I Hope to Never Have to Trust an Airline With My Dog (This Story Made Me Cry)

Goodness knows that emotional support animals are controversial. There are people who ‘fake it’ although at the same time I certainly understanding needing to travel with an animal and not wanting to trust an airline with one that’s too big to fit underneath your seat.

I’ve traveled with my dog, though not in many years because he’s quite old. I always paid the pet in cabin fee.

My dog would rather be on the couch at home than under an airplane seat

Those fees are expensive, now often more than the cost of a ticket for a person and of course the pet is your full-sized carry on so you may also wind up having to pay checked bag fees. United charges $125 each way (and if you have a connection over 4 hours domestically, they charge an extra $125). No wonder a Congressman used campaign funds to pay pet in cabin fees for the family rabbit.

Here’s my little guy is using an airport pet relief station during a connection.

I’m fortunate he’s just 10 pounds and fits under the seat, because this story of a pet having to be shipped underneath the plane is just heartbreaking.

I am absolutely disgusted with the way UNITED AIRLINES is responding to my best friend, Jacob’s, death this past week.

Jacob was supposed to fly from Detroit to Portland with a 1 hour layover in Chicago. At 80 pounds, Jacob needed a giant crate for his journey and there was question as to whether or not it would fit on the plane. The airline agent in Detroit confirmed Jacob would fit on his first and second flight, no question.

Jacob went for a MANDATORY physical less than 24 hours before his flight, where he was cleared for airline travel with no previous health concerns.

When Jacob landed in Chicago, it was found that the airline agent LIED and he did not fit on the plane to Portland. He was then sent to a kennel over night, 20 HOURS, until the next flight out he could fit on.

The airline DID NOT ALLOW my mother to send food with Jacob, due to the intended short duration of his journey, even though it is mandated that the crates have a food bowl and their website states they may have a zip lock bag less than 1 pound of food attached to the top of their crate.

When Jacob finally arrived in Portland, he was disoriented and non-responsive. The United agent said the airline may have given him medication, but he didn’t know. The airline DOES NOT HAVE THE RIGHT to give medication, especially without telling us what, when, or why.

After his three hour journey to central Oregon, Jacob was still non-responsive, and getting worse. My very best friend who I was expecting to trample me with kisses barely even acknowledged my existence. There was clearly something wrong when he landed in Portland. He was not the same dog he was when he was in Detroit.

After rushing Jacob to the emergency vet when his breathing became scarce, he was pronounced dead after 8 min of CPR. His stomach flipped due to the stress of his journey that was 20 hours longer than expected, and suffocated his organs.

My heart just breaks reading this.

It’s not clear from the story, though, exactly what happened in Chicago.

It seems unlikely that the type of plane was at issue, both United Chicago – Portland flights are operated by Boeing 737s and while one is a 737-800 and the other a -900 United’s dog and cat checklist suggests the same kennel dimensions are accepted on all 737s (and a 20 hour overnight would suggest taking the same flight the next day — not the next flight in the morning).

I understand the desire for answers from United, but there’s nothing at all that will bring Jacob back.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I don’t understand how United can get away with this. As a dog owner, I would demand access to my dog during the connection (especially when finding out he can’t make the next leg), especially if he had no food (or water?) during that period of time. This has to have lawsuit written all over it, right? It reeks of negligence.

  2. As an owner of three furry kids, I totally empathize with the loss of one. I’m curious if United has responded and if a veterinarian examined the animal after the incident? It seems premature to jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts.

  3. Very sad story. The one thing I don’t understand is why not fly direct DTW-PDX? I’m absolutely not trying to put an ounce of blame on the dog owner, it’s just that if I was flying with my pet, I’d make sure that it’s the shortest amount of time in the cargo hold.

  4. This is so sad. Losing a pet due to the furry kid’so old age is already hard enough. I cannot fathom what it feels like when the furry kid’s life is cut short due to airline’s neglect

  5. Owners emotionally attached to their pets should consider other ways than airplanes to transport them.

    Yes the airlines enter into contracts they should honor, but from a practical standpoint it’s risky, and their owners need to acknowledge they put their pets at risk when they attempt it. Demonizing the airlines for their calculated risk isn’t being completely honest.

  6. I would drive cross country rather than put any animal in the cargo hold of a plane. If its not safe for me it’s not safe for my fur babies. I have a 90 pound male boxer and three toy poodles that are under 6 pounds each. For my fur babies, I would drive it in the middle of winter.

  7. United ought to pay millions of $ for this error, both to the pet owner and as donations to animal rights organizations.

    United must schedule a series of meetings with said organizations to devise and implement a plan to avoid a repeat of this tragedy. Meanwhile waive all pet fees for at least the next 24 months.

    Fire all employees who lied to or misled the owner, or denied access to the pet.

    If United fails to take these steps then it deserves to go out of business.

  8. Having enormous love for our animal companions seems to place us in untenable positions, because there is this enormous gray area of what are these animal companions accepted to be. Seems the law treats them as baggage, or property, when obviously, for many of us, they have become companions that share something that is impossible to explain to someone who has never been blessed with the joy these beings can bring into our lives. Some of the absolutely heartless comments do not help either.

  9. This person should have put this dog on Delta. Non-stop would have been way less traumatic to the pet, no matter what size. I’m sure the costs would have been similar. It is a shame. Shipping pets does come with risks and that should have been explained to this person.

