United Airlines Pet Safety


Ashley Morin, Staff Writer

With spring break approaching, the hopes of escaping the cold and having fun with family are running rampant. With all the fun to be had, be sure to keep your beloved dog or cat as far away from a United Airlines flight as possible.

Within a week, United Airlines mishandled the care of three different dogs, including the tragic being the death of Sophia Ceballos’ 10-month-old puppy named Papacito. On March 12th, on flight from Houston to New York City, Ceballos was traveling with her mother, baby sister and their puppy. In the boarding process, a United Airlines flight attendant allegedly told her that the puppy, who was in a pet carrier by their feet, had to be stowed away in an overhead bin. Ceballos, the daughter and caretaker of the puppy, pleaded to the flight attendant and even offered to keep the carrier in her lap for the duration of the flight, as her mother kept her newborn in her own lap.

From the source of a ABC News article that reported on the matter, after a back and forth between the flight attendant,Ceballos eventually agreed to move the dog into the overhead bin. Where there would be no access to air or water for three-and-a-half hours. For a brief period in the flight, the dog was barking, however, it soon fell silent. Once landing, Ceballos opened the overhead bin to find that the puppy had suffocated during the flight.

For the course of the flight Sophia couldn’t check on the dog, as the plane was in turbulence for a large part of the flight and once the turbulence ended, all were instructed to buckle-up as the plane would be landing.

The same flight attendant who instructed Sophia to place the puppy in the overhead bin was seen to be frazzled and shocked by eyewitnesses, saying that she did not know there was a dog in the bag, and if so, she never would have instructed it to be put in the bin above. This statement doesn’t match up with an eyewitness account by Maggie Gremminger, who recounted that during the back and forth between the attendant and Ceballos there was a clear understanding that there was a dog in the crate. Gremminger, said on a Facebook post that “The pet owner was very adamant that she did not want to put the pet carrier up above. She was saying verbally ‘My dog is in here, no, this is my dog,’” then later stated,“The flight attendant, in response, really just continued to ask her to put it above because it was a hazard where it was, it was a safety emergency, someone could trip.”

What makes this situation so outrageous and despicable that this tragedy can happen is that dogs and other animals are considered to many, as much apart of the family as any child. Imagine if it were a 10-month old child placed into an overhead bin, it never would have happened. So why is it that dogs and other animals receive the short end of the stick? How could a flight attendant be so careless and negligent? At present time it is unknown if the flight attendant has even received due punishment as the investigation is still underway.

June Lara, another eyewitness, wrote on Facebook, “The flight attendant 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.” This account come shortly after the flight landed in New York City. Lara had apparently witnessed the family scrambling to open the overhead bin to check on Papacito once they had landed, when the cage opened, Sophia called his name, but he wouldn’t come out. Sophia’s mother tried to resuscitate the puppy, but to no avail. Lara went on to say, “United Airlines does not care about the safety of their fluffy travelers.” This statement doesn’t seem out of line, as according to the Department of Transportation this isn’t the first, presumably the last Animal, to die on United Airlines flight.

United Airlines released a statement direct toward The Points Guy, a journalistic outlet, saying, “This was a tragic accident that has occured, as pets should never be placed in an overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them.” Soon after this statement was released United Airlines refunded the family for their tickets and the fee they purchased to bring their dog aboard the plane, however, the Ceballos still have a dead dog.

Where one might see this as an isolated incident, the Department of Transportation begs to differ. United Airlines has the highest number of animal deaths and incidents in 2017 among all US airlines, where 18 animals had been killed, 13 injured and 1 lost. Out of all of these cases no action has appeared to have been taken to prevent further loss of life, however, considering how United Airlines handles their patrons when they overbook flights, it’s not coming as a surprise.

On March 13th only a few days later on a United Airlines flight, a woman travelling with her two children from Oregon to Kansas City arrived to find that their German shepherd, Irgo, was not in the cargo hold and replaced with Swindle, a Great Dane. Irgo was in fact on a seperate flight to Narita, Japan. After four days the dog was reunited with their family, luckily for them, without anymore harm done.

One might think that after the two prior incidents United Airlines would keep a more watchful eye over the care of their patrons beloved animals, however, one would be wrong. On March 16th, similar to Irgo’s case, a dog was loaded onto the cargo hold of the wrong plane. Not long into the flight the plane was diverted to transfer the dog to it’s correct flight and family.

These three incidents are alone are mistakes that can and should be corrected and prevented, but with the evidence in the last several years; nothing is being done. To a certain point a mistake occurring multiple times becomes unreasonable negligence. According to the Department of Transportation, within the last several years, 53 animals have died on its flights from January 2012 through February 2017 on United Airlines flights alone, compared to the total of 136 pets that died out of all other airlines. This meaning United Airlines, since 2012, has held about 39% of animal deaths on airlines. Of the animals that do die, most die of asphyxiation, while other die from extreme temperatures, and even improper pressurization which can leave an animal to fall unconscious and soon suffocate.

It has been said by the Department of Transportation that only a handful of these dogs had any pre-existing conditions, which, may result in death of the animal. Also stated by the Department of Travel, negligence is only concluded after investigations are performed, and from the three cases in the past week, investigations are still underway.

United Airlines is not an outlier from other airlines, as others have also had their share of the loss that families still face, airlines such as Delta and American Airlines. When travelling for whatever reason, you pay the ticket and with that purchase these airlines are meant to guarantee the safety of oneself as well as one’s dog or otherwise beloved animal.

What happened to the Cebellos family should never happen to another family, so when travelling this spring break season or any other, know that that if you’re boarding a United Airlines flight that you could potentially be jeopardizing your pet’s safety.