United says flight attendant didn’t know dog that died was in bag that went in overhead bin

DENVER -- A German shepherd named Irgo was accidentally sent to Japan instead of Kansas City, Missouri, just one day after a flight attendant placed a French  bulldog puppy named Kokito in an overhead luggage bin.

She was found dead at the end of the nearly four-hour flight.

Both incidents happened on United Airlines.

“An error occurred during connections in Denver for two pets sent to the wrong destinations," United said in a statement. "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.”

In regard to how Kokito died in the overhead bin on a flight on Monday, the airline issued a statement.

“We have spoken to the family, our crew and a number of passengers who were seated nearby. We have learned that the customer did tell the flight attendant that there was a dog in the carrier. However, our flight attendant did not hear or understand her, and did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin. As we stated, we take full responsibility and are deeply sorry for this tragic accident. We remain in contact with the family to express our condolences and offer support.  To prevent this from happening again, by April we will issue bright colored bag tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets. This visual tag will further help our flight attendants identify pets in-cabin.”

Airline industry expert Michael  Boyd of Boyd Group International, who was once a flight attendant, said the airline should have been more observant.

“You're going to feel something soft and squishy inside like a dog so I don't know where this miscommunication came from," he said.

Boyd warns that passengers should not be afraid to ask questions about the welfare of their pets.

“[Airplanes are] like a minimum security prison," he said. "It has to be that way when they say do something you do it. A flight attendant says put a pooch in the overhead, well that's when you say timeout, that's not proper.”

Former Animal Planet host Kevin Fitzgerald of the VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital has advice about the best way to pets safe on board an airplane.

He said it begins with a basic checkup to make sure the pet is healthy enough to travel.

Also, the selection of an airline-approved pet carrier with ventilation and room enough for the pet to stand up and turn around comfortably.

Fitzpatrick said no animal belongs in an overhead bin, and if someone could have just checked on Kokito from time to time, her life might have been saved because monitoring is important.

“Even being under the seat, we have to visualize them so this isn't something where we just start the trip put them in there and then at the end of the trip take them out," he said.

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