The death of a dog on a
flight this week is fanning a broader debate over the transport of animals in plane cabins.
The dog was found dead in an overhead luggage bin after a Monday flight from Houston to New York; passengers said flight attendants made the passenger with the dog stow it in the bin. The airline has apologized for the incident and said it is investigating.
The union representing United flight attendants on Wednesday said it was uncertain if the flight crew realized there was a dog in the bag.
“This was clearly a terrible accident as there is not a single flight attendant working for any airline who would knowingly direct a passenger to put their pet in an overhead bin,” a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said.
The number of pets on planes has soared in recent years. Passengers are paying to bring dogs and cats with them in the cabin, and certifying a wide range of species from snakes to spiders as service and support animals.
Some airlines have tightened their own policies to rein in instances of poor behavior by animals on board.
Delta Air Lines
this month began requiring that passengers provide more health information on their animals and sign a document attesting that they will behave.
head of legislative and regulatory policy at the Airlines for America trade group, said the Transportation Department was expected to soon revise its rules on flying with service and emotional-support animals.
The industry wants the department to clarify its guidance, she said, adding that it would “make it clear that carriers have the ability to ensure the health and safety of passengers and crew.”
Transportation Department officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.
United carries more animals than any other U.S. airline, according to Transportation Department data, and has also been involved in more fatalities in recent years. In 2017, the airline was involved in 18 of 24 animal deaths reported to the department.
Shares in United fell 2% on Wednesday as some social-media users called for tighter restrictions on animals in flight, while others urged fliers to boycott the third-largest U.S. carrier. Other airline stocks also fell.
Social-media-analytics firm Digimind said negative sentiment toward United surged 140% after the incident was reported.
Mohammed El Haddar,
Digimind’s chief technology officer, said United risked deepening the damage to its reputation after a string of incidents stretching back to last April, when United gate agents called airport police who subsequently dragged a passenger off a flight in Chicago.
“United will need to do more than just apologize,” Mr. El Haddar said. “They will need to provide solutions and reassure their wide customer base.”