The Not-So-Friendly Skies: United Airlines Under Fire After Dog Dies In Overhead Bin


250px-United_Airlines.svgUnited Airlines is under fire after a flight attendant ordered a pet dog to be placed in a passenger’s overhead bin on a flight from Houston.  When United Flight 1284 arrived in New York, the French Bulldog “Kokito” was found dead.  The horrific scene could well result in a tort action for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other claims.  As a common carrier, United is subject to a high standard of care in the treatment of passengers.

While Catalina Robledo had a TSA-approved carrier for the ten-month old Kokito, the flight attendant reportedly was annoyed when the dog began to bark. The woman was dealing with two children including an infant.  Passengers noticed that the dog had gone quiet during the flight.

It is against the airline’s policies to place pets in the overhead for obvious reasons so the flight attendant’s action were expressly in violation of even the carrier’s rules, which say pets are required to travel in carriers that “must fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times.”

The woman was left sobbing and gasping on the floor after discovering her dead dog.

United is liable under the doctrine of “respondeat superior” for the negligent acts by their employees in the course of employment. The question is what is in the scope of employment.  This was within that scope, even if it was in violation of airline policies.  Employers can argue that an employee went rogue or outside the scope. The question is often whether an employer was on a “detour” or “frolic.”  A detour can be outside of an e employer’s policies or guidelines but will be the basis for liability as sufficiently related to the employment.  A frolic is a more serious deviation where employee is acting in his own capacity or for his own interests.  That does not appear the case here.

United could argue that there was comparative negligence in the woman not checking on the dog during the flight, but this would be a rather feeble defense given the grossly negligent conduct of the flight attendant.

The result is both a public relations and legal nightmare for the not-so-“Friendly Skies.”

58 thoughts on “The Not-So-Friendly Skies: United Airlines Under Fire After Dog Dies In Overhead Bin

  1. I’m truly sorry about the fate of this poor dog. There. I said it. This was a tragedy. One which could have been avoided. If, however, I had to be stuck, seated, next to this woman, with a barking dog, for hours at a time, in an enclosed and pressurized cabin, flying through the air in an aluminum sardine can, with no means of escape, I would’ve lost it. Completely unfair, to the other paying passengers, to suffer through hours of smells and noise emanating from these animals. Planes should not be flying zoos, and plane trips were never supposed to resemble flying barnyards. Leave your barking dogs, along with your screaming babies, at home, where they belong. If those transporting screaming babies and animals were charged three times the price for their tickets, the problem would self-correct. They just wouldn’t fly. Problem solved.

  2. Although the flight attendant and United Airlines are reprehensible and certainly liable to Catalina Robledo, the owner of the French bulldog, Kokito, for damages in this case, we must also seriously question what went on in Robledo’s head when her dog began to yelp.

    Did she not think to check on her dog to see if it was okay? There have been many times during my own flights when I’ve gone to the overhead bin to open it to retrieve items that I left there or to put back some items that I no longer wished to carry with me on my flights. But here, we’re talking about a small, vulnerable, and highly cherished dog, not some inanimate object. Did anyone tell the woman, “Yes, put your dog in the overhead compartment and never open it until the plane lands?” I know of no such rule. And nobody ever stopped me from opening the overhead to deal with my inanimate objects. Certainly flight attendants have seen me do this and never said anything to me. But OPENING the overhead bin alone, just to check on the dog, might have saved the dog’s life, even if Robledo foolishly continued to leave her dog in the overhead bin.

    And if anyone is wondering why Kokito died under these circumstances, the answer is that the poor dog likely suffocated from lack of air and the rising temperature. Imagine if someone forced you into a burial casket, closed the lid tightly, during a hot summer, and left you there for an hour or two. You too would likely be dead too, as you would have exhausted all air, not to mention the shock you would cause your body to experience.

    See the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, if you’re still having difficulty imagining such a fate, or even if you can imagine precisely what it would be like:

  3. I am so very sorry for this puppy and his owner. Was the overhead bin airtight then? If an attendant requires you to put a little pet up there, one would assume that their was sufficient air, and that this was some airline policy.

    To have this happen at all, let alone in front of small children, is inexcusable. The owner probably did not open the bin door to look at the puppy because she wouldn’t want to start him barking again.

