Do pet owners that take vulnerable or sick pets on long flights share some responsibility for the death of their pets? Do the airlines have a clear policy on traveling pets? Lots of questions are unanswered. The recent United Airlines 8-month-old French bulldog puppy death story has many angry social media posts burning with outrage. There’s a lot of missing details and the bigger picture is being missed. We’ll take a look at how many animals United Airlines transported last year and some of the details behind causes of death. What you find may change your mind. Let’s get informed together.
Have you heard the news lately? One headline suggests United Airlines flight attendants hate passengers and their pets so much that they put live dogs and cats in an overhead bin to die of suffocation. You would think people would automatically dismiss a ridiculous claim like this, especially without actually studying the entire details of what happened. Digital lynch mobs are ready to show their anger (again), after the latest headlines talked about United putting a pet in an overhead storage bin. Are you satisfied with just reading the title of a story or headline and never actually making an informed decision? An informed decision isn’t just reading a biased piece or talking points.
A Cute Dog is Dead: Cue The Lynch Mob
Passengers have many legitimate issues with United Airlines and it has certainly had a lot of bad press in the past few years. It’s obvious some people need to be fired at United Airlines and there must be some policy changes. CBS News reported, in March 2018, an 8-month-old dog was onboard a flight from Houston to New York and died after it was placed in an overhead bin for the duration of a 3.5 hour flight. It was reported that a flight attendant allegedly “forced” the passenger to place the animal in the overhead bin. Although overhead bins are not airtight, there may be less air circulating in overhead bins, so no live animal should ever be placed there. Rightfully so, the airline claimed full responsibility for this incident, but the issue doesn’t stop there. Social media headlines suggest United is out to kill pets and is “just the worst.”
While jumping on the bandwagon is easy and might make you feel good, it can be dangerous because it’s the same way historical lynch mobs functioned – on incomplete or misinformation. What we have here is incomplete and misinformation. There’s more to this story than we’re being told.
A CNBC headline is a little puzzling:
Why did the owner have to say there was a pet in a “bag”? When you see a pet carrier nearly every adult knows it usually has a pet in it. What is a living pet doing in an overhead bin? These are red flags that stand out that we might not have the complete details of this story. It should have never happened in the first place, but there’s more to this whole pet travel death story.
It appears that United Airlines already restricted/prohibited French Bulldogs from flying. This breed is known to have breathing and stress difficulties – flights only raise the risk of death. Why was it on that flight to begin with and is it not ultimately the pet owner’s responsibility to read the policy and know whether they had a vulnerable or restricted breed before flying with it?
We have a vulnerable breed of pet on a long flight, in a bag, placed in the overhead bin. So far, we might come to the conclusion that three people made mistakes: the airline, the flight attendant, and the pet owner. There are some conflicting details that do put the responsibility primarily on the owner. Is one more to blame than the other or equally? Let’s investigate a bit together…
Some pets should never be taken on flights, but some pet owners refuse to acknowledge these facts. For them, they look at convenience and they want to bring their pet everywhere, even if against the rules. Most of the reported pets that died already had breathing problems. For example, many airlines already ban these breeds from flying due to brachycephalic syndrome.
Brachycephalic pets have a higher risk of difficulty breathing and death, especially on airlines (even higher risk on longer flights) because of the anatomical short length and positioning of the face, nose, mouth, and throat, according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. These pets are very vulnerable to air travel. If you are the owner of this kind of breed and choose to take it on an airline, you’re putting unnecessary stress on your pet and it may lead to death. There’s also enough evidence to suggest exercise, temperature and moisture changes, and excitement can ultimately lead to death of a pet (these factors are present during travel). Perhaps an actual policy based on science would prohibit airlines from accepting these kinds of pets for travel, but that must involve a certain level of personal responsibility among pet owners, specifically that pet owners stop bringing these vulnerable pets aboard airliners. It might be inconvenient for pet owners, but the science is there to support such an idea.
