United Airlines has apologized after a French bulldog was placed in an overhead bin on a three-hour flight Monday from Houston to New York and died.
Passengers who witnessed the incident claim a flight attendant told the dog's owner to put the pup — which was inside a required dog carrier — in the overhead bin.
By the time the plane landed at LaGuardia, the dog was dead, fellow passengers reported..
“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin," United said in a statement given by United spokesperson Maggie Schmerin to several media outlets.
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"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.”
United said it is investigating the death.
Maggie Gremminger, a community relations manager from New York, was one of the passengers who shared the incident on social media, where it got the attention of the press.
Gremminger, 30, was on Flight 1284 and saw the dog's owner board the plane with a young teenage girl, a baby and the dog in a carrier, the kind she has seen used on other planes, she told People. She said she was seated in the row behind the family and saw the dog's owner place the carrier under the seat in front of her.
“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,” Gremminger told People.
“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."
Gremminger couldn't believe that an animal had been stowed in the overhead bin and began to look up how safe the dog would be up there, but had to turn off her cellphone for take-off, she said.
“My only thought is that if it had been me, it would have been a hard scenario," Gremminger told People.
"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.”
Gremminger was one of several people who wrote about it on social media.
Passenger June Lara of Austin, Texas, began her Facebook post with: "Today, I boarded my first United Airlines flight."
The deceased dog, Lara wrote, looked like his own "Frenchie" named Winston.
"He was meant to grow, learn, cry, play with those young children and be their furry friend. He was meant to live a long life filling that family's days with that special joy that only a dog can bring," Lara wrote.
"I sat behind the family of three and thought myself lucky — who doesn't when they get to sit near a puppy? However, the flight attendants of flight UA1284 felt that the innocent animal was better off crammed inside the overhead container without air and water. "They INSISTED that the puppy be locked up for three hours without any kind of airflow. They assured the safety of the family's pet so wearily, the mother agreed.
"There was no sound as we landed and opened his kennel. There was no movement as his family called his name. I held her baby as the mother attempted to resuscitate their 10 month old puppy. I cried with them three minutes later as she sobbed over his lifeless body. My heart broke with theirs as I realized he was gone."
People trying to get off the plane were confused about what was happening, Gremminger told People. "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," she said.
The flight attendant who told the passenger to stash the dog away responded immediately to the woman's distress, she said.
“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,” Gremminger told People.
“They were professional and did a wonderful job gathering information and being as supportive to the mourning family as possible.”
According to Fox News, United's pet policy requires that "a pet traveling in cabin must be carried 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.”
United has the highest rate of incidents involving loss, injury or death of animals during air travel, with 2.24 incidents every 10,000 animals transported, according to Department of Transportation stats reported by ABC News.
"I asked a flight attendant for another airline if there would be any reason to require that an animal be stowed in an overhead bin. She confirmed that there should be no airline policy that would ever require such an action," wrote The Points Guy travel blogger after the dog's death.
"If a passenger is flying with a pet, the passenger must be assigned to a seat that has sufficient under-seat storage for the carrier. If the animal is an emotional support animal, there would be no requirement for the animal to be stowed at all.
"Under no circumstance should the pet have been required to be stored in the overhead bin. While the bin is pressurized, there’s no air circulation in the bins as there’s no expectation for a living animal to be placed inside. While bins certainly aren’t airtight, the lack of air might have played a part in the loss of the pet.
"Our thoughts go out to the passenger who lost their pet. And we hope that United Airlines — and other airlines — will use this as an example to ensure that policies are clarified with cabin crew to prevent such a situation from occurring again."
Gremminger said she is haunted most by hearing the dog barking — once as the plane was taking off and during heavy turbulence about 30 minutes into the flight.
And then, silence.