    Deplorable behavior, United. You can spend money, but you can’t bring that dog back. (Is this the same airline that killed the giant rabbit, too?)

  4. Simple Rule: AVOID UNITED AIRLINES! How many warnings and clues do you need to know that United is a terrible airline and is terrible to customers?

    Oh, and by the way, United Airlines has the highest rate of incidents involving animal loss, injury or death during air transportation, with 2.24 for every 10,000 animals transported by U.S. carriers, according to Department of Transportation. That’s more than twice as many as competitors.

    ‘Nuff said!

  5. Meanwhile, Trump received yet another insult, more proof that even in dependably red districts he is disliked, all of which JT totally ignored.

    • What insult? A race that came down to the wire? To the slimmest of margins? To a race involving an overweight, middle aged guy going up against a young, former prosecutor, who is a handsome, fresh-faced newcomer? Get real. Not everything in the world is associated with Trump, unless, of course, you want to blame this puppy’s death on Trump and the Republicans. Watch for it. . .one. . .two. . .three. . .

      • bam bam

        Have you chosen to forget that Trump won this district 16 months ago with a 20% margin? This election wiped out that margin. History is important.

        • Absolutely. I get that. I do; however, look at the candidates. Yes. Actually, look at them. We can be very pc and attempt to pretend that looks and appearance are irrelevant factors in political races, or, for that matter, throughout life, in general, but in reality, the facts prove otherwise. Read the multiple studies. Yes. Legitimate, verifiable studies, which have examined the success of those who are tall, attractive, etc. Human beings often, but not always, advance, in life whether we like it or not, upon various attributes, like height, like age and like degree of attractiveness. Was this a referendum on Trump? Those who despise Trump would say, yes. For those who want to be more objective, one could simply declare that the manner in which the two candidates looked. . .their respective degrees of what is considered to be attractive, their ages, etc., played a major factor in the outcome of a race where there was no clear referendum. Don’t discount looks, youth, etc., as having pushed this election to victory for one of the candidates.

          • I don’t discount looks. The contrast between the two men surely made it easier for some to switch to the Dems – some. But if we are looking for some forecast of how Trump candidates will fare in ’18, the loss of 20 points in a historically conservative district is very concerning – especially since Trump had a notable rally two days before the election. The election result indicates trouble and that is what Republican leadership is worried about (ignore the spin) – not that the Democrat was good looking and the final margins were so close. The loss of those 20 points means that the Democrats won even if they ultimately lose by a couple of hundred votes.

        • Mespo

          He is personally pro-life – and supports right to choose. Also supports greater background checks for gun control. Plenty of current and older Democrats are ex-Marines and ex-prosecutors.

          I believe a great majority of Americans favor better gun control. Do you assert they are all deranged? Ditto for a majority of Americans favor the right to choose while allowing some controls. Are they also deranged?

          • Mae:
            No, you caan spot the deranged when they advocate to, as Franklin said, “give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety.” I could vote for Lamb especially since he wants Pelosi outta there.

            • Mespo,

              You don’t hurt my feelings by calling for the end of Pelosi. We’ll carry on just fine. But I confess you do puzzle me with your ever-changing/shifting symptoms of derangement. But you’ll surely have to argue long and hard to convince me I’m buying Liberty OR safety when California resource officers are discharging guns in gun safety class.

              • You’ve fallen for the one instance proves every instance fallacy. Secretariat won a race hence every horse won a race. The problem is that the Left is so extreme the only way they win is by being or pretending they’re not. That doesn’t bode well for the Dems without or with Brainfreeze Nancy.

    • Lamb essentially ran as a Republican. He’s a Democrat who is Pro-Life, supports Trump’s tariffs, supports the tax bill, says he is pro-gun, and is against Pelosi. Does that sound like a Democrat to you?

      They chose the Democrat who most walked and talked like a Republican in a district where most Democrats voted for Trump. That’s not a repudiation.

      The Republican candidate had little idea how to fundraise, and his idea of a campaign ad was him talking to Santa. He spent pittance compared to Lamb, and yet it came down to the wire between two candidates whose policies were essentially the same.

      Far Left extremists would never win in a district like that.

      However, the red district will learn to its chagrin that Lamb will vote the party line when it counts.

