What on earth is going on with United Airlines and dogs?

Days after a passenger on a United flight sparked a media firestorm about a horrible incident in which a dog died after being put in an overhead bin--and then after the airline accidentally shipped a dog to Japan instead of Kansas City--United Airlines said Friday it had to divert a flight after accidentally loading a dog aboard the plane. 

It happened on United Airlines Express flight 3996 Thursday, which was scheduled to go from Newark to St. Louis, but had to be diverted to Akron, the airline said, after it was discovered that a dog had been "mistakenly" loaded aboard.

The airline said the dog was dropped off in Akron, and "safely returned" to its owner. But there were no details provided about where the animal was supposed to be going, or how it was reunited.

Of course, this all comes after perhaps United's greatest public relations firestorm in a year, after a flight attendant apparently ordered a mother to place her black mesh dog carrier--containing a 10-month old French bulldog puppy named Kokito--in an overhead bin.

The dog passed away during the flight from Houston to New York's LaGuardia Airport, and the story quickly went viral after a woman, who had been sitting one row behind, spent the night and morning tweeting out the story and tagging news organizations.

United accepted full responsibility in a statement. But the furor over that incident had hardly died down at all--including two U.S. senators who responded by introducing legislation to make it illegal to put a dog in an overhead bin--before news broke that the airline had accidentally delivered another dog to Japan.

Returning that dog from Tokyo, the airline actually charted a private jet and flew the 10-year-old German shepherd, named Irgo, to reunite it with its family Friday.

As for the Thursday incident, I asked United for further details, including where the dog was supposed to be going, and how it wound up on the wrong plane.

Also, I asked whether it had been loaded into the baggage hold or aboard the cabin, how and where it was reunited with its owners--and of course the type of dog and its health after the flight.

So far, all I have is the airline's three sentence statement:

United Express flight 3996 from Newark to St. Louis diverted to Akron to drop off a pet that had been loaded onto this flight mistakenly. The pet has been safely delivered to its owner. We provided compensation to all customers on board for the diversion.

Earlier this week, there was some speculation on air travel sites that United CEO Oscar Munoz might come under greater pressure--and possibly risk losing his job--over the dog-related incidents.

Munoz survived the outrage last year after the airline called security aboard a United Express jet and removed passenger Dr. David Dao from the flight, beating him and bloodying him in the process.

And, Munoz also generally has the support of the airline's employees.

When United employees contacted me in droves two weeks ago, to share their outrage over a planned change to their bonus structure announced by the airline's president, Scott Kirby, many expressed hope that Munoz would come to their rescue. 

The airline did back off then--and it still seems highly unlikely these incidents involving dogs could endanger his position.

But we're now up to three disturbing incidents in one week, including the tragic death of one animal. If United can't get a handle on how it handles animals, there could be real trouble ahead.

Published on: Mar 16, 2018
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