The Heartbreaking Story Of A Dog Left To Die In An Airplane Overhead Bin

By now you’ve probably heard the story of the dog who was left to die in an overhead bin on a United flight.  In case you haven’t, the story really is heartbreaking.  The early reports are that a flight attendant ordered a passenger to put their pet carrier in the overhead bin at the start of a long flight.  When the plane landed, it was discovered tat the dog had died.

One Mile at a Time has a long witness statement about the incident.  Not long after the incident, United issued a statement addressing it:

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.

One More Detail

Assuming the flight info being reported is correct, this was a 737 flying from Houston to New York (Laguardia).  If that is in fact the case, this was a United Airlines plane and crew as opposed to a regional carrier.  That shouldn’t necessarily make it better or worse.  But, when the dragging incident happened on a United regional carrier last year it was at least worth noting that this was a regional carrier.  The employees on those regional jets are not technically United employees.  They work for the regional carrier.  While some rules are standardized, others are not.  For example, the type of bags permitted in an overhead bin on regional jets varies greatly between regional carriers.

If this was, in fact a mainline aircraft and crew, the employee in question should have no excuse for not understanding the pet carrier policy.

Is This About Blame? If So, Who’s To Blame?

There are enough witness statements pointing to the flight attendants behavior here that make the story seem true as reported.  It’s easy to point our finger at the flight attendant and blame them. And, anyone that would demand a customer put their pet in an overhead bin should face consequences.  Severe consequences.

Those that have been hanging around my blog for a while might recall that we lost our dog very suddenly not too long ago.  The sudden nature of the loss of this pet on the United flight makes me think of our situation.  Maybe that colors my thoughts on this tragedy.  I don’t think so, but it’s fair to raise the point.

If we leave it there, though, I think we miss the larger issue.

How do you put a set of human beings together in this situation and get this outcome?

I don’t blame the mom here.  I certainly don’t blame her fellow passengers.  Part of me doesn’t want to blame the flight attendant, though that’s a bridge a bit too far for me.

This incident further emphasizes how broken the culture is on airplanes.  The Dao dragging incident is the flagship here, but it’s still a symptom and not the disease.

We have a culture on airplanes where there are severe consequences when you question flight crew.  It would be hard to convince me that didn’t come into play here. I’m sure some or all of the passengers within earshot of this exchange thought about whether it was worth getting throw off the flight or spending time in jail to stick up for a fellow passenger.

Couple that with airline employees who aren’t held accountable and the resulting culture is a toxic one.  Employee behavior largely goes unchecked because nobody wants to spend the night in jail.  Are you willing to stand up to a flight attendant or pilot and risk getting thrown off a plane?  I’m not.  I’ve absolutely backed down on issues when I knew I was on the right side of a policy.  Why?  Because I’ve been trained that the flight crew is in charge.  Barring something drastic, you’re better off shutting your mouth and getting to your destination.

The Final Two Pennies

A dog died this week when it didn’t have to.  That family will deal with that pain.  Nothing United does can bring the dog back.  That’s the easy part to define.  The harder part is to fix this so it never happens again.  To begin that process, the rules of engagement on airplanes need to involve less “shock and awe” and focus more on communication.  Passengers shouldn’t feel like their giving up their freedom of speech in exchange for a timely arrival at their destination.

I know our family will have this family and their dog in our thoughts this week.

The post The Heartbreaking Story Of A Dog Left To Die In An Airplane Overhead Bin was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. I will first disclose that I am an attorney but I do not practice in the aviation arena. I am also a multi-million mile traveler. I have most always defended the Airlines given the long list of complexities that are truly unique to that industry. But on this one, I do blame United, and this may be a first for me to put blame on them. Although, I also, and equally blame the flight attendant and both at 100% jointly.

    Contrary to most, I do believe in accountability. Our world lacks it. And, it is that belief for which I am reluctant to allow an individual to escape liability simply because they acted during work hours for a company with deep pockets. I’ll not hijack this thread to talk of the doctor incident. But just say that here, the FA was an employee, and in addition United is a “common carrier” (more below). My outstanding question is this:

    Given the dog barked for 30 minutes then went silent, how many other flight attendants knew of the situation?

    They too should be held to the same standard!

    Ed, I too wont fault the passengers. I admit that I would not have foreseen injury or death from this action. Had anyone made a scene, the carrier would have likely been moved as to not be cruel and leave the animal in darkness. Even if the scene went passenger unpunished, nothing would have made news. Nothing would have changed. Nobody would be a (known or recognized) hero. And as so carefully wrote above, that is the definitive issue. How does an industry run smoothly with arguably a high number of “righteous thinking and selfish self-centered” customers and still hear the voices of those that might speak truth?

    Perhaps such is true for the FAs. Perhaps they didn’t recall their training and even be trained on the dangers. There are certainly ample rules to know, I would agree that they did not knowingly kill the dog. But, they put an animal in total darkness which is clearly cruel. They violated a policy. I am assuming more than one FA knew of this action, which makes it more tragic. If this was a human, it would not be murder, but rather negligent homicide. While I wont back down on my feeling that United is responsible (financially at least), I realize that homicide is not within the scope of employment. While my own ethics and belief is that we need to move away from deep pocket blame company mindset if we want to really change our world, I still hold United responsible. I just would like it if our world would not focus (more) on deep pockets — doing so just does not really impact change. Any airline could have hired a PERSON who later commits a crime or fails to follow policy. Punishing companies (solely) isn’t working. It’s my belief it never will. How far are we going to go to go up the chain to protect the perpetrator of the crime or action? I am not saying punish only the criminal, but do not let them off the hook merely based on the ability to point “somewhere else.”

    United is not perhaps at fault (maybe they did train the FAs properly), but (regardless) they are to be held responsible! United is a common carrier.

    COMMON LAW (Common Carrier):
    A common carrier in common law countries is a person or company that transports goods or people for any person or company and that is responsible for any possible loss of the goods during transport.

    The duty to act reasonably is the normal duty of care that applies in most situations. However, in some situations, the law imposes other duties of care. For example, common carriers (including bus drivers, train drivers, and airplane pilots) owe a particularly high duty of care to passengers.

    1. Jeff, thanks for the long and detailed opinion. Can’t say I disagree too much. While it might be hard to hold United at “fault”, I do think it’s incumbent on them to change the culture of their airline.

Leave a Reply