Three Times As Many Animals Die On United As All Other US Airlines Combined

Filed Under: United

Yesterday I wrote about the tragic 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.

For reasons I explained in a separate post, I 100% put the blame on this incident on the airline. The flight attendant wasn’t following protocol, and while I assume she wasn’t trying to kill the dog, the negligence shown for someone in a safety role is completely unacceptable. I don’t know how you could ever recommend to put a living creature in the overhead bin, especially when United clearly states that the only safe place to put pets is underneath the seat in front.

So, was this just an isolated incident, or is United actually worse with transporting animals than other airlines? Last month the US Department of Transportation published all kinds of statistics for 2017 travel. Among these statistics is the number of losses, injuries, and deaths of animals transported by airlines that are reported to the DOT.

In 2017, United transported 138,178 animals and reported 18 deaths, 13 injuries, and 31 total incidents.

All other airlines combined transported 368,816 animals, and reported six deaths, two injuries, and nine total incidents.

Here’s a chart with the comparison by airline:

It’s pretty telling when an airline that transports 27% of animals also has 75% of animal deaths, 87% of animal injuries, and 78% of animal incidents.

This includes animals that are transported in the cabin and in the cargo hold. Ironically, United’s pet transport program is called PetSafe, though based on their performance it’s anything but…

It’s time that United really look at their program for transporting animals. While perhaps not specific to this incident that happened in the cabin, it’s clear that United has a systematic problem with transporting animals safely, and that’s not cool.

(Tip of the hat to AlexS)

  1. I’m a big fan of Alaska, and they clearly come out very well here, but I’m so curious to know the story behind the only lost pet in 2017.

  2. Incident date is 2.6x the next highest, AA, 4.3x that of Delta.

    Makes you wonder whether there’s just a deeper underlying culture problem at United. Every time there’s a crazy story, you know it’s United (or an ULCC like Spirit, which is awful). Everybody associates United with a shitty experience, and yet they keep flying them. Vote with your wallet if you want to effect any real change at the company, people.

  3. @Aztec- really? that seems pretty dramatic. I dont think United has some order from management saying they must kill dogs. And I dont think the flight attendant had some sort of desire to see the dog dead. Sad? yes, Unfortunate? yes. Horrible? Absolutely. But I’m not going to let one terrible flight attendant lead me to inconvenience myself, and think behavior like the one you are suggesting is irrational. I’m bringing my dog on United next month – it’ll go under the seat, as always. Regardless, I would never check a pet.

  4. And you assume the death was the airline’s fault ? It could be due to the animal being unwell and a pre existing condition
    Shock. Poor dog or cat suddenly finding itself in a container loaded in a hold
    Many passengers also die in flight
    Do you have those stats?
    … and I was just thinking to myself and I’ve only flown UA 3 times ..

  5. And we’re assuming that statistics coming out of the Trumpublican DOT are accurate? Big mistake. It could be that other airlines aren’t accurately reporting. It could be that one of the Combover Caligula’s buddies wants to short United stock. It could be anything with these people. Other factors to consider are weather, the types of pets the individual airlines allow, and the amount of time the average per spends on the airline. As Sir Winston Churchill famously said: there are lies, there are damned lies, and then there are statistics

  6. Damaging passengers’ guitars, dragging a doctor off a plane when he was trying to get home to care for his patients, now killing puppies? Man. I’m sure glad I don’t work as a PR spokesperson for United!

  7. Ben this has shocked me so much — 3 times as many as on all other US airlines combined! — that I am not going to do my status challenge on United. This is so disturbing. I don’t even have a dog, or even any pet. A few years ago when I used to fly United I was almost always disgusted anyhow (even in first — my worst first-class flight ever anywhere in the world), so even for a cheap $450 r/t from SAN to PVG to get the gold status I don’t even care. No way am I going back to United now.

    Thanks for posting this. Really got me thinking.