United Airlines seems to be aware that this specific breed of pet is vulnerable with breathing issues and probably shouldn’t be permitted on any flight for liability reasons in a bag that was likely too little for movement, and certainly not in the overhead bin. United Airlines has a guide for pet travel that specifically mentions pet carrier travel requirements. The requirements appear to be reasonable.
See this official United Airlines guide that says:
Some news reports claimed the dog barked for at least two hours on the flight, while it was in the overhead bin. This is at least further evidence that it might have stressed itself and labored breathing might be taking place in a confined space, if true. This breed of dog is vulnerable and should have not been permitted on the flight for liability reasons. Further, the pet owner should take some responsibility and determine, before flying, whether their pet is vulnerable to breathing issues, stress/anxiety, and then make a considerate and honest decision to not put their pet at risk. One fact is absolutely true: every pet owner has the right to exercise common sense, consideration, and caution by simply not bringing a vulnerable pet aboard an aircraft.
Any pet owner that brings a vulnerable pet like this on a long flight is taking a personal risk by putting the health of their pet in jeopardy. The blame is on both airline and pet owner passenger – both should know better. However, how many airline ticket agents know all dog vulnerable breeds and is it not up to a passenger to honestly make this determination before even bringing a pet to the gate?
Longer flights only raise the risk for vulnerable pets. It’s unfair and unreasonable to blame only the airlines. It may be almost impossible for airlines to legally define vulnerable pets and enforce a policy in a meaningful manner, without completely banning non-service animals. In that case, you have to rely on the common sense and courtesy of the pet owner.
At least one photo shows what appears to be a deceased pet in an entirely too small bag. A dog should be able to easily/freely move about its carrier space. Several pet experts are wondering why a pet owner would put a beloved pet in such a confined space for so long. It appears as if the pet couldn’t really move in this small space. There also appears to be padding or pet urine liners, materials that may further cover air spaces or decrease moving areas. This dog already was vulnerable to breathing issues and was placed in such a small space to begin with, and it was probably already distressing it. Was the dog also in trouble before it was placed in the overhead bin? These are important details. The idea that we’re not allowed to know the factors that led to this event is ridiculous, ignorant, dangerous, and only leads to wilful ignorance and knee-jerk reactions.
Many factors contributed to this story and it’s ridiculous to act as if United Airlines bares all of the responsibility for the death of this pet.
Millions of people fly without issue. Over 138,000 pets flew on United Airlines last year without issue. Incidents are bound to happen with such high numbers. Undefined policies or lack of enforcement on part of the airline and stupid passenger decisions make for the perfect storm. United Airlines is damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t. It only takes one social media story or incident to paint the entire airlines as criminal, insane, murderous, and whatever other accusations are flying around, which is unreasonable, irrational, and unfair.
The only reason why, regardless of fault, such large companies respond by accepting the blame is because this is one of those stories that has so many people acting on only emotion and sensational headlines. How many people know what brachycephalic pets are? How many deaths could have been prevented had pet owners been more considerate and not brought vulnerable breeds or pets on airlines? How many people knew the actual number of pets that traveled without any incident in the past year? How many people read the incident reports that describe more about these pet deaths?
United Airlines PR seems to be confusing, inconsistent, and trying to please people it knows will never be pleased, which means their position is a total loss. On a side note, a lot of people are only talk. How many people would actually not travel on United Airlines, if it was the cheapest option? In this day of data mining, it would be safe to bet money that most people claiming they boycott the airlines probably don’t regularly fly or continue to fly on the very airline they complain about.
We need more people to exercise critical thought to verify claims of news stories before spreading misinformation.
By all means, when we get a more complete picture of the facts, when more people are informed, we can make informed decisions. If United Airlines has a factual trend of such wrongful behavior, then by all means, boycott them. That’s your right as an informed consumer. Just make sure you have the facts before making decisions or costing people their jobs.
It’s frightening that such large masses of people get behind outrage without knowing any considerable amount of detail, evidence, or critical thinking.
A recent March 2018 Journal Science report found that “lies spread faster than the truth” on social media. Maybe it’s the fact that simply believing something and passing it along to another person is much easier than actually understanding an issue, studying evidence, and making an actual informed decision. Everyone has an opinion and it takes just seconds to repost sensational headlines. Lies and misinformation indeed spread faster than truth because you can see this happening on a daily basis.
