United Airlines In The News Again…But Is Sheer Incompetence The Only Flaw Here?

United Airlines In The News Again…But Is Sheer Incompetence The Only Flaw Here?

United Airlines In The News Again…But Is Sheer Incompetence The Only Flaw Here?

Last week’s news of a Frenchton expiring on a United Airlines flight was absolutely horrific.

Then, one dog was suddenly not in Kansas anymore after he was sent on a trans-Pacific flight to Japan. Then came the reports that out of the 24 animal fatalities on U.S. carriers, United was responsible for 18 of those. Then, just this past weekend, we learned a United flight from Newark to St. Louis was diverted Thursday after the airline learned it had a dog on board bound for Akron, Ohio. Whether we’re talking small pups with breathing difficulties or large rabbits, it seems as if United has an animal problem.

I’m not going to lie. As a wife of an airline pilot, I am happy to say my husband does not work for United. It does not help the airline, though, when crew members are supposedly already making jokes about dead dogs:

“I think everyone is just shocked and saddened by the incident. Pets don’t belong in overhead bins and we all know that. I can’t comment on the specifics because I wasn’t there, but this should not have happened. We know better.”-United Airlines Flight Attendant, Inc. Magazine

There have been rumblings on the United front for quite some time. Morale is reportedly low, crew members question whether or not they will receive their bonuses, they are held to strict timelines on quick turns (getting the plane ready for the next round of passengers when it parks at the gate) and on-time departures. Hardly an excuse for a burnt-out, frustrated flight attendant to demand a family put their four-legged friend in the overhead bin but all of these mounting issues could be why the airline is spontaneously imploding on itself.

My husband and I spent a great amount of time this morning talking about this. Flight attendants have some pretty rigorous training that they have to complete before their first time in the cabin with passengers. They need to be knowledgeable about the aircraft they are flying. They need to understand safety and rescue measures. It almost scares me a little that a flight attendant would not have the common sense to know that a live animal does not belong in an overhead bin. If this is the case, she should have moved over for someone who has a brain. As far as a dog going to Japan instead of Kansas? Japan is what they call a “rabies-free” country and therefore, individuals need to jump through a few more hoops to get their animals over there by way of a microchip, extra vaccinations, blood tests and an examination by a USDA-approved veterinarian. This paperwork needs to travel with the animal. We did this back in 2007 with two cats so I would say there is some serious incompetence happening for that dog to have even been on that flight!

Should there be penalties slapped on the airline? I would say yes. But let’s take a step back and look at the human condition of airline travelers who are incessantly rude to crew members on the regular. They are also inconsiderate and rude to other passengers. I don’t know how many times I’ve had some guy’s smelly foot resting on the back of my armrest (it eventually met my elbow with a shove). I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten the stink-eye from a passenger because I was traveling with a small child (and our son was a good travel baby). I don’t know how many times I have heard flight attendants tell people to power off their electronic devices only to see people not listen and cop an attitude with the flight attendant after the second request to turn off their device! Really, folks. It’s NOT that much of a hardship! Instagram can wait!

I am not saying that I do not sympathize with this family who lost their beloved pet…but really? The flight attendant claimed she “misunderstood” an animal was in the carry-on. But the family knew the puppy was in the carry-on bag and still put the dog in the overhead bin! For our family it was very important to have both of our cats traveling with us in the cabin for the duration of the trans-Pacific flight. We paid for this to happen and carefully researched pet carriers that were compliant and fit under our seats. If this were me, I would have gotten off that flight and complained right then and there. It would not have mattered that I lost money spent on a flight and a few seats, I would have marched myself off that plane, with my animal and would have begun to research other options of getting myself and my family (four-legged family member included) from point A to point B. My furry family member would never have ended up in an overhead bin. Never. End of story.

Then there were the “Good Samaritans” who took to Twitter and news outlets for their 15 minutes of fame to say they “felt bad” hearing the whimpers of this family’s dog but did NOTHING during this flight to check on this poor pup. I am sure the captain turned off the fasten seatbelts sign sometime during this flight? Nope. They sat and listened to the cries of this animal until the animal cried no more…and then, they felt bad?!

Should United assume responsibility? Absolutely. United Airlines has a PR nightmare and blood on their hands for this one. But I believe the tragedy of last week’s United flight speaks volumes on the state of humanity we are in. When bystanders sit on a jet at cruising altitude and do nothing while an animal suffocates to death in an overhead luggage bin we have reached an all-time low. Fasten your seat belts and make sure your tray tables are stowed, folks. We’re in for a bumpy ride.

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  • SDN says:

    “When bystanders sit on a jet at cruising altitude and do nothing while an animal suffocates to death in an overhead luggage bin we have reached an all-time low. ”

    Well, I can think of a few reasons for that behavior.