  8. A correction : It’s not clear from the wording, but that chart only covers animals transported in the hold. Without getting into technical definitions of the word ‘transporting’, you can tell as they list Southwest as not transporting animals, though they absolutely allow you to take pets in the cabin.

  9. something’s a little odd about the stats there. I’m just wondering how can United who is roughly the same size airline as DL and AA carries so many more dogs total (also Alaska). Makes me wonder if AA and DL under-report or have policies that get their pro-pet-passengers to leave the pets at home/go elsewhere.

    Any thoughts on policy differences among legacy carriers that may be driving more pet lovers to United?

  10. @ Thomas R — This isn’t just pets, this is all animal transport, including animals that are sent as cargo. United has a big travel transport program that they heavily promote, which is probably why they have so many more animals. I doubt United has significantly more pets traveling in cabin than competitors, but rather these are mostly animals traveling in the cargo hold, and not just dogs and cats.

  11. United once gave me a free hamburger, now that’s really something isn’t it!?!?!

    They forgot to charge me for it.

  12. $125 x 138,178 = $17,272,250.00

    I guess $17 million can’t buy pet safety out of Houston. I’m seriously tired of airlines charging fees for services they don’t provide. It’s BS. This is why regulation is important.

    Honestly dogs shouldn’t be on planes. It’s not a great fit for them, esp large dogs that can’t fit under the seat. Cats and birds make more sense. Birds are small and cats instinctually would rather be under a seat. Dogs not so much. And owners who insist on doing it…one question: At what point does your pet’s comfort matter to you? Keep up the good discussion.

  13. I’ve lived in the EU off and on during the past ten years and twice have transported my dog and two cats back and forth in cargo. Once with Delta out of Geneva to California and on AA out of Rome to California with all trips taking place in either the spring or fall months. I never had a problem. I made sure that my cats were in the same carrier and that the dog in a separate carrier was stowed next to my cats. They were fed and sedated prior to the flights and I spent time with them on stopovers making sure they were hydrated and fed. Both airlines could not have been more accommodating and the people assisting me with my pets were clearly animal lovers. I’m shocked at these numbers for United pet deaths and also curious why United carries so many pets compared to the other carriers. Perhaps they charge less? I know that it wasn’t cheap for me to transport three pets back and forth across the Atlantic. And the paperwork required was extreme. Even with my positive experiences I wouldn’t do this again unless other options didn’t exist.

  14. While I’m just as mad as everyone else about United’s terrible handling of the recent case, I feel like these figures alone aren’t enough to point fingers. The sample size is REALLY small here, and we also don’t know if United just reports animal deaths more than the other airlines do. Airlines would definitely have incentives to conceal these numbers, no? Or maybe people with the sickest animals specifically choose United BECAUSE of their PetSafe policy, and those are the pets more likely, unfortunately, to die (this would be an example of selection bias).

    It’s still messed up, and personally I’ll avoid flying United because this doesn’t sit right, but I don’t think the evidence unequivocally and causally points to the conclusion the headline is making.

  15. To top it off, just today it comes out that United mistakenly shipped a Kansas family’s dog to Japan. They were flying Oregon-Kansas City on United and when they went to pick up their dog from the cargo area, were given a Great Dane. They have a German shepherd. United apparently flew their dog to Japan where the Great Dane was supposed to go. They have yet to receive their dog.

    You can’t make this stuff up. Way to go United!

  16. Again, this is ONLY animals transported in the hold. While these numbers are interesting, and reading the individual reports gives some interesting data points (two of the deaths were geckos!) this data isn’t relevant to the dog death in the cabin.

