(Header source: CBS This Morning screen grab via YouTubethis post has been updated with a statement from United)

This is one of those sick-to-your-stomach stories that simply must be signal-boosted so that it never happens again. A 10-month-old French Bulldog puppy named “Papacito” was being transported by his owner in a carrier aboard a flight from Houston to LaGuardia Airport. The flight attendant instructed the family to put the bag in the overhead bin, and Papacito died in transit.

As such, United Airlines has some explaining to do—again.

Let’s have a look at United’s history of cartoonishly dickish behavior. This is the carrier that violently removed a passenger for not vacating his seat last year; the carrier that discriminated against a young girl with autism, as well as teen-agers wearing leggings; and the airline that recorded 18 pet deaths aboard its flights in 2017—most of any carrier for that year.

Following the violent removal of passenger David Dao—who reached an undisclosed settlement with the company last year—United instituted a 10-point plan to obviate these horrible events in their air. But this latest incident shows that the plan has fallen short.

“Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment” is one of the points that stood out to me. But that plan announced after Dao’s incident was mostly passenger-focused, and didn’t apparently include training to safeguard animals’ well-being.

Just last week United announced “core compassion” training, which is awkward timing given that the flight attendant was reportedly responsible for instructing the passenger to stow the puppy carrier in the overhead bin. (writer note: see the statement from United below)

Based on the account of the story—in which the French bulldog was relegated to an airless container with little-to-no oxygen—this dog’s treatment aboard the aircraft amounts to animal torture. Which is a sentence I can’t even believe I have to write.

“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin,” a spokesperson for United told The Points Guy. “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.”

I’ve reached out to United for specific comment about the flight attendant’s training and status; I’ll add it here if and when I receive a reply. 😡

UPDATE: I’ve just received a statement from United spokesperson Maggie Schmerin:

“We have spoken to the family, our crew and a number of passengers who were seated nearby. We have learned that the customer did tell the flight attendant that there was a dog in the carrier. However, our flight attendant did not hear or understand her, and did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin.
“As we stated, we take full responsibility and are deeply sorry for this tragic accident. We remain in contact with the family to express our condolences and offer support. To prevent this from happening again, by April we will issue bright colored bag tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets. This visual tag will further help our flight attendants identify pets in-cabin.”


Will Pollocksideways is an Atlanta-based freelance multimedia journalist focusing on pop-culture, politics, journalism & media, retail, real estate, travel, politics, and human interest.

He is the author of two books (Pizza for Good & Leaving Triscuit), with more on the way. Sign up for the mailing list, follow on TwitterFacebook and Instagram–and check out the book links below. Make sure to comment often–cranky loves company.

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