    1. Let’s start with the fact that they’re on the airline known for beating the sh*t out of non-compliant passengers and dragging them off the plane. I know that hospital stays and follow on dental surgery were always part of MY travel budget.

    2. The crew is already pre-covered if they do that, because ever since 9/11, “failure to comply with the instructions of the flight crew” is an actual Federal crime, and they make sure to inform you of that with every flight as part of the “safety lecture”.

    Yep, you too can end up in the loving embrace of McCabe’s FBI. Do you have the cash and legal contacts to fight them? Especially since they can charge you with committing terroristic acts, not to mention “lying to the FBI” because you changed a comma between the first and second interrogations. Ask General Flynn how that’s working out for him and his family….. if you can find his new address. He doesn’t have his former house anymore.

    3. Then there are the “second order” effects. Guess who’s on the “no-fly” and “terrorism watch” lists now? Guess who just might have the FBI and ATFE showing up at their door to confiscate any guns you might have, especially if the “reasonable” gun control bill everyone including the NRA is agreeing to passes? It’s for damn sure you won’t be buying any more.

    Does your job depend on the ability to fly? Mine does. And getting off the “no-fly” list is one whack of a lot harder than getting on it. It will certainly involve lots more time, and lawyer bills. Or did you think “The process is the punishment” was just a myth? You and your Twitter pal there probably do. Neither of these requires anything remotely resembling an actual conviction. Neither does the “asset forfeiture” to make sure you can’t afford an attorney.

    4. Oh, and speaking of your job…. do you really think your employer is going to be cool with having an “alleged” violent felon on the payroll? In this day and age of “workplace violence”? Not to mention all the time you’re going to be not doing your job, given how much time you’re going to spend dealing with the legal process. Nope, much easier to fire you.

    Now, if I’m the owner of the animal, I’d have to risk all of that. It’s part of the responsibilities I volunteered for when I took the dog home. Of course, I’d kind of have to weigh whether or not the dog’s well being outweighed the well-being of the kids who are right there (as they were), and that won’t take too well to watching me dragged off the plane bleeding. Not to mention the fact that I’ll immediately have them taken away from me while I’m being arrested (more process punishment).

    But for a total stranger? Maybe if I’m young and with no responsibilities other than to myself. But if I have a family? And you’re assuming that I’m not one of the people who really doesn’t think the dog shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

    Everyone loves that story of the “Good Samaritan”. Everyone thinks they’d be him. But when you think about it, what was he really risking? Yeah, maybe if he’d gotten there while the beating was in progress, he’d have been at physical risk. But the parable itself makes it clear all he had on the line was a little time and a little coin. If he had known in advance that he was risking some guaranteed time in King Herod’s dungeon and and a free wood shampoo while getting there, he’d have taken the other trail and “tsked tsked” over how horrible the whole thing was.

    • Lisa Carr says:

      ^^True on all of the above and I respect every point made here as they all support the argument of why the passengers with the dog or total strangers do not put up a fight in flight. Totally get it. I’m not saying this needed to be a knock-down, drag-out fight between the passengers and crew, though. I understand the woman with the dog had a language barrier and perhaps did not completely understand what the flight attendant was suggesting. The plane was on the ground and from my understanding, did not push off yet. What would have been the harm in the passengers standing up by alerting the woman that perhaps this was not the best idea in the interest of her family pet? Or calmly asking the flight attendant if there was another option for this family? Or of the woman subsequently saying, “I am not comfortable with this, please let us off?” I mean, sure, the kid would have been scarred for life if mom had a knock-down-drag-out with the flight crew, got charged as an alleged violent felon and put on the no-fly list but don’t you think that kid is scarred from the whole experience of hearing her dog in the luggage compartment and finding the animal DOA? And NO ONE opened the compartment to check on the animal when the captain turned off the fasten seat belt sign? People get up and go through the luggage compartments all the time in flight!

      Again, it IS easy to say what one would have done in that situation when he or she was not there, I get that. All I am saying is…could there have a better way all of this could have been handled in a civilized manner without anyone ending up arrested or on the no-fly list? I think so and I think this situation speaks volumes of how self-absorbed people are when they travel and in general. I’m sure, as someone whose life depends on your ability to fly, you can attest to that. It is a great job and I’m sure there’s nothing in the world you would rather do more but it can be a thankless one as well. Ever had passengers cuss at you and your crew because you were waiting on weather to pass, ran out of crew day and had to turn the plane around? Get angry because the flight was “too bumpy”? Ignore your flight crew and continue using their cell phones until their last resort is to be a bit snippy (they asked nicely the first and second times)? Or have you ever had a tight connection for some passengers and asked that the passengers making the connecting flight deplane first to have the one or two idiots who are not making that connecting flight block the aisle to get their luggage and push those passengers out of the way because THEY want off the plane and get combative when asked to step aside? Demand First Class even though they are not on a partner carrier and hold-up the flight crew in argument? In these cases, I can understand how a flight attendant may be a bit jaded and a bit surly. Some passengers just suck and it just perplexes me how no one offered up suggestions and help for this woman and her family BEFORE it got to critical mass but claimed on social media afterwards the fact that they “wanted to help her”.

