Earlier I wrote about the heartbreaking story of how a United flight attendant instructed a passenger to place her dog (in a carrier) in an overhead bin, and at the end of the flight the dog was found dead. As someone who loves dogs (probably) far too much, I’m so disturbed and enraged by the story.
At a minimum I hope that the flight attendants gets seriously disciplined. If an investigation determines that the flight attendant was aware there was a dog in there (which every eyewitness report corroborates) I’d like to see the flight attendant fired and/or face animal cruelty charges, though I doubt that will happen. Dogs are part of the family for many people, so I can’t even imagine what a horrible, helpless situation this must have been.
Several readers have asked some valid questions about how this could have possibly happened. Why would the lady follow the flight attendant’s instructions to place her dog in the overhead bin? Why didn’t any of the other passengers around her who witnessed the situation say anything? Of course hindsight is 20/20, and I think we’re all thinking to ourselves that if this were our dog, it wouldn’t have happened.
However, I can see exactly what transpired that caused this to happen, and I put the blame squarely on the flight attendant for not following procedures.
What do I think lead to this?
Clearly the passenger was overwhelmed
For a vast majority of people, flying is stressful, and it isn’t a weekly occurrence. I imagine that this woman felt significantly more stress than most travelers — she was traveling with a teenager, an infant, and a dog. Clearly she was just trying to get through the day. Eyewitness reports suggest that she tried to push back firmly when the flight attendant requested she place the dog in the overhead bin. Eventually she gave in, as presumably she didn’t want to be kicked off the plane. She also probably assumed that if the flight attendant was recommending it, it must be safe.
Some say “well maybe she shouldn’t have traveled with a teenager, an infant, and a dog.” Why not? There’s no airline policy against that, and an airlines’ most important task is to transport people safely. Furthermore, we don’t know what circumstances she had. Sure, traveling like that probably isn’t ideal, but would it have been safer for them to drive for four days?
Why didn’t other passengers do anything?
For better or worse, we’re sheep when we go to the airport. Airlines have conditioned us that way. We wait in a check-in line. We wait in a security line. We wait in a line to board the plane. We get yelled at and threatened if we don’t follow instructions. As much as we’d like to think that’s not the case, just about any experiment supports this theory even in circumstances that are significantly less stressful than going to the airport. We assume that if everyone else is doing something, it’s okay. Conversely, we assume that if no one else is saying anything, it must be okay as well. We’d like to think that’s not the case, but it absolutely is.
Here’s an old video that demonstrates exactly the peer pressure we succumb to:
“Follow crewmember instructions at all time”
How many stories have gone viral over the years of passengers being removed from planes? It has gotten to the point where we’re afraid to speak up. We’re afraid it’ll mean that we get kicked off the plane by an employee on a power trip. Passengers watched without comment as Dr. Dao was violently removed from a plane, causing permanent damage. Why would things be different here?
Airlines are different than most other businesses, because it’s one of the few for-profit businesses where employees are allowed to threaten passengers without fear of repercussions.
When you add in our general sheep mentality on planes, and the stress of airports, and the fear we have of airline employees (which is exactly how they want us to feel), you have the perfect recipe for something like this to happen.
I didn’t realize being in an overhead bin would kill a dog
I feel like I should add this as well, because I’m curious if I’m in the minority here. Clearly this isn’t my area of expertise, but I wouldn’t have assumed that putting a dog in the overhead bin was particularly dangerous. Don’t get me wrong. it doesn’t seem especially safe (in terms of the risk of carry-on items shifting around), but I also wouldn’t have assumed that this was extremely dangerous. Then again, I’m not sure if the dog suffocated, if it had a heart attack, or if it got crushed by other bags (all of which are horrible scenarios).
I’m curious if others feel differently? If I had witnessed this I would have probably thought that it seems very unusual and not particularly safe, but my initial reaction wouldn’t have been “OMG the dog is going to die in there.” I suspect others on this flight felt the same way? I’d like to think that if anyone thought the dog was going to die, they would have spoken up.
For the above reasons I think the blame for this situation falls squarely on the flight attendant (and the airline, for their culture). Several eyewitness reports confirm that the flight attendant was aware there was a dog in there. The bag in question was also very clearly a pet carrier. Presumably at check-in an agent verified the size and weight of the dog and carrier, to ensure it was compliant.
No matter how you slice it, the flight attendant was being negligent, in my opinion:
- Even if the flight attendant wasn’t aware that this was life threatening, crews are taught to follow protocols, and there’s no protocol for placing dogs in the overhead bin
- If this was an issue of the lady having too many bags, or something, then she should have been presented with the option to check a bag or deplane; putting the dog in a situation like that isn’t appropriate
So I guess the way I view it, airlines can’t have it both ways. If flight attendants are flight safety professionals and their orders must be followed at all times, then they’re 100% responsible when they go off script. I’m going to assume that the flight attendant wasn’t a dog-hater who wanted to murder the poor dog. But that doesn’t make her any less responsible.
I’ll be curious to see how United’s flight attendant union, the AFA, responds to this. The AFA constantly stresses how the most important duty of flight attendants is safety. Will they try to defend this flight attendant even though she clearly violated the safety protocols, or will they take a stand and say that this is wrong?
I also wonder how United responds. They say they are “thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.” Hopefully United has learned from their past mistakes, does a thorough investigation, and releases to the public what is being done to prevent something like this from happening in the future. It just blows my mind how one airline is able to consistently dig themselves such deep holes.