United Airlines has issued an apology just 24 hours after a story about a dog that died mid-flight after being stuffed into an overhead bin at the insistence of a flight attendant, went viral.
The company is calling the incident, recorded on social media, a "tragic accident" and pledging to "thoroughly investigate."
Reactions to the story flooded the internet on Tuesday, after a woman seated on the same flight posted about the dog's death on social media.
Apparently, after boarding the flight with their dog in Houston — and paying the additional fee to have the dog in the cabin in a regulation soft pet carrier that fell within the airline's guidelines — the dog's owner was told the dog would have to fly in the overhead bin. Although the family objected and let the flight attendant know that the bag had a dog in it that likely couldn't survive in the airless container, the flight attendant refused to take "no" for an answer and would not budget until the dog was stowed in the overhead bin.
Three hours later, when the flight landed at LaGuardia, the dog was dead.
"I just flew into LGA and witnessed a United flight attendant instruct a passenger to put her dog bag in the overhead bin. It was clearly a dog and while the customer was adamant about leaving it under the seat, the attendant pushed her to do so," Maggie Gremminger wrote.
"Myself and a fellow passenger felt like that was NOT a thing. I am not a flight attendant tho. Maybe they have air ventilation in there that I didn't know about. I tried googling rules about pets on board but didn't have ample time before...At the end of the flight, the woman found her dog, deceased. She sat in the airplane aisle on the floor crying, and all of surrounding passengers were utterly stunned."
The flight attendant was reportedly shocked and told onlookers that she did not realize there was a dog in the bag, or she never would have forced the bag into the overhead bin. Stories differ as to whether the dog made noise while it was in the overhead bin before it died. Gremmingers said she could hear noise coming from the overhead bin, but it doesn't appear that the dog's owners were aware their dog was suffering, or that they could let the dog out.
United issued a statement on Wednesday saying they'd be looking into the incident.
"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," they wrote.
According to United's own regulations, available on their website, cats, small dogs, and even some birds are allowed to fly in the main cabin of their aircraft provided they are in carriers that will fit under an airplane seat (similar to a carry-on bag). If you are taking your animal on board in addition to carry-on luggage, United requires a $125 handling fee for the animal.