      Thanks for your input. I respect what you ALL do on a daily basis.

      • Sherry says:

        I said the same thing last week Lisa. The mother and anyone else around that knew there was a dog in the overhead bin are just as responsible. If the flight attendant didn’t understand that there was a dog, the family and nearby passengers definitely knew. I would say, based on my own flying experience, simply questioning the first flight attendant would have most lively brought another flight attendant or one of the flight crew members into the picture to quickly resolve the clear misunderstanding and that pup would still be alive today.

    • Jim Giles says:

      Then there is 10% of the population that are allergic to cats and dogs and have to fly with your precious animals.
      I was sick two weeks with bronchitis after one two hour flight.
      But Fido was comfy so that’s fine.

  • GWB says:

    Nice post, Lisa.

  • David R Byler says:

    I was once that doggy in the overhead bin. Well, not exactly, but close enough. To cut a horror story down to just the part about the airline – I had flown out to Vegas for a special event which went exceptionally well. But then, in the midst of a morning after from hell, I had had a stroke. I survived without permanent damage to anything. The hospital wanted to cut me loose and send me back “home” to my own doctors. To get me home safely, I had to be on oxygen. The hospital organized all that with the airline which then refused to accept their own paper work filled out by the hospital certifying the need for the oxygen equipment. While the paper work was being worked out all over again, the airline wanted to charge me a fee for rescheduling my flight. We went through that exercise twice, each time accruing more charges. When I finally was accepted on a flight, I had to find my way to my seat handling a piece of equipment bulkier and heavier than I was in physical shape to handle by myself, but I managed to get to my seat finally anyway with help from fellow passengers. The flight attendant then began to insist upon untethering me from my oxygen equipment and placing it into an overhead bin because it was too large to go under the seat and “you can’t have this on the flight.” This, in spite of the airline having the paper work approving my equipment. Some guy who looked “official” told me that I had to do as I was told. I told him and the flight attendant that, in that case, they needed to be sure and have a body bag to fit me when we landed. They relented, eventually. When we landed, the attendants et alia abandoned me on the plane to find my own way off. Blessedly, it was a small airport and an official from another airline finally came half an hour later with a wheel chair to get me to the lobby of the airport where my ride was waiting and had been asking everyone what had happened to me. In this adventure, I sensed a certain lack of training and a certain lack of communication. I don’t think the attendants knew they had a “medical needs” passenger nor do I think they understood what attending to those needs might entail. Don’t think they had a clue – and for that, I blame the airline, not the attendants …

  • Man in the Middle says:

    Nice to assume the Fasten Seat Belts sign would be extinguished sometime during the flight so someone could check on the dog, but one of the reasons I refuse to fly on United is because they do NOT ever turn off the Fasten Seat Belts sign if they can possibly avoid doing so. Nothing makes me need to go to the bathroom more than knowing it’s a 4 hour flight and that light may NEVER be going off.

    Somehow this isn’t a problem when flying with American airlines, so I assume leaving the light on is a United policy.

  • John Reece says:

    Well, I saw a picture of the family at the gate and it looked like they were pushing even the most generous carryon limits. None of the bags that could have been the dog carrier looked like it would have fit under the seat.
    Perhaps the crew bent the rules up to a point and then said “enough”. OTOH by charging for even one checked
    bag airlines incentivized pushing carryon limits.

  • Erik says:

    What Lies Behind the Ever-Worsening Treatment
    Passengers Get at the Hands of Airlines?

    Excerpt from my own horrid experience
    with Air France a few months ago
    (although relatively benign in comparison
    to some of the examples mentioned here):


    Aren’t all the scandals of the past couple of years — the Kentucky doctor dragged off a plane in Chicago (David Dao), the young mother whose stroller was violently grabbed by a flight attendant (Olivia Morgan) — due to airline employees’ inordinate focus on following rules — and on treating passengers like children who should remain quiet and obey — instead of being the smiling face of a service agency?

    Indeed: isn’t the very presence of a plethora of more rules — many of which did not exist in the “laissez-faire” era of only 10 to 20 years ago (which in itself would seem to prove that [contrary to common-sense bans about bringing handguns aboard, for example] the new edicts are relatively non-essential and unimportant, almost gratuitous) — a thing that causes, consciously or otherwise, employees to be more focused on the rules than on the passengers and on providing service?

