5 Times United Airlines Mishandled Pets This Past Year Alone

United Airlines made headlines three times in one week for its mishandling of pets. It’s no surprise that United has the worst pet safety record of any major U.S. airline. Last year, 24 pets died during flights on U.S. airlines – 18 of which were in United’s PetSafe cargo program, according to the Department of Transportation’s 2018 Air Travel Consumer Report.

Those statistics were similar from January 2012 to February 2017, when one-third of all U.S. animal deaths aboard passenger flights occurred on United Airlines. The highest rate of animal injuries and deaths during that time period occurred on Hawaiian Airlines, which flies far fewer pets than United, which flies the most animals of any U.S. airline.

Here are a few of the more notorious cases where United Airlines mishandled pets over the past year alone. While United apologized for each incident, as the Department of Transportation’s statistics show, those apologies are meaningless if the airline doesn’t take steps to improve its poor pet safety record.

1. Forcing a Dog to Travel Inside an Overhead Compartment

In what will likely go down as one of the most egregious pet deaths on an any airline ever, a passenger on a United flight from Houston to New York on March 12, 2018 was forced by a flight attendant to put her French bulldog, Kokito, into an overhead compartment because the carrier was partially blocking the aisle. Kokito was in a TSA-approved soft carrier.

The poor dog barked for two hours, but apparently the owner wasn’t allowed to check on him because she couldn’t leave her seat due to turbulence. By the end of the flight, Kokito was dead, probably from suffocation.

United Airlines said the flight attendant didn’t realize there was a dog in the bag, and it was a “tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin.”

To prevent it from happening again, the airline said it will start distributing brightly colored carrier tags to customers who bring their pets in the cabin.

A few days later, Senators John Kennedy (who, interestingly, opposes gun control measures to keep people safe) and Catherine Cortez Masto introduced a bill called WOOFF (Welfare of Our Furry Friends Act) that would outlaw airlines from putting pets in overhead compartments.

TAKE ACTION: Join more than 200,000 people who have signed this Care2 petition demanding that United Airlines set a stricter pet policy with clear penalties for violations, and to clarify those policies to all of its employees.

2. Flying a Dog to Japan instead of Kansas with No Food or Water

The same week that Kokito died inside an overhead bin, Kara Swindle got quite a shock when she went to pick up Irgo, her 10-year-old German Shepherd, from a United Airlines cargo facility in Kansas City. The Swindle family was moving from Oregon to Kansas, and it was the first (and probably last) time their dog had ever traveled on a plane.

There was a Great Dane at the cargo facility, but no Irgo. The airline ”had no idea where” her dog was, Swindle told CNN.

It turns out there was a mix-up in Denver, where both dogs made connecting flights. Irgo, who was suffering from an ear infection, was put on a 16-hour flight to Japan without any food, water or medication. After the flight landed, he was flown back to Wichita on a private charter.

“I’m hoping that from now on they take better care of animals,” Swindle told CNN. “They kind of treat them like they are luggage.”

3. Putting Yet another Dog on the Wrong Flight that Same Week

Just a couple of days after United flew Irgo to Japan instead of Kansas, United made a similar mistake when it put a dog on a flight from Newark, N.J., to St. Louis instead of to Akron, Ohio, its intended destination.

When the airline realized its error, the flight was diverted to Akron so the dog could be reunited with his owner. The other passengers were compensated for the diverted flight.

4. Allegedly Locking a Giant Rabbit in a Freezer Overnight

In April 2017, a Continental Giant rabbit named Simon didn’t survive a United Airlines flight from the United Kingdom to his new home in Chicago.

To ensure Simon was healthy enough to fly in the cargo area, his breeder, Annette Edwards, had him examined by a veterinarian, who assured her the 3-foot-long rabbit was in good health.

Rabbit experts suspect Simon may have succumbed to the stress of flying or the cold, noisy conditions of the cargo area.

Even more disturbingly, an unidentified airport worker said Simon was accidentally locked inside a freezer overnight between flights – which United denied. The exact cause of his death will never be known, because United had Simon cremated without his new owners’ permission.

TAKE ACTION: Over 99,000 people have signed a Care2 petition urging United Airlines to update its pet travel policies.

5. Leaving a Dog in the Hot Cargo Area During a Weather Delay

Four months after Simon’s death, United Airlines once again made headlines when a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Lulu died in the cargo area of a plane during a weather delay.

Like Simon, Lulu’s veterinarian had given her a clean bill of health before the flight. And like Simon, she probably didn’t die during the flight from Houston to San Francisco.

Lulu was apparently left inside the cargo area for two hours while the plane sat on the tarmac in 94-degree weather. United apologized and said it was conducting an investigation into the incident.

TAKE ACTION: Join nearly 150,000 people who have signed a Care2 petition telling United Airlines to create safety policies regarding pets that are in cargo during delays.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


Marie W
Marie W7 months ago


Sharifa h
Sharifa h11 months ago

Why not put the flight attendant in the overhead and let her see what it is like.!!!!

John B
John Babout a year ago

Thanks Laura for sharing the info.

Marija M
Marija Mabout a year ago

Oh dear...

Brian F
Brian Fabout a year ago

This disgraceful flight attendant should be terminated, arrested, and charged with animal cruelty. How could anyone put a dog in an overhead compartment on a plane knowing that their is limited oxygen in the overhead compartment. This poor dog died a horrible death from lack of oxygen.

ANA MARIJA Rabout a year ago

.... :( Petitions signed.

Terri S
Terri Sabout a year ago

So now they are claiming that the flight attendant who demanded that Kokito(French bulldog) be stored in the overhead compartment, didn't know there was a dog in the carrier???? ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? It clearly says that Kokito BARKED for 2 hours!! What the hell did she think it was ????

Winn Adams
Winn Aabout a year ago

It's boycott time!!!

Winn Adams
Winn Aabout a year ago

Petition already signed

Elaine W
Elaine Wabout a year ago

There is nothing about this that is O.K.