After dog dies in overhead bin, United had most animal deaths in 2017 (and they doubled in just one year)

Think twice before you let your beloved dog fly, especially if you are flying United.

United Airlines UAL, +0.83%   is investigating the death of a dog on Monday evening in an overhead compartment of a flight from Houston to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Maggie Gremminger, a passenger on a flight, reported on Twitter TWTR, -3.92% : “I want to help this woman and her daughter. They lost their dog because of an @united flight attendant. My heart is broken.” (There were photos of the deceased dog posted on social media.)

An attendant insisted that the woman put her dog, which was held in a Transportation Security Administration-approved pet carrier, in an overhead compartment, The New York Post reported. Passengers also reportedly heard the dog bark during the flight, but didn’t seem to realize the animal was in distress. Another passenger wrote on Facebook FB, -1.56% : “I held her baby as the mother attempted to resuscitate their 10 month old puppy.”

United had the most animal deaths of all U.S. airlines in 2017 for the third year in a row on scheduled domestic or international passenger flight, according to the latest Department of Transportation data. It had 18 deaths of animals in 2017, a sharp increase on the 9 animal deaths reported the year before, and 13 animal injuries, one less than the previous year, meaning it had 2.4 incidents involving the transportation of animals per 10,000 in 2017.

Delta Air Lines DAL, +0.77%  had 1 animal deaths on flights in 2017, down from 5 deaths the year before, and 1 injury, down from 5 injuries in 2016, equating to 0.52 incidents per 10,000. American Airlines AAL, -0.48%  had 2 deaths of animals last year, versus 1 death the year before, and 1 injury last year. Last year, Alaska Airlines ALK, +4.58%   also reported 2 animal deaths and 1 loss of an animal.

Other airlines have improved their track record in transporting animals. In 2017, Hawaiian Airlines HA, +3.28%  had no deaths or injuries. In 2016, that airline had 3 deaths of animals and no injuries. In 2017, both Alaska ALK, +4.58%  and Skywest Airlines SKYW, +1.63%  also had no reported deaths or injuries of animals. The year before, both of those airlines had 2 animal deaths each and each had one animal injury.

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United had the most animal deaths of all U.S. airlines last year for the third year in a row on scheduled domestic or international passenger flight, according to Department of Transportation data. The number doubled in one year.

All other airlines had animal deaths in single digits. An “animal” for this purpose is any animal being kept as a pet in a family household in the U.S. or any dog or cat shipped as part of a commercial shipment on a scheduled passenger flight. (The price to bring a pet on a flight can range from $100 to $2,500, depending on the pet, the carriage and the airline.)

United has a bad track record when it comes to animal deaths on its flights. Last year, it launched a similar probe into an incident after a three-foot Continental Rabbit named Simon, one of the world’s biggest rabbits, was found dead on a flight from the London Heathrow airport when the airplane landed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. In that case, the animals was reportedly traveling in the cargo hold.

The Humane Society advises against animals traveling in cargo

In some cases, the reason was natural causes, though it’s difficult to know whether if and/or when they were caused or exacerbated by the flight conditions. In July 2016, a dog called Pinkerton was discovered deceased upon arrival of a United flight at Phoenix, Ariz. In that case, the cause of death was heart failure, according to United’s case report. (United has a program called PetSafe to transport animals that are not eligible to travel in the aircraft cabin.)

Also see: Going away? What it costs to fly your pet

In many cases, the airline can only do so much for animals that can’t travel in the main cabin. The Humane Society of the United States advised U.S. airline passengers not to fly with their pets: “We strongly discourage having your pet travel by air in the cargo hold of a plane,” its policy states. “It can be dangerous and stressful.” Cats, for instance, do not enjoy change and taking them on trips is usually not a good idea, it says.

‘We strongly discourage having your pet travel by air in the cargo hold of a plane,” its policy states. It can be dangerous and stressful. Some animals aren’t suited for travel due to temperament, illness or physical impairment.’

The Humane Society of the United States

However, for those who do, it recommends keeping a health certificate and medical records close. “It’s tempting to want to bring your pet with you, but some animals aren’t suited for travel due to temperament, illness or physical impairment,” the organization says. “Think about where your pet would be happiest.”

Airlines voluntarily report incidents

Each airline is required to report the total number of reportable animal incidents for the entire calendar year and the total number of animals transported in the calendar year. These reports must be filed with the Department of Transportation within 15 days after the end of that year. This annual report is required even if a carrier had no reportable incidents during the year.

Several airlines, including JetBlue JBLU, +1.41% Frontier, Spirit SAVE, +4.18% Virgin America and Southwest LUV, +0.95%   do not transport animals.

In 2016, Delta Air Lines announced that it would no longer allow customers to check their pets with their baggage, unless passengers are a member of the military with active transfer orders or require service animals. Certain pets can still travel in the cabin for a fee, and they can travel in the cargo hold of an aircraft via its Delta Cargo service. (On Delta flights alone, approximately 76 pets have died in a decade, accounting for nearly one-quarter of recorded airline pet deaths in the U.S.)

In relation to the latest incident of the dog in the overhead bin, United told the Points Guy: “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.”

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