  10. Why force an animal to travel by plane? Take them by car! If you do not want to be locked up in a box for 4 – 6 hours why should they? There is NO reason to force a dog into a 3 x 4 crate for 4 hours alone in a dark cold environment. That is TORTURE.

  11. From the short description, this sounds like “bloat” (technically “gastric torsion”), which is a terrifying condition that can strike large-breed dogs without warning. It can be hard to identify and can kill within hours; there’s not much the intermediate airport could have done other than rush him to an emergency vet.

    Regardless, and especially given the fees, it’s inexcusable for any airline to treat lost of delayed animals like delayed baggage. I would expect them to have a vet tech on staff at every terminal that handles live animals.

    As the owner of two bullmastiffs I would never send them by air cargo anywhere; but also as brachycephalic dogs most airlines won’t take them as shippable. If I absolutely had to transport one of them, I’d buy an extra seat and be “one of those people”. (To be fair, as 120 lap dogs they are very emotionally supportive.) But, I’d rather drive.

  12. I was immediately behind a couple sitting in the business class bulkhead row (A319 or 737) going from Panama (PTY) to DFW. The couple had two golden retrievers scrunched into that little space with them. The dogs were very well behaved throughout the flight. However, I almost stepped on one of their paws that was protruding slightly into the aisle as I was.returning from a bathroom visit and another passenger was getting up to go. The owner glared at me and shoved the dog’s paw back out of the aisle. Dogs put up with a lot of crap to please their owners.

    I take it the scenario in Soul Plane where Kevin Hart starts an airline thanks to a multi-million dollar settlement due to witnessing the death of his dog from airline malfeasance is impossible due to liability limitations.


  13. there’s no replacing, or effectively compensating a loss of a loved one, not matter what the species….

    they have suffered a substantial loss, a death.

    UA’s underwriters will be paying, this will be a clear cut litigation.

    i’ve read those other story’s of frozen dogs.

    i don’t think i’d ever risk sending a much loved pet with UA, ever.

  14. I would NEVER. I’d rather drive across the country and pay for nights at hotels than put my dog in the cargo of a plane. I’d be a nervous wreck the entire trip – and with a connection? No way.

    I drove my dog from New York to Dallas. If anything happens to him, it’s going to be with me, not with strangers in a cold, dark environment. And I’d rather be responsible and deal with the consequences myself – I couldn’t imagine not knowing what really happened.

    UA is enemy #1 for killing animals – I’ve heard wayyy too many horror stories to ever trust them with a pet. It’s also February – Detroit and Chicago? No way I’d book that itinerary for a pet to begin with.

    Surely a complex issue. Very sad.

  15. I hate United as much as the next guy but its obvious this owner’s story is one-sided. Its heartbreaking but we shouldn’t be quick to blame the airline. So many animals fly every single day and come out un-harmed, things like this is a fluke not an everyday occurrence.

  16. Drive or keep your animals at home. Keep animals at home come to think of it–I don’t need to almost die from an allergic reaction in a hotel because of pet hair. People–that’s what flights are for–people!

  17. Airline abuse like this is why there are so many “service” animals on flights today & why there is a growing cottage industry that sells service animal vests…

  18. For those of you who say never and drive not…consider overseas travel (that will get arguments…so…) or moving. Driving is not always a practical method.

  19. For those of you who say never and drive not…consider overseas travel (that will get arguments…so…) or moving. Driving is not always a practical method.

  20. @john

    the limited liability pretences airlines, and others try on mean absolutely nothing when it comes to torts law.

    when a rollercoaster company states, at your own risk, etc etc, just ignore that, if they fail, and you suffer a loss, they are liable, period.

  21. @Tim, In that case, great news. I assumed that pets would be treated like luggage. But the tort liability must be for something like intentional infliction of emotional distress. Soul Plane is not total fiction after all.

  22. That is heartbreaking. Many people are saying they should have driven ( and I would), but could we stop the victim-blaming? We don’t know what each person’s circumstances are and the bottom line is the company offers a service and information that is not trustworthy. I moved from abroad to the US with a 40lb who had to be flown cargo with United and the experience was TERRIBLE. She survived but came out in shock, with red brick gums, and unable to stand. She tore the ligaments on both knees , needed surgery, is on her 6th month of physical therapy and rehab, in intensive behavior mod and anixeity drugs. I don’t know if she”ll ever be close to resembling a normal dog again. I’d really love for there to be a campaign where airlines would allow larger, calm dogs to fly in cabin with up paying for a seat. Each plane could have one or two spots for large dogs in cabin, even if it meant they were crated somewhere with us paying extra ( heck, I’d pay for several extra seats). Just never make me fly with my dog again

  23. I want to relocate overseas but won’t right now because of my dog. United Airlines is my worst nightmare. There is the recent case of a French Bulldog puppy dying because the stewardess insisted it’s owner shove into an airtight overhead locker. MORONS. Then there is the older case of “United almost killed my greyhound”. Both cases can be found on Facebook and YouTube. There is a man who has been trying to start his own airline that will allow pets in the cabin but I think it is private jet charter only at this stage. For those out there that think this is over the top you probably have never owned a dog. They are highly intelligent, Intuitive, and give unconditional love and loyalty. Dogs ARE FAMILY members and owners grieve the loss of a pet as they would any member of their family. You would need to own a dog to understand. Dogs are not luggage or inanimate possessions. They are live feeling sentient beings. I wish all Airlines realised that.

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