        • Conor Lamb campaigned:
          1. For universal health care
          2. Against Trump’s tax cut
          3. For expanded background checks
          4. For stronger unions
          5. Against cuts to Social Security
          6. For a woman’s right to choose
          7. For medical marijuana

          You want to call Lamb a Republican? Fine with me. I look forward to seeing a bunch of these men and women in the next congress

  6. When I flew Delta with my cat, I researched the matter thoroughly and found that animals should not be in cargo during winter or summer, due to the dangerous temperatures. And the pet carrier you select should be fabric and collapsible. The hard plastic, or fabric over metal, pet carriers may not fit under the seat, which is what may have happened here. If the carrier wouldn’t fit under the seat, the flight attendant likely suggested the overhead bin, not realizing the heat would suffocate the dog. Delta required my cat’s carrier to be completely under the seat during take-off and landing, but allowed me to hold the carrier in my lap during the flight. I don’t know why there people didn’t get up and check on the dog during the flight. I think there was negligence on both sides.

    • Some of the news stories say they couldn’t due to turbulence. As one child was very young, the mother’s options would have been more limited.

    • If there is a strict policy against placing animals in overhead bins–and, I believe that such a prohibition exists–this isn’t a matter of whether or not the flight attendant believed that the animal should or should not be placed there. Her beliefs are irrelevant. The only relevant issue is whether or not she knew that a live animal was in that bag. If she did, then she had no right to exercise her personal beliefs and demand the animal be stowed there. Period. If the flight attendant violated said policy, and, knowingly, ordered the placement of a live animal there, that is a very different story from the one that I heard, ad nauseum, on the television, which touted that the individual merely observed some random bag, in the isle, and asked the owner to place it in the overhead bin due to safety concerns. A very different story is being provided in this article.

    • Excellent point. Why didn’t they at a minimum take the dog down during the flight like you might for a briefcase or the like. But there is no way I would have agreed to put my animal overhead. I would have deplaned if we were still at the gate which I am sure they were. There has to be more to this tragic story.

  7. Very few facts in this article. Why would a dog in its approved carrier die by merely being placed in the overhead bin? Was it too dark in there? Is it airtight? Are they pumping in carbon monoxide? I doubt the attendant believed there could have been anything in there that would have harmed the animal…More facts please.

  8. Every news report, on television, states that the flight attendant claims not to have known that there was an animal in the container. Not one word about the dog barking in any of these reports, which I find to be strange if, in fact, that is what triggered her to demand that the item be placed overhead. The addition, of a few words, would make all of the difference, as the viewer, when hearing the saga, actually pities the flight attendant. I know that I did. The impression, directly conveyed in the various news reports, is that the flight attendant merely wanted a bag, sticking out in the isle, stowed away somewhere, safely. The reports claim that she was stunned and shocked to later learn that an animal had been contained in the item placed in the overhead. What disingenuous reporting, by all of the major guys on television. Looks like United has a great deal of pull, with these stations, to get the first version of the story spun in such a way as to give the flight attendant the benefit of the doubt. To make the viewer actually feel sorry for what appears to be a tragic and unintended ending. Totally off the mark and a ruse. The part about the dog barking is an integral part of the story, as is the fact that this was a special container for animals.

      • Not the stories told on-air. I watched several of them. . .not one story, on-air, mentioned anything about barking. Anything about the carrier being one which would contain an animal. As such, the viewer is led to believe that this was a tragic accident, all around. No mention of the flight attendant being put on notice as to a live animal in this container, which is strictly prohibited from being placed in the overhead bin. Is it any wonder tjat the stuff, tossed about regarding Trump and the investigatio, is so confusing and contradictory? These news reporters are irresponsible and slanted, as evidenced by the flagrant omission of the basic facts pertaining to the story at hand–just further proof of their biased reporting.

  9. They should have just put it in the cargo and done with. For now, maybe get another dog from the shelter, and move along. Some people eat dogs for meals . Why are they more special than other animals?

    • Obama used to eat them growing up, but we are not supposed to mention that tidbit. It’s verboten. Anyway, I don’t blame him. . .he was just a kid. . .he ate whatever his wild, flaky, confused, untethered, undisciplined and unbalanced mother put in front of him. That, however, pertains to a completely different culture. This is the US. . .billions are spent with regard to the care of our pets. For many, they are cherished family members. The fact that starving people eat dogs, in various parts of the world, where they are grateful to ingest any source of animal protein, doesn’t lessen the trauma of losing a beloved pet aboard an airline. The, THEY EAT DOGS AROUND THE WORLD, argument is not legitimate or sound in response to a story about a family losing its precious pet in such a manner.

