United Airlines Needs to Stop Killing Animals

United reportedly killed another dog.

The airline, which has the worst record for pet deaths onboard their flights, is being held responsible by a Houston family for the death of their 5-year-old King Charles Spaniel.

In this case all we know so far is that the “dog was in the cargo hold of the plane when the flight was delayed and held on the tarmac for two hours before taking off to San Francisco.”

According to United, “We are deeply upset any time an animal suffers an injury while traveling with us and especially grieved in the rare instance that one passes away. We are conducting a thorough review of this incident.” They have a lot of practice with grieving.

It was just three weeks ago that I wrote about why I wouldn’t trust United Airlines with my dog.

They reportedly locked the World’s Biggest Rabbit in a freezer for hours and them cremated it without permission.

In February a dog died while traveling United when an agent’s mistake meant that the dog traveled 20 hours longer than expected. Then two months ago they mixed up two dogs and sent each one to the wrong city. And last month they lost Grammy-nominated hip hop artist Schoolboy Q’s dog.

People need to stop trusting United with their pets, and United needs to stop killing pets.

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. People need to stop eating meat. It is the second largest contributor to global warming.

    And people that have kids should more in taxes to stop global warning. Why are single people paying for that crap?

  2. As long as airplanes carry pets, pets are going to die. BTW, has anyone looked at those “damning numbers” about how United has killed more pets than anyone else in the last five years?


    In five years.

    I’d like to see that 53 figure contextualized. How many pets did United transport during those five years? Just what percentage of pets United carried during those five years actually died?

    It’s easy to get worked up over headlines and out of context statistics and, yes, people’s pets are like family members so you can’t minimize the grief factor at all. But perspective…

  3. I know this isn’t by any means the only reason people who don’t really need it use the emotional support animal trick to fly with their pets in the cabin. And I can’t see any need I’d ever have to fly with a pet. But if I did need to bring the pet with me, and in view of the many horrible incidents like this, I’m afraid I’d definitely resort to that trick.

  4. @doug – how is 53 at all acceptable? Deaths will happen but 10/year??? Pets aren’t baggage.

  5. @Doug Swalen

    If you want a little context, try this: United kills a pet every 34.4 days.

  6. All these people needed to use their common sense when flying their pets. Just because an airline will let you do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

    Who flies a giant rabbit under the plane?!? They are fragile animals prone to heart attacks and can hide all symptoms of heart disease until they drop dead.

    All of these dogs were on flights with connections, with lay overs. Every variable increases the individual risk of something going wrong.

    I, along with many friends, regularly fly dogs in cargo for competitions. We only fly direct, even if that means a long drive on one side. We select flights based on the best time for the dog, even if that means a red eye. And none of us are flying brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds. Our dogs are well acclimated to travel and to being crated and are all in exemplary health.

    A little common sense when flying pets goes a long way.

  7. You just shouldn’t let your pet fly with United…end of discussion. Find another way.

  8. Maybe people should leave their pets at home? That would be step one. I don’t understand why United is having such a problem with this though. Its seems their employees are unable to read basic labels as to where various animals are going.

  9. Credit,

    If God didn’t want us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them out of tasty tasty meat. Besides, wasn’t it eating an apple that got humanity into trouble in the first place?

    I do agree with you about the tax issue though. It’s crazy that we offer financial incentives for having children instead of penalties in this day and age. But as long as families vote, politicians will continue to bribe them with tax credits.

    My socially-conscious friend is always admonishing me about the environmental impact of my frequent flying. I suggested he could offset my entire carbon footprint if he’d stop at three kids instead of trying for a fourth. He was not impressed but didn’t have a good comeback.

  10. @Doug Swalen seriously? How is even 1 animal killed acceptable? At this point, no one should be shipping animals by air. It’s simply too dangerous. Some people don’t really have a choice but then they should either not move, drive, go by boat/ship/train, or set up their pet in a no kill animal shelter or find someone to adopt them.

    Animals are not baggage.

  11. It was not that long ago (10, 20 years) that Continental created a special service for pets. This was (sadly) a new idea – they would track your pets and provide real-time info, make sure they were checked during ground holds and when connecting, and had special rules about not taking custody of animals for flights when ground temps were too hot or too cold. They charged an extra fee but it was worth it.
    Sad to see that UA (no doubt another bonehead Smisek move) gutted this service and apparently learned nothing.
    That being said I would never ever ship my pet in the hold if there was any way to avoid it. The risks are just too great, no matter which airline. Not to mention the experience is pretty traumatic for the animal (even worse for cats). Either carry them on or drive. Really you should not be taking them on vacation but only when you are changing residences.