Politicians love scoring points with emotionally charged issues. Imagine the public relations nightmare: a cute dog and just a story headline claiming United Airlines purposely killed it, and they keep killing our lovable pets. Let the emotional comments flow, social media diarrhea is soon to get the attention of a political figure or two.
CNN recently reported:
It takes a few minutes to search Google for the publicly available data on pet deaths and airlines. Much of this data has descriptions of what happened and what actions occurred afterwards. Perhaps if Kennedy took the time to read the actual evidence there would have been no need to “run out of patience” and realize this wasn’t a major issue at all. Who cares though, opportunity calls. People are outraged and why not jump on the bandwagon?
What kind of person thinks such a small number of inevitable deaths per 138,000 pets is such a major issue that requires immediate legislation and heads to roll? Statistically, the number of official animal deaths last year on United Airlines appears to be a non-issue. This isn’t “whataboutism”, it’s common sense, science, logic, and reason, calling us to return to reality. Don’t we have legitimate problems: unemployment, low wages, poor healthcare, veterans, college expenses, diseases, cancer, and obesity? Where’s the damn outrage and attention for these much more serious, legitimate, and epidemic problems, according to objective scientific evidence? One day our nation, citizens, and lawmakers will make informed, smart decisions based on comprehensive information… but it looks like that day isn’t happening anytime soon.
Hot topics get social media attention. Nobody likes hearing about the death of a pet, especially when it could have been prevented. After all, there are legitimate problems with airline practices. People hate their seating, uncomfortable chairs, cattle-like boarding processes, and expensive baggage fees. The TSA is probably much worse because before you board you routinely get molested by strangers – all in the name of a false sense of security. Despite these things, we cannot ignore the objective facts before us today: United Airlines isn’t out to kill your pets, the actual data is publicly available, they carry the most pets annually, and the evidence suggests airline travel is safe for you and your pets.
United Airlines transported over 138,000 pets last year. Of this incredible number, 18 pets died. Without diving in any deeper, to anyone that graduated high school, this is a low number. Granted, nobody wants to hear of any pet deaths, but they are inevitable. Death is reality and it happens every day, whether people fly or not. But this isn’t journalism, investigative reporting, or informing anyone. Today, we want to dive in deeper to see the causes of death. We should refuse to be a part of a blind emotion, perpetually outraged social media bandwagon, ready to target the next victim of ignorant mass opinion.
Alaska Airlines comes in second to United, having transported over 114,000 animals. Delta came in third with over 57,000 animals. Alaska and Delta have 2 deaths reported for each airline. These are surface numbers. You’re not informed until you understand context and statistics. Context includes the before, during, and after. Statistics is examining the numerical relationships of data. Context is important because, for example, many animals have pre-existing conditions or were already sick before traveling. You will see where context means all the difference as we look at example causes of death.
If we wanted to shock our audience and get more ratings, we would just report “United did it again”, “they hate pets”, “out to get you”, “they have the biggest death number of pets” and then leave it at that. But again, that’s not informing anyone, it’s misleading, and it would be purposely leaving out critical details.
We turn to the Department of Transportation, which keeps a decent record of aviation incidents. Basically, airlines have to keep a record of whether a pet is injured or dies during transport. We suspect we will find some very interesting details. By all means, read the DOT official report.
Some sensational media headlines really seemed to suggest flight attendants were so upset with passengers that they were purposely killing animals. Common sense tells us that’s a wild conspiracy theory that can be easily dismissed. One of the ways to dismiss false claims is to examine the evidence. We can look at the evidence by reading through the annual report of deaths and incidents from 2017.
What we find wasn’t shocking… many of those 18 pet deaths occurred while not even aboard the aircraft. Most of the pet injuries were self-inflicted and could (and do) happen at home, regardless of whether a pet was traveling or not. It is misleading to report otherwise.
Looking at the pet injury and death data reveals a general picture not present in most media headlines.