    A number of these new directives are close to unfathomable: regarding pets, besides the one-only-in-the-cabin, you have — all airlines have? — if I understand correctly, recently decided to ban every type of hard box for sale except for that of one single vendor; and apparently there is a decree that unless you declare a traveling pet 24 hours prior to boarding — i.e., if you show up with the pet unannounced at the airport counter — it will be denied admittance.

    Where do these rules come from, anyway? Are lawyers with nothing to do dreaming them up, like Woody Allen in Bananas, to justify their salary?

    Then there are bans like the one on changing places to an empty seat with more legroom — unless you pull out your credit card — which make travelers think that we are to be treated more like a flock of sheep or, rather, a herd of milch-cows.

  • I had a similar experience working on the nursing staff of a children’s hospital—an obsession with niggling rules that ignored what really mattered. I was faulted for insisting in the nursing notes that an eight-year-old girl dying of cancer and abandoned by her family needed “someone to stay with her at night.” I did all I could, spending 45 minutes I could barely spare rocking her to sleep. But when she woke up again, I could not do that again. I had six other children battling leukemia that need my attention. And yet I was faulted for even raising the issue.

    Imagine for a moment an administration from the CEO down to the lowest level of administration over the flight attendants that is incompetent. Those in the airlines executives suites want to dictate that a certain set of rules and policies will be rigidly followed. For them, that is “running a tight ship.” They then select underlings who will do as they’re told almost mindlessly, and so on down the line. When I asked a nursing school professor why a hospital would hire stupid people as head nurses, she replied in a instant, “Because they want someone who will do what they are told.”

    That, I suspect, is what is happening at United. The airlines administration is demanding that its dictates be followed to the last letter. The seatbelt signs stay on because none of the crew want to take responsibility for what will follow if they turn them off and there’s some turbulence. The result is that those in the lowest levels of supervision over the flight attendants are so stupid, they demand that from those under them stick to the rules in situations where that is disastrous. The flight attendants that are so rattled, much like the nurses I worked with, that they lack the flexibility to deal with real-life situations. They’re sticklers for the rules because they fear being fired if they aren’t.

    I hope you get my point. Don’t blame the flight attendants. If that were true, every airline would be as bad as United. Blame administrators who give flight attendants no breathing room.

    The experience I endured was such a disaster, shortly after I resigned and in the space of just a few weeks, some 20% of the hospital’s floor nurses quit en masse. And if you know nurses, you know it takes a lot to make a nurse leave a children’s hospital, leaving kids in the lurch. If you’ll like to understand these unhealthy work environments from the inside as well as hear of a solution, read my Senior Nurse Mentor, in which I describe and offer a fix from bad nursing morale.

    In the case of airlines, they need a go-to person that flight attendants can call with messy situations. That person would have the authority to override these often stupid policies and rules, sparing the flight attendants.

    Some airlines do encourage good sense over rigid rules. I was on a cross-country flight in which an elderly woman across the aisle from me had a heart attack. The flight attendants responded marvelously. They brought her oxygen. They called an airline physician via satellite phone, and they found a physician assistant on board to assist. There was enough reasoned decision-making that the flight continued. When the plane landed in Seattle, we were asked to remain in our seats while medics, who were waiting for the plane, took her off. It was so professionally handled, I commended the flight attendants as I left the plane. They were treated as responsible and had responded responsibly.

    –Michael W. Perry, medical writer

  • Mike says:

    I used to fly at least twice a week (happily not necessary any more) and since my home airport is EWR (Newark, NJ) I was on Continental 95% of the time. They were, in my estimation, the best airline in the USA back then. The speed with which their service quality collapsed after the United takeover was breathtaking. The whole thing was sold as really Continental taking over United but it certainly didn’t work out that way. There was a CEO change just before the merger. I met the old CEO once (Larry Kellner) and he seemed to be a great guy, maybe the new one was just an inferior leader.

  • Fen says:

    Hang on a sec. You want to call out the other passengers who didn’t want to be frog marched of the airplane onto a no-fly list and courtesy cell at Gitmo, fine.

    But what about all these other stewardesses? You mean to tell me all these airline employees walking back and forth through the section with the whining suffocating puppy had not a lick of common sense or common decency between them?

  • Rob Siegmund says:

    Alternate take:

    Acquiring a dog is easy but putting time into training it isn’t so most owners don’t bother. That means the dog is training the owner and this particular dog had trained its owner to ignore its yapping.

    The thing was barking for two hours straight! It shouldn’t have been permitted into the cabin in the first place.

    • bob roth says:

      Stupidest remark I have heard in a long time. Beyond ignorance bordering on brain dead. The animal was crying for help as it died a horrible, painful death, you bloody idiot.

  • John