The “WOOFF Act” Senators Turn Death of a Dog on United Into Personal Political Play

Well that didn’t take long. Two Senators are grandstanding on this week’s death of a pet onboard a United Airlines flight from Houston to New York LaGuardia. It’s said one bad story makes a regulation and two makes a law, Senators Kennedy and Mastro are skipping over the regulation part.

They want to make it illegal to put pets in the overhead bin. There has been exactly one recent story of it happening, and that incident though horrible was an aberration. And they’ve filed legislation the same week of the incident, rather than taking time to understand the problem or craft a solution that ties to it.

Most pets are fine, it’s generally pets traveling as cargo where there’s a problem, and even there it’s mostly a United problem, and he’s not seeking to tackle broader issues of how pets travel on airlines where we could at least discuss if other problems include overregulation via the Air Carrier Access Act (emotional support animals).

Senators John Kennedy and Catherine Cortez Mastro introduced the Welfare Of Our Furry Friends Act. Yes, “WOOFF.”

Animals aren’t supposed to go in the overhead bin. United had stated that before. If they are traveling as pet in cabin they have to go in underneath the seat in front of the passenger. If they are an emotional support animal they can go in a lap or stand on the floor. In neither case is procedure to put them in the overhead bin. That was a mistake, and not something we hear about happening with any regularity.

United claims the flight attendant didn’t know there was a dog in the carrier. That doesn’t seem super plausible, and contradicts eyewitness accounts. United also says pets are going to get bright tags to make it easier for flight attendants to be aware of the contents and ensure they don’t instruct passengers to kill their pets.

Without a new federal law a criminal investigation is already underway in Texas where the plane boarded.

Of course deferring to existing law to even determine whether a crime was committed, let alone stopping to understand the problem they’re trying to legislate against, would get between Senators and media opportunities — something that’s often considered the most dangerous place to be in Washington.

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, 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. Personally, I feel this story does raise an important issue that can and should be dealt with through legislation. It should be illegal to name bills with meaningful or humorous acronyms. I’m going to propose the Legislative Acronym Free act (LAF).

  2. It is amazing how quickly Congress can act to protect puppies rather than people, but hten , everyone loves puppies.

  3. And this is why our country is over regulated. Every politician is out to do something for political gain (real or perceived). Ugh!

  4. “It should be illegal to name bills with meaningful or humorous acronyms. I’m going to propose the Legislative Acronym Free act (LAF).”


    In the meantime, if politicians are so interested in protecting living creatures from UA, how about a law for those of us who lost the “lifetime benefits” UA promised its Million Milers and Silver Wings members?

    Fliers Lifetime United Benefits (FLUB).

    That won’t fly though. I’m nowhere near as cute as the average puppy.

  5. 17 Kids get shot in a school and everyone sticks their head in the sand and claims nothing can be done.

    One dog dies and it’s “ready, fire, aim” with a stupid new law.

  6. A single dog and they change the law? 14,000 kids have died in recent years from guns and they do nothing??! Gosh I hope all of em get replaced in 2018.

  7. I actually think this is in the spirit of the right move. The trouble is what the flight attendant did is cruel and led to the puppy’s death – she should be tried under criminal charges and should be in jail. That’s under animal cruelty. The issue is that animal cruelty is vague and one can argue that, when putting a pet in an overhead bin, it may not be foreseeable how much the animal will suffer. So to make this clear, he wants putting a pet in an overhead bin as a clarified illegal act that is, in fact, criminal.

    Although United has the main number of pet deaths, animals are often mistreated and put in unsafe conditions when they are carried as cargo. These are not reported as injuries or death, but there are far more pets that have to be taken to veterinarians as a result of their travel than we know of. There are no laws against it, only the assurance of the airlines who don’t follow the safety procedures they claim they will. As a result, there is no recourse especially since with complaints, airlines’ defense is that the pet was sick or had a preexisting condition. Certain acts that cause intense suffering to the animals should be named explicitly as illegal – overhead bins, leaving animals in non-air conditioned circumstances during travel, dropping crates – this way no one can argue later that the act is not foreseeable as negligent.