    • Yes, Autumn, great point! Stanley Milgram’s still right and will continue to be right. His iconic test has basically been conducted in a wide variety of nations, cultures, and circumstances–and the results have been the same, indicating that submission to authority figures has been inculcated into human psychology–at least for a substantial proportion of the population.

      Plus, most air travelers have, no doubt, read or heard the stories about how failure to follow the instructions of airline staff can result in being thrown off the plane or worse!

      When fear of authority is added to the mix of the “authority” figure’s position, blind obedience becomes even more probable for a large percentage of the population. Remember, most people complied with the “authority” figure in the Milgram experiments even when there weren’t any real penalties for not complying, as they could have just walked out at any time.

    • PS: If you haven’t seen “The Experimenter” (2015), I’d recommend it.

      It’s well done, but it doesn’t show the humorous side of Stanley Milgram. I recall, for example, seeing a documentary by Milgram that started out with him sitting in a barber chair in New York City, lathered with shaving cream and getting a shave with a straight razor. He speaks to the camera and says something along the lines of the following. “Here I am getting a shave in a barbershop in New York City, exposing my face and neck to a complete stranger with a sharp knife.”

      Here’s the trailer:

  10. United has tried to make good by refunding the tickets and the $200 for carrying the dog. That will help them at least start to look good to a jury for the action of their ‘rogue’ employee. Not sure how much more a jury would award them.

  11. It still gets me where the stupid b**** of the flight attendant says she did not know there was a dog in the bag, yet poor Kokito barked and barked for 2 hours. I also can’t believe that no one on the flight got out of their seats to rescue him. I’m an animal lover and if I would have been on this flight I would have got out of my seat to get this poor baby out of the overhead bin regardless of the consequences. 😡😢

  12. Are the people at United Airlines stupid?

    After the “reaccomodation” fiasco that resulted in a brutalized passenger, you would expect the airline employees to be extra vigilant about using their authority.

  13. It used to be that animals were checked into the cargo hold. If the dog in its cage doesn’t fit under the seat then it is up in the overhead or into the hold. If you can’t fly without your pet, then take the train.

    • issac,

      I don’t think you read this story carefully: While Catalina Robledo had a TSA-approved carrier for the ten-month old Kokito–This means her dog did fit under the seat. That’s what having an approved carrier entails. It has to be certain dimensions. The dog had every right to fly with the person according to both the airline’s and TSA. Taking your pet on board is approved in advance with an airline.

      It’s so weird that you and other people show no concern for this animal’s suffering. It really doesn’t speak well of any of you.

      I’m sure a barking dog is really hard to take on a plane. So is a crying baby. Yet these things are part of life and we have to deal with them in a job and as fellow passangers. I guess you have never loved a pet but if you had, you would understand why this death was devestating to the person. It was a cruel, unnecessary death.

      The answer isn’t taking a train, it’s acting like a decent, caring human being under stress. That’s difficult but it has to be done.

      • Jill

        If the dog/cage fit under the seat then that’s where the dog/cage should go. If this was the case and the attendant put the dog in an unsafe place, then it’s on him or her or it. However, in the article it mentioned that the attendant acted as the dog/cage presented an obstruction to movement.

        I like animals, don’t love them. I love my wife, son, and some relatives. I have fallen into and out of love with many. There are all kinds of people who love cake, coffee, dogs, cats, etc and are the worst sort when it comes to people. Again, animals should ride in safe conditions, in the cargo hold. This animal companionship is relatively new. One could blame it on the left.

        When all is said and done, people have dogs for various reasons, some not so much for the dog but for themselves. Some could care less about the dog but live for the affection. I would wager that more dogs sit at home almost all day while their owner is at work; dogs that were bred to run, hunt, and not be cooped up. I would say that the true test of whether or not one ‘loves’ a dog is not having one if you don’t have the proper environment. Visit big cities and observe the fashionable walk or pay to have walked dogs that have no place in that environment. They’re bred for the outdoors, to be a functional asset, yet kept as a guaranteed giver of affection.