Two Geckos were discovered deceased on arrival to another airport in January 2017. During the same month, a dog clawed at its shipping container while in transit, causing an injury to its paw. The airlines call this a “self-inflicted” injury (rightfully so).
In January 2017, a dog died of natural causes during a trip. A medical exam found that the dog died of a cardiac abnormality due to a congenital heart disease.
Later that same month, a 9-year-old cat had died of heart failure and the pet owner declined a medical exam. The owner had suspected the heart failure was indeed the cause. No corrective action was taken by the airline.
In March of 2017, a 3-year-old dog escaped its shipping container during an acceptance process. It ran away and was struck by a vehicle. In this case, it wasn’t even on board the aircraft.
In April of 2017 a pug died upon arrival in Brazil. The owner refused a medical examination so the cause of death was unknown.
In July of 2017 an 11-year-old cat arrived dead to Denver, Colorado after traveling from Guam and Honolulu. A medical examination attributed cause of death to heart failure. No corrective action was required.
There were numerous other causes where a dog chewed or scratched at the transport carrier and caused self-inflicted injuries. No corrective action was required in those cases.
In October of 2017, an 8-week-old kitten was discovered dead upon arrival to Chicago, Illinois. The cause of the death was attributed to anxiety, limiting the oxygen flow in the respiratory system.
In October of 2017, a bull terrier died after arrival to a hospital. During a layover, the pet appeared to be in distressed and was immediately transported to the vet. The cause of death was determined to be from a cardiac dysfunction.
It’s a shame larger media outlets aren’t informing their audiences. It does make for a bigger “shocking” news story to claim that an airline is out to kill all of our beloved pets.
After you read all of the reported cases of deaths of pets with United in 2017, you can begin sorting it all out. First, a number of pets died while not even on an aircraft (so do they even count in the toll) so even the number 18 is not accurate (it’s lower than 18). Second, many had pre-existing conditions, and likely would have died regardless of whether they were on an airplane or not. Third, the final number of deaths and injuries are so incredibly low that this becomes a non-issue. Having 18 deaths of pets becomes more like 5 pets out of over 138,000 died last year. Among those deaths, many could be argued to be irrelevant to United Airlines. What ever happened to prioritizing, evidence, objective decisions, and critical thinking anyways?
According to the evidence we’ve reviewed above, the numbers aren’t as bad as their being painted out to be among various news headlines and social media posts. The best decisions are based on objective evidence, not sensational “journalism.” Before lynching a company or believing a major headline, people need to dig into the actual data and statistics. In fact, the annual airline incident data suggests that you and your pet are incredibly safe flying on an airplane. Social media spreads misinformation so quickly and that coupled with people that are driven by emotions only means innocent people get hurt and misinformation only becomes publicly accepted fact.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press is reporting an investigation has started regarding animal cruelty. This will be interesting because the crew said they didn’t know a pet was in the bag. It will be very interesting to see what comes out of this investigation.
Even if something comes out of this investigation, we cannot ignore the overall problem: vulnerable pets that should never be traveling on an airline to begin with, pet owners taking personal responsibility, clear airline policies, and consistent enforcement of policies.
The mob wants blood. We don’t have the entire story or all of the details, which means it probably isn’t a good idea to demand the flight attendant be executed in a public square to set an example for others. The airline now has to figure out, if the allegations are true (right now just allegations, no proof), why a flight attendant would “force” any live creature into the overhead bin. The evidence we do have says there’s a much larger problem that involves unclear airline policies and foolish passengers that don’t care about rules, consideration, or critical thinking that could also prevent pet deaths. What is clear is responsibility must include pet owners.
The airlines and media have already pointed out that some dogs are bound to die on flights because of known breathing difficulties. Many airlines already banned these breeds of dogs because they knew of the breathing problems. For example, in 2011, the Huffington Post said most short-nosed breeds were banned because they had trouble breathing on planes. Come on United Airlines, you either permit these pets to fly or your don’t. You know they are a liability. Sure, some of your passengers demand you let them enjoy the convenience of flying any pet they want to bring. This is what happens when you try to please everyone. A pet that already has trouble breathing shouldn’t be permitted to fly. It seems this made the rounds in the media years ago, but it has been forgotten in today’s outrage story.
