United Airlines is facing another animal scandal this week. Just one day after United apologized for the death of a puppy after a flight attendant forced the owner to place the French bulldog in an overhead bin, the airline admitted to accidentally sending a dog to Japan rather than Kansas City.
Kara and Joseph Swindle, along with their children, were moving from the West Coast to Kansas earlier this week and sent their 10-year-old German shepherd, Irgo, via the airline’s cargo. When they arrived on Tuesday and went to pick up their beloved pet, they found a Great Dane dog instead.
“We got to cargo, they took us back to the warehouse, they showed me the kennel and the minute I said 'Irgo,' up pops this Great Dane, and not my dog,” Kara Swindle told NBC News. “It had already been a whirlwind of an adventure from moving, so I instantly burst into tears, just wondering where my dog was. I was confused, upset and just in utter shock that this was not my dog. And, of course, they had no idea what was going on because they were just the receiving end.”
It wasn’t until hours later when they learned that the Great Dane, which was scheduled to fly to Japan, was accidentally swapped for Irgo. The family was shocked at the news and concerned for the health and safety of their dog.
“He’s 10 years old,” said Swindle. “He’s a fragile dog now. And he has an ear infection; he's now gone three days without his medicine.”
While the Swindles are eager to get Irgo back, they didn’t want him flying cargo again for the long flight. “He's already had too much of a traumatic experience doing this,” said Swindle. “... I don't want him down in cargo where it's super noisy. It's too much for him.”
Swindle did say that the airline has been sending them updates and pictures every hour letting them know he was OK. And now, after many discussions with the airline, Joseph Swindle has revealed to NBC News that Irgo is finally being sent to Wichita, Kansas, via a private charter. The dog is expected to make the nearly 12-hour-long flight and arrive at 8:25 p.m. Thursday.
Kara Swindle said the airline thinks the mix-up may have happened when the dogs were taken out of their kennels at the Denver airport. “Their kennels were completely different, not anywhere the same,” she said. “I mean, they're two completely different-looking dogs ... and my kennel had his dog tag name on it. So how they mixed this up, we have no idea.”
A United spokesperson apologized for the incident. “An error occurred during connections in Denver for two pets sent to the wrong destinations,” the airline said in a statement to NBC News. “We have notified our customers that their pets have arrived safely and will arrange to return the pets to them as soon as possible. We apologize for this mistake and are following up with the vendor kennel where they were kept overnight to understand what happened.”
Meanwhile, the Swindles aren’t sure they’ll ever book a flight with the airline again. “Honestly, I don't know I'll ever fly United again,” Kara Swindle said. “Or ever ship my dog again. I think I would rather drive.”
Between these two terrible accidents this week, people are wondering what changes can be made regarding the pet policy. United says it will soon issue brightly colored bag tags to customers traveling with pets to help flight attendants identify them, but Swindle wants more.
“I would love for them to put into policy that I could pay for a seat for my dog now,” she said. “I would be more than happy to pay for a seat for my dog to be on the plane with me. Because I don't want anyone having control of what he's doing and where he's going, because we can't depend on anyone, obviously.”