Puppy Dies on United Flight After Attendant Allegedly Asked Family to Put Dog in Overhead Bin

PetMD Editorial
Published: March 14, 2018
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Yet another heartbreaking chapter in the ongoing saga of pets and airline travel.

On March 12, Catalina Robledo, her young daughter, Sophia Ceballos, and her newborn baby were flying from New York City to Houston aboard a United Airlines flight with their dog, a 10-month-old French Bulldog puppy named Kokito. 

According to ABC News, the family said they were told by a flight attendant that they must place the pup, who was in a carrier bag, into the overhead bin to avoid blocking any paths. The family claimed they asked to hold the dog carrying the bag in their lap, but the attendant insisted the dog be stowed away and helped them do it. They also noted they were not able to check on the dog throughout the flight because of turbulence (and the family claimed the attendant later said she had no idea there was a dog in the bag). 

The puppy—who was in the small space for the duration of the three-plus hour flight with no access to water or air and reportedly barked a few times— suffocated, lost conciousness and was unable to survive. When a dog loses oxygen, artificial respiration must be provided and the dog should be taken into emergency veterinary care in order to be given ventilator support as well. 

A fellow passenger on the flight named June Lara wrote a Facebook post about the entire incident, in which she shared that the flight attendant insisted the dog be placed in the overhead bin and would be safe, but when the plane landed, it was a very different outcome.

"There was no sound as we landed and opened his kennel. There was no movement as his family called his name. I held her baby as the mother attempted to resuscitate their 10-month-old puppy. I cried with them three minutes later as she sobbed over his lifeless body. My heart broke with theirs as I realized he was gone," Lara wrote. 

United Airlines, which allows pets on their flights (and according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's most recent air travel consumer report, has the highest rate of incidents of loss, injury or death during air transportation when it comes to animals on board), responded to the incident in an e-mail statement to petMD.

"This was a tragic accident that should have never occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin," the statement said. "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 Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union, which represents United employees, also released a statement that said, "We feel deeply for the pet owner who experienced this tragic event. 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. We look forward to working with the industry to achieve real solutions that will avoid such a terrible accident."

Unfortunately, the statements made by both organizations have done little to comfort the grieving family, including 11-year-old Sophia Ceballos who told ABC News, "It makes me feel sad—I just really miss him. He was a member of our family. He was like my brother to me." 

Other animal lovers and activists, including PETA, are also speaking out about the tragedy. The organization released their own statement about the incident, urging the flight attendant in question to be fired and charged with cruelty to animals.

"PETA reminds everyone that it is up to each of us to keep our companion animals safe, and we should never allow someone to put them in harm’s way, including by confining them to a small space with no air flow—no trip is that important," the statement read. 

Image via @kokito_the_savage Instagram 

Read more: Traveling by Air with Your Dog