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United Airlines has faced its share of controversies lately, between forcibly dragging a doctor off a plane to banning two girls for wearing leggings. But Monday night, tragedy struck when a dog died after a flight attendant forced the owner to place it into an overhead bin.
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Catalina Robledo was traveling from Houston to New York with her 11-year-old daughter Sophia, 2-month-old son and their French bulldog puppy, Kokito. The family followed the airline’s policy of placing the dog in a carrier under the seat in front of them and paying the $200 fee. But a flight attendant then told them the case needed to be in the overhead bin.
“[The flight attendant] was like 'Oh I'll help you,' and then she helped my mom put him up there, she just closed it like it was a bag,” Sophia told TODAY. "[My mom] said it's a dog, it's a dog, but she said we had to put him up there. We were really worried. He barked in the middle of the flight.”
Passenger Maggie Gremminger said she also heard the dog barking during the flight.
“When the plane took off, the dog barked,” she told TODAY. “It was kind of scary I'm sure for any animal. And then we didn't really hear anything for a while until maybe 20 to 30 minutes. We heard the dog bark in two more intervals. It's horrible now because now I'm thinking about hearing that dog and not knowing that it needed help.”
Sophia claimed they didn’t get up to check on the dog because turbulence forced them to stay in their seats. Meanwhile, Gremminger said that the mother had her hands full with the baby and it was a night flight, so no one was getting up or moving around.
When the plane landed, the family made the gruesome discovery.
“My mom got up and got the bag, and she took him out, and she was like 'Kokito, Kokito wake up,' and he didn't,” said Sophia. “She was crying, and it was really, really like tense at the same time.”
Gremminger was shocked when she realized what happened. “[Catalina] was just crying and I'm sure in disbelief and overwhelmed with guilt,” she said. “I don't think anyone knew what to make of it. Everything felt drained.”
Another passenger, June Lara, also witnessed the tragic event and shared a photo of the deceased animal on Facebook.
“There was no sound as we landed and opened his kennel,” passenger June Lara wrote in a post. “There was no movement as his family called his name. I held her baby as the mother attempted to resuscitate their 10-month-old puppy.”
According to United’s website, pets traveling in the airplane cabin need to be in a kennel that fits under the seat in front of the passenger.
Sara Nelson, president of The Association of Flight Attendants, agreed that placing an animal in the overhead bin is against standard practice.
“Our procedures are to instruct pet owners to put their pets underneath the seat in front of them,” she told TODAY. “Never in an overhead bin. So there's not a single flight attendant out there who can understand why this would happen.”
A United spokesperson stated to TODAY via email that it is taking full responsibility for the incident:
“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.”
According to the family, the airline offered them compensation, which they said they would turn down. Instead, they hope to share their experience so others won’t have to face the same heartbreak.