        • issac,

          You can’t always fly a pet in cargo. It’s not always safe. However, you can only board a plane with a pet if the carrier will fit under the seat. That’s approved in advance by the airline. End of story. This behavior was simply wrong. It was cruel and it caused needless suffering and death. There isn’t an excuse for the behavior.

          While I don’t disagree that people have pets for a multide of reasons, some good, some bad, nor do I disagree that many people don’t treat their pet well, these observations don’t apply to this case.

          It’s so strange to see that so many will excuse this cruelty. We are truly an authoritarian people who, when a company or someone powerful does something wrong, tend to side with the powerful not the person or animal being harmed. We will not stand up against powerful wrongdoers and that kind of obediance to authority allows all kinds of injustice to go unchallegened. This is a strange nation and we become more and more obediant every year.

          • And I’ll just add, we’re about to see American’s love of authority big time. I’m sure I’ll see amazing defenses of a torturer for CIA head and head of the State dept. It is already happening. Something has gone horribly wrong in this nation as we have many citizens who easily support atrocities, unconsitutional and lawless actions among the powerful.

    • I agree with this. It’s a sign of how good we have it in this country that some people’s biggest problem in life is that they’re too emotionally fragile to go anywhere without their animals. I’m sick to death with seeing co-dependent wierdos and their fake service animals in supermarkets and restaurants. There’s no way the rest of us should have to listen to a yapping dog on an airline flight in order to accommodate a single emotional weakling. I certainly believe that United bears some responsibility if they are found to have contributed to the death of this animal. But a smart airline wouldn’t have let the animal on in the first freaking place. At any rate, this is a classic example of a first-world problem.

      • Jay,

        You are the man! Why these candy-*&s veterans and their therapy dogs–don’t thank these wimps for their service, just tell it like it is. If you can’t see a bunch of people’s heads blown to bits and be all good with it, then you should never have been in the service. What we need is more real people like Ollie North who sought out throat slitting missions. Now there’s a real man. He likes killing. We need more people like him in the service don’t we Jay, not people who feel.

        That goes for women who get raped. If you can’t get raped and live with a smile, no help needed then what is you’re problem?

        Kid got cancer? What a whimp. So the baby is scared and wants some comfort do they? Well that kid is just one more candy-a@@!

        Can’t agree more. People who have been harmed don’t deserve help. They are just whimps. (And as to other third world nations, you’ll be traveling with all kinds of animals in some of those. I think you really need to stay away from those countries because I don’t think you could cope very well with all the animals.)

        “What Is PTSD?
        PTSD is not a mental illness. It is a reactive change the brain undergoes, after having been exposed to the stresses of war. Many veterans’ brains stay in combat mode after they come home—and the condition may persist for many years. Their brains tell them to be on high alert for an enemy. They have difficulty sleeping and have nightmares about what they saw and experienced. Being in a crowd can be extremely stressful, because the brain tells the veteran danger could be waiting among the people around him. Emotionally fragile, sleep-deprived and depressed, these military members begin to withdraw from family and friends.

        Sadly, many veterans end up committing suicide. It is estimated that somewhere between 20% and 30% of veterans return home with PTSD. Recently, the Department of Veterans affairs released a 2016 report estimating that approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day. This is a slight decrease from the estimated 22 per day from a 2012 report. Many of these suicides are veterans of the Vietnam War as well as more recent conflicts. Vietnam veterans commit suicide at twice the rate of the general population.

        How can having a shelter dog help a military member with PTSD?1
        Scientific evidence of a dog’s impact on humans has been studied for many years. More than 30 years ago, a study produced evidence that the act of petting a friendly and familiar dog lowers a person’s blood pressure, causes the heart rate to slow down, making breathing more regular and causes tensed muscles to relax. All of these add up to reduced stress.

        – Recent studies have gone further, showing that a dog actually changes blood chemistry, reducing the amount of stress-related hormones produced by the body. Moreover, the positive effects build up over time. Depression and anxiety can be lessened. ”

  14. As a dog lover I find it so difficult to comment.
    This uncaring b…h should be sent to an animal
    Shelter for the rest of her life.
    It’s beyond deplorable.

  15. This is truly horrifying! I never cared about the idiot they had to drag out kicking and screaming, but this is appalling! What is it about giving the marginally intelligent some “authority” that leads to this type of tragedy? Where has common sense gone?

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