumped to action. However, the employee in question appeared “frazzled” and claimed she was unaware there was a live animal in the carrier.
“Many other crew members were contacting additional help and offering a blanket to the young girl who seemed cold. They were confused at how that individual flight attendant could have done this, but did not seem to take any sides or blindly defend…They were professional and did a wonderful job gathering information and being as supportive to the mourning family as possible.”
In response to the controversy, United Airlines spokesperson Maggie Schmerin released the following statement, where the company takes full responsibility for the “tragic accident.”
“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.”
Non-service dogs are permitted on flights if the animal “is 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,” according to the airline’s website.
[Image via David Sims/WENN.]