‘Dog-In' at LaGuardia Airport Protests Overhead Bin Death

United carries more animals than any other airline, but its animal-death rate is also the highest in the industry

What to Know

  • Eighteen animals, mostly dogs, died while being transported on United planes last year, according to federal data
  • Alaska Airlines carried 17 percent fewer animals last year but had just two deaths
  • Reports filed with the government indicate that in most cases of animal death or injury last year, United took no corrective action

Animal activists held a "dog-in" at LaGuardia Airport on Sunday to protest the death of a puppy who was stowed in an overhead bin on a United Airlines flight. 

A 10-month-old French bulldog named Kokito died on the 4-hour, 25-minute flight from Houston to LaGuardia Airport on March 12. A flight attendant insisted the family put Kokito's carrier in an overhead bin, despite the family's insistence that a dog was inside it. 

The airline said the flight attendant either didn't hear or understand them. 

The family attended the protest along with state Sen. Marisol Alcantara (D-Manhattan), animal activists and their pets.

“Make no bones about it, United is in the doghouse and we will not tolerate their cruelty towards animals," Alcantara said. 

Alcantara also unveiled new legislation to create a pet passenger bill of rights. It would explicitly ban placing pets in overhead bins and ensure reasonable access to food and water, among other measures. 

"I’m an animal lover and I know what traumatizes them, and I also know what kills them," Pattie Jirakll said at the protest. "It wasn’t just the tightness of the compartment, the animal was probably terrified from the noise of the plane, and the poor little thing probably didn’t know what was going on." 

The dog's death has gained national attention and United Airlines immediately took responsibility. The airline said it refunded the airline fares for the family, which included an 11-year-old girl and an infant, as well as the $200 fee for Kokito to fly.

The airline added that by April, it will begin issuing bright-colored bag tags to travelers flying with pets.

If your pet must travel, experts have several recommendations:

  • The cabin is safer than the cargo hold. Pets too large to fit in an under-seat carrier must go cargo unless it's a service or emotional support animal.
  • Ask the airline or look up its rules about things such as carrier size, and don't force your pet into a carrier that is too small.
  • Take nonstop flights to avoid layovers, which increase the chances your pet could be mishandled or left longer in the cargo hold.
  • Avoid extremely hot or cold weather and busy periods such as holidays.
  • Make sure your pet's tags and your contact information on its carrier or crate are up to date.
  • Tape a bag with a day's worth of food to the top of the crate — just in case.
  • If your pet flies in cargo, use your own crate instead of renting one from the airline; it will help get them acclimated and minimize anxiety.
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