It looks like many other airlines have already solved this non-issue… by not permitting any animals on aircraft:
If people are not careful, disregard personal responsibility and common sense, we continue perpetual outrage knee-jerk reactions, new laws and over-regulation will destroy business, create an even more Orwellian state of travel, and all pets would likely be prohibited from flying. Be careful what you wish for. Many airlines have already banned pets because of this very issue. Some people are mad, no matter what happens. They would be mad if the airline told them they couldn’t bring their pet on the plane because it might die. But they would also be mad if the airline let them bring a vulnerable pet on the plane and it died, which was the case here. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
There are legitimate problems with air travel and they have been discussed all over the internet, yet not much has changed. In fact, travel by plane has become more stressful, expensive, and uncomfortable for the average passenger. We should pick our battles and stick together on the major issues. Unfortunately, social media makes it easy to spread misinformation, which distracts us from real issues by presenting outrageous-sounding non-issues. Since not very many people are willing to go spend the time researching and verifying claims from media stories, misinformation spreads like wildfire and innocent people get lynched. It’s really important to make our decisions based on objective evidence and not hearsay, hyperbole, or sensationalism that seems to drive perpetual internet outrage.
If we exercise critical thinking, consider objective evidence, and leave our emotions behind, we can only come to reasonable and logical conclusions. According to the overwhelming evidence and statistics publicly available:
1. It’s very safe for you and your pets to travel (although some people think we should bring back the service animals only approach).
2. Less than 1 in 10,000 pets are injured or die during a flight. And even then, most of the deaths would have occurred anyways (arguably) whether on the flight or not, and a number of pet deaths occurred while not even aboard aircraft. As far as injuries, most pet injuries were self-inflicted and not the fault of the airline.
3. Animals can be stressed out. It’s an owner’s responsibility to ensure their animal is stable enough to travel, has the correct transport carrier, and is following the rules of the airline. The safest thing to do is to not bring your pet with you during long flights (common sense) or on any flight.
*One could argue that the cabin of an aircraft is for human passengers only, with exceptions for legitimate service animals. However, there’s an entirely different issue with that because people are not all honest and have been buying “fake service vests” off of eBay to bring their pets into areas otherwise prohibited by rules.
4. Major media outlets are misleading the public by insinuating that one or more airlines are purposely being mean, killing beloved pets, etc. as a business model. While nobody wants their pet to die, diverse circumstances beyond control, such as pre-existing conditions, and stress/anxiety, means pet deaths will occur. Both airlines and pet owners must take collective responsibility, where and when appropriate. The existing number of pet deaths is a clear indication that travel is generally safe. To suggest that no animal can ever be injured or die during long distance transport aboard an aircraft is not realistic.
5. Although United Airlines will respond with their public relations department, regardless of whether it is guilty of anything or not, this case of the French puppy dog death on this specific flight is the fault primarily of the owner. The dog was already vulnerable to distress and breathing issues before the flight. The dog was already placed in a bag that was too small for such a long trip before boarding. The dog was distressed for several hours. Ultimately, the owner decided to put the dog in the overhead bin. The owner could have refused or left the flight, but should have never brought the dog on the flight in the first place. Are we to also believe an entire plane full of people sat and did nothing as a dog barked from the overhead bin for over 2 hours? How could this whole thing have been prevented? Don’t bring vulnerable pets on flights; be a responsible pet owner. And United Airlines must enforce a clear policy on how to prevent this in the future.
Given the huge amount of animals in transit and the fact that too many people don’t exercise personal responsibility, critical thinking, or consideration, cases like this were bound to happen.
It’s bad news to hear of any pet getting injured or dying on a trip, but we can’t let our emotions cloud our decision-making and priorities. If the objective evidence says there is an issue, we should address it. If the airlines are clearly at fault, they should take responsibility. If the passenger is at fault, he or she should take personal responsibility.
There’s more to this story than was being reported.
