United apologizes after puppy dies on flight

The airline is facing criticism after a 10-month-old dog died in an overhead compartment—as was ordered by a flight attendant. What is the carrier doing to address consumer outrage?

United’s PR team can’t catch a break.

Anger toward the airline peaked again after a family’s 10-month-old puppy died during a flight to New York. On the instructions of a flight attendant, the passenger placed her dog in an overhead bin, where the animal died.

The death is being investigated to determine the cause.

United confirmed the incident and expressed regret.

The Kansas City Star reported:

“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin,” United said in a statement given by United spokesperson Maggie Schmerin to several media outlets.

“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.”

The story was broken by several people on social media, including passenger Maggie Gremminger, once again highlighting how local stories go national with the help of modern technology.

Gremminger had positive words for some employees working the flight.

People wrote:

“Many other crew members were contacting additional help and offering a blanket to the young girl who seemed cold. They were confused at how that individual flight attendant could have done this, but did not seem to take any sides or blindly defend,” Gremminger adds. “They were professional and did a wonderful job gathering information and being as supportive to the mourning family as possible.”

The news comes after a series of scandals (and other pet deaths), including the infamous case in which passenger David Dao was beaten and dragged from his seat.

The latest bad news for the company provided reporters an opportunity to trot out the full list of United’s shortcomings.

CNBC wrote:

United has faced public outcry after other animals have died on its planes. The airline said it transported 138,178 animals in 2017, more than any other airline, according to the Department of Transportation.

The airline reported to the Department of Transportation the highest number of animal deaths of any U.S. carrier: 18, a rate of 2.24 per 10,000 transported animals.American and Delta each reported that two animals died on their planes last year. Those figures refer to animals that were transported in the cargo hold, not the cabin. United spokesman Hobart said many of the animal deaths were due to animals’ preexisting conditions.

Other publications seemed loath to say anything good about the airline.

Gizmodo wrote:

If we’re to learn any lessons from this latest tragedy, they are simple lessons. One, never put your pet in the overhead bin. Two, never ever ever fly United.

United’s website did address in-cabin pet travel, but made no mention of overhead bins.

It wrote:

A pet traveling in cabin must be carried in an approved hard-sided or soft-sided kennel. The kennel must fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times.

On Twitter, some blamed the passengers:

Others blamed the airline, vowing to take their business elsewhere:

The PR response got mixed reviews from industry insiders.

CNN reported:

“It feels sterile, and loveless,” Ed Zitron, founder of media relations company EZPR, said about the airline’s statement.

United failed to appropriately communicate its concern for animals and pets, Zitron said, and instead appears to only feel bad that proper protocol was not followed.

Ronn Torossian, CEO of the public relations agency 5WPR, said he’s not sure what else United could have said regarding the situation.

“I think they’re owning up to the fact that a mistake was made,” he said. […]

“People have very low expectations from United, and just about every other airline,” he said.

Update:

The blows keep coming

United is weathering another round of backlash after a Kansas family’s dog was sent to Japan by mistake.

The Guardian reported:

KCTV reports that Kara Swindle and her two children flew from Oregon to Kansas City, Missouri, on Tuesday on a United flight.

They went to a cargo facility to pick up 10-year-old Irgo, a German shepherd, but were instead given a great Dane.

Swindle, of Wichita, Kansas, learned Irgo had been put on a flight to Japan, where the great Dane was supposed to go.

Airline officials in Japan put Irgo on a flight back to Kansas City.

It was not clear when the dog would arrive.

Some noted the low bar set for United’s performance in wake of its latest woes:

Others seemed to have their fears about the airline confirmed:

Dang man, United can’t get out of its own way. If I’m the pet owner I’m rowing a boat to Japan and bringing my dogs home cuz ain’t no way they’re getting back in a united flight.

— Mike Honcho (@Hoss81) March 14, 2018

The airline is taking its time to respond to this latest debacle—and perhaps keeping its fingers crossed for a better outcome.

The Oregonian wrote:

United Airlines didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on this story but issued a statement to a Kansas City TV station. “An error occurred during connections in Denver for two pets sent to the wrong destinations. We have notified our customers that their pets have arrived safely and will arrange to return the pets to them as soon as possible. We apologize for this mistake and are following up with the vendor kennel where they were kept overnight to understand what happened.”

What do you think of United’s most recent crisis response, Ragan/PR Daily readers?

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