  17. Wow, you really pulled these stats out of your a$$ and made them appear to mean what you wanted them to. You had to know that something was wrong with the stats when United transported 4 times as many animals as AA and more than twice as many as Delta. Dead geckos, one out of four pet conures that were traveling in the same cage, twelve injured paws when dogs clawed at their kennels, eight deaths from natural causes, two of the unexplained deaths were in old dogs. One dog that die of heat stroke was with two others in the same hold that were perfectly healthy upon arrival.
    One dog got away from either the owner or United during acceptance and got hit by a car, one dog had his kennel dropped two feet but was fine. These were the only two incidents in which corrective action was required. Actually reading the incident reports kind of shines a new light on the statistics, doesn’t it? But then the story would not be what you want it to be

  18. @farnorthtrader

    Spoken like a true adult

    Just goes to show you that Lucky’s site is all about fake outrage. He needs clicks

    He’s young and I don’t know if he has any real job experience, but his continual lack of critical thinking and lack of maturity shows through day after day. As are their staff. I just wish he’d stick with airline reviews. I actually liked his Taag report.

    Maybe he’ll learn, or maybe he’ll post “Top 10 lounges from 20 years ago until today” click bait.

    @Lucky, think long term! You’re becoming part of the noise.

  19. Statistics can be dangerous. It’s more meaningful to count incidents per animals carried which makes United not seem as bad. However they still are the leading airline for deaths in that sense.

  20. Love it when the UA sycophants/employees/contractors come out of the woodwork to defend the indefensible…they infest FT and now they are on the blogs too

  21. Before making nasty comments, try reading them. Alaska carried nearly as many pets as United, but had 2 deaths compared to 18 for United. Based on the numbers of pets carried, United’s death rate is nearly 10 times that of Alaska, 4 times that of Delta and 3 times the national average. There are indeed some stories that are exaggerated on here, but this is not one of them.

  22. From experience, DOT gets VERY cranky if you fib on these stats. Doesn’t matter who is in the oval/oral office. Even under Obama, United still lead the way in animal deaths by airlines.

  23. Finally, DL is beginning to crack down.
    Higher thresholds to take “comfort animals” into the cabin.

    This is a very sad story but I hope it stimulates a wider discussion of animals on planes.

    And why LAX looks like an Animal Shelter a lot of days. Too many animals flying, too many animals dying.

  24. Did anyone ever ask the lady why she did not look after her dog during the whole flight?

    Ben, how can you put the blame to 100% on the airline and not even questioning the behavior of the dog loving passenger or maybe the other passenger who posted the whole story?
    Nonassistance of a person (or pet / beloved family member) in danger…?

  25. Mark G. How do suppose someone should transport a pet if they’re moving overseas then. Put them on a boat? Make them swim? Just say “sorry goodbye” and get rid of the pet?

  26. It sucks that this happened to poor Kokito and the flight attendant should face discipline. But, saying it’s unsafe to send a pet with the luggage on United is a bit of a stretch.

    The DOT tracks all reported injuries and deaths of pets in the cargo compartments of US airlines. Here’s the link with the report on each of those injuries and deaths. This can be found just by clicking the airline’s name on the page that @lucky posted. Saying it’s unsafe to send a pet on United is ridiculous….especially after skimming through these reports. 18 out of 138,000+ is too small of a number to make a fair comparison to other operators. I think United also allows more breeds of cat and dog than other airlines to ride with the luggage.

  27. The issue with the disparity in numbers isn’t because of under reporting, it’s because of company policy. All airlines are legally required to report and get charged incredibly hefty fines if they don’t. Trust me, they’d rather put it on a report that almost no customer ch3cks than pat a fine. Almost all of these airlines, besides UA, have strict regulations on what they will or won’t accept for their flights. AA doesn’t accept any snub nosed dogs, full or mixed breed, at all. No exceptions. They also have the strictest temperature restrictions. DL does accept some snub nosed breeds, but they have specific temperature restrictions. UA has the least amount of restrictions, hence they absorb a large portion of the market, which is a greater margin of error. It’s still unacceptable. Also, while I don’t recommend shipping a pet on a flight, mostly because it’s very stressful for themn sometimes people just don’t really have an option. It’s sometimes not feasible if you have to move cross country, to an island, or internationally.

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