  12. @DougSwalen, you really don’t get it at all. 53 dead animals over 5 years is an incredibly high and unacceptable number, which extrapolated to its regular passengers per flight would be equivalent in the tens of thousands of passengers in that period — which nobody in their right mind would consider remotely an acceptable risk. People treat their dogs as family members — whether you can relate to that or not — and I can certainly understand why that would be considered an absolutely intolerable risk. This is a material and tangible enough risk that you will not see your animal again. I can completely understand why people would make their dog a service animal to avoid the real risk of tragedy, when traveling with an animal is unavoidable.

  13. That’s so terrible to read these unfortunate stories! I don’t get it – is it that crew members responsible for handling pets really don’t have a heart? How does it come that we as passengers have to go through so thorough process of preparing our pets for flying with an airplane https://blog.asaptickets.com/flights/traveling-with-pets/ while the other party can just kill our beloved pets again and again without even trying to combat this negligence!

  14. One statistic I found suggests that “somewhere between 114 and 360 medical deaths” occur on flights each year. Those are human deaths. Doesn’t mean the airlines are killing them.

    Each case is still sad, but with such a high volume of animals and humans being transported every day, some are going to die en route.

  15. @Johnny Statistics sure, but how many humans has United killed in 5 years? Despite their famously appalling approach to customer service they do not routinely kill their passengers — not even unaccompanied minors. I think the bigger issue is that standards are pretty low for delivering cargo and baggage on many airlines, and pets traveling as cargo are treated as (wait for it) cargo. If they were treated as an unaccompanied minor outcomes would be better, albeit at a higher cost.

    @dogagilityhandler I agree, and it occurs to me that UA only allows unaccompanied minors on nonstop flights. AA doesn’t allow them on the last flight of the day out of the connecting city. Just the sort of policies that would prevent accidents from missed connections.

  16. @Andy11235 Killed? Do you think United intends to kill these animals? Which part of “shit happens, puppies die” don’t you understand? If the dog dies in the car on the way to the airport, do you accuse the owner of killing the dog? Does being a pet owner do something to the logic-forming portion of your brain to turn you into a statistically-illiterate paranoid dummy?

  17. The obvious solution is to not fly pets as baggage. I do understand that large pets can’t go in the cabin with passengers, but unless there is a very serious reason to transport a large pet by air, have a heart and don’t do it. Of course, I also believe that people who don’t pay for an extra seat so they can have their toddler secured in a child seat are not being fair to the child, so maybe it’s just the snowflake in me coming out.

  18. “@Doug Swalen seriously? How is even 1 animal killed acceptable? ”

    Depends. Did it die from stress of the flight? Lack of oxygen? Did United run it over?

    How it died matters. Not every death is the same. Not every animal handles flights the same. There are too many variables at work here to just distill this down into one nice neat little soundbite.

    “If you want a little context, try this: United kills a pet every 34.4 days.”

    And how many did United transport during that period? 1 every 34.4 days sounds ominous. But if United transported 500 animals during that period that translates into a .002 death rate. That sounds a lot less ominous. Both statistics are accurate. One looks a lot worse than the other.

    Of course we can’t talk about this rationally because pets are involved and people get emotional about their pets. As they should.

  19. Has anyone noticed how checked in baggage is handled… conveyer belts, put onto ground transports then tossed into the underbelly of the plane for a loud cold bumpy ride in darkness for hours? Really, you’re gonna put your pet/s through that?

    I moved from Orange County, California to Jacksonville, Florida with two cats.
    I did my homework because I love my cats.
    Discovered best/safest way to transport was with Delta Airlines (followed all guidelines for transporting pets), I enlisted a friend to travel with me so I could have both cats in the cabin. Traveled extra distances to/from airports by car to have a non-stop flight (LAX-Orlando) We took a red-eye with lots of chocolate, in case passengers objected, not one complaint.
    TSA at LAX were wonderful, as were all of the staff at Delta.
    We made it to our new home safely.

  20. @Broaxo
    United’s PetSafe program, while considered cargo, is much different than straight cargo. They will not fly certain sizes or breeds of dogs, or any dogs when the temp is too hot or cold. When I enter the plane, I inform the purser that my dog is being loaded below, hand them my boarding pass and within 5-10 minutes they are confirming that she in on board.

    I am on the same flight as my dog and can often observe her being loaded from the windows in the gate area. I know it’s her because she flies in a custom colored Rough Tuff Kennel with plenty of stickers from locations she has traveled. I have also used United to ship an 18 week old puppy to a friend across the country without an accompanying human on that flight. Again, heavy acclimation to his crate prior to shipping and he flew on a direct red-eye which meant his new mom got up at 3am to head to the airport and be there when he was picked up. He came out of his crate in Florida full of vim and vigor (and pee).

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