    The emotional support animal classification, I agree, also doesn’t make sense – where the only way to travel otherwise is to put pets in cargo. That’s not safe. Dogs are family members. We would not put babies in cargo and there is no restriction on number of babies or carriers on specific planes. We should all just be able to bring our dogs on board without any emotional support letters – perhaps with the cabin fee. It can be argued that they will be noisy and cause a disturbance, but the same can be said of children.

  8. Good for Congressmember Kennedy and Mastro. A death occurs and they take action. “Grandstanding” is your opinion over the death of a puppy. I call it a responsible reaction. It costs society nothing to pass this law and has the potential to save lives. It puts the airlines on notice

  9. It’s dumb that dogs are getting more attention than more pressing issues, but preventing pets dying due to sheer irresponsibility on United is a legitimate use of government regulation to fix a problem that the market is obviously not solving. What would less regulation do? It’s already evident that laissez-faire is not working. What would voting out all the politicians do? It would just make government more dysfunctional. The only thing wrong with this picture is that government isn’t doing MORE.

  10. Good for Congressmember Kennedy and Mastro. A death occurs and they take action. “Grandstanding” is your opinion over the death of a puppy. I call it a responsible reaction. It costs society nothing to pass this law and has the potential to save lives. It puts the airlines on notice. Passing much needed gun laws must pass but this bill has nothing to prevent that struggle from happening. Benji, what law has changed? It hasn’t even been introduced yet.

  11. It’s so silly that people compare this to the gun issue. Here’s the difference, in case you don’t understand.

    In this case, there’s a simple thing that can be done legislatively that everyone can agree one (make it illegal to put pets into overhead bins) that might prevent further issues like this from happening. The issue was caused directly by placing the pet in the overhead bin, and the law directly addresses it with no controversy. Also, there are no Constitutional amendments giving people “the right to place pets in overhead bins” and there are no other issues at play here, such as the right to defend yourself or other freedom based issues.

    This is why Congress can act quickly and this has nothing to do with the gun issue. If there were an equivalent law which addresses what happened in the recent school shooting and others like it such as “it’s illegal to enter a school and shoot a lot of innocent people” then I’m sure it wouldn’t receive any opposition as well. Oh wait, that is already illegal.

    So what you’re missing is that Congress doesn’t have any clear action to take, and there are tons of issues at plan with the gun debate and this is why they aren’t “taking action” for some reason.

  12. Now, if only those two jokers (aka Senators) would propose real legislation than actually protect humans (aka passengers), THEN we would have something to celebrate.

  13. To me it’s a sign of America’s decline when legislative realities incentivize what looks good versus what’s actually needed.

  14. If congress really wants to do something about incidents such as this the best way forward is to do something about the “cabin crew are infallible” rules that all airlines seem to have and that law enforcement seems happy to uphold.

    Question an FA at your peril in the US, it’s a great way to get yourself removed from the aircraft because they are NEVER wrong.

    There is absolutely no way that dog would have ended up in the overhead bin in the days before the cabin crew ruled the skies.

  15. Law or no law. What makes me sad and sick is the poor little dog barked for two hours probably struggling for air. During that time everyone around those seats and overhead bin were too fearful to get up, open the bin and take the carrier down for fear of retribution from the flight attendant. What has this world come to?

  16. Schools full of innocent children get gunned down and Congress does absolutely nothing. A dog gets put in an overhead (against the current United police and maybe existing law) and Congress immediately reacts by trying to pass unneeded laws. Politicians are the worst people.

  17. What I want to know is, why the hell not put them in the overhead bin? I mean, why did the dog die? It’s not like they’re airtight or get too cold or too hot. Did the dumb thing have a heart attack from fright or something? If so, it probably would have died under the seat too.


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