At least some people are now wondering (report) if the United Airlines pet owner had tried to “sneak” her pet onto the plane by placing it in a bag that was far too small for it because she knew it wouldn’t fit otherwise and there would be an argument (she would have had to leave the flight or delay her trip). Could this be why the pet owner allowed the pet to be put in the overhead bin? In order to avoid the delay, the dog had been in a very small bag and was placed in the overhead bin for the flight. According to the pictures, and had there been no barks, the bag looks like any other small luggage so it’s easy to see how it could be placed in the overhead bin with the rest of baggage. This kind of makes sense because there is a report that says she had to say a dog was in the bag, the flight attendant said she never heard a dog or knew of one being in the bag, and then the reports of barking for over two hours – all conflicting details.
The flight attendant says she never heard a dog barking and never knew there was a dog in the overhead bin. Somebody isn’t telling the truth. And who would sit there for over 2 hours as a dog barked from the overhead bin? We’re supposed to believe the pet owner, all flight attendants, and all of the passengers just sat there and listened to this dog bark from the overhead bin for over 2 hours? Did the pet die before the flight? Was the pet drugged by the owner to calm it down? What about the seat belt sign being turned off, a time when you’re allowed to access the overhead bin… did this pet owner ever check on the pet and remove it from the overhead bin during the 3.5 hour flight? We need more details because this story stinks and the pet owner is ultimately responsible.
There are some reports that United Airlines says they acknowledge the pet owner did say there was a dog in the bag at some point. We’re not told any details about *when* they were told (that is important). If United Airlines had been told at a later point, it would be irrelevant because the dog may have already been dead. There are a lot of conflicting reports. CBS News stated that there was a misunderstanding or that the flight attendant didn’t understand what was said. Some think there was a language barrier between the pet owner and flight attendant. These details are important.
More people are starting to question the pet owner. Here’s a blogger with a good point source:
United Airlines does have a PR problem. It seems to want to pee on fire. Someone does need to be fired. To be reasonable, the number of pet deaths is very low, considering the huge amount of pets they transport every year. The easiest way (and there is an easy solution) to stop these pet deaths and liability is to stop letting pets fly on airlines. Many other airlines have already banned pets. The fact is some breeds should never fly and this was likely another example of a vulnerable breed that shouldn’t have been flying in the first place, which means that the pet owner is ultimately responsible. United Airlines, by letting this pet fly, unfortunately, automatically has to take some kind of responsibility as well.
As long as United Airlines (or any other airline) lets pets travel in the cabin, there will be the occasional pet death, especially among pets with pre-existing conditions, already vulnerable to breathing problems as a breed. Let’s not act like this is a huge problem because the numbers (less than 10 in 138,000+ pets) show a different story (reality). Air travel is generally safe and is intended primarily for humans. There must be some personal responsibility among both the airline and pet owner.
Update 3/19/2018. Sources tell ULTRA TechLife, United Airlines has “a known issue” with pets attacking passengers and causing delayed flights. We’re being told they are considering some type of pet ban, but we don’t know the specific details. A pet ban would reduce risk and obviously prevent something like this from happening again.
One final thought: flight attendants put up with a lot of terrible, rude, disruptive, combative, drunk, stinky, mean, obnoxious, ignorant, racist, sexist, and uncooperative passengers all of the time. The majority of flight attendants are likely good people trying to do their best to make sure flights go smooth and passengers remain safe as they perform their crew duties. In general, it’s safe to say most flight attendants aren’t out to kill your dogs, they have enough crap to deal with on the average flight.
Disclosure: The author of this article has no affiliation with United Airlines. The purpose of this post was to present more facts in order to make an informed decision and not participate with bandwagon outrage and sensational stories floating around online. A discussion needs to take place, without calling names or death threats. Let’s talk about issues and solutions, but our decisions should be made on more complete information, objective evidence, and without emotions and rage clouding our thinking.
We hope you found this blog informative and encourage you to read the aviation statistics (linked above). Like us and share on social media: @ULTRATechLife (twitter) and ULTRATechLife on Facebook, launching in May 2018.
Related reading: It’s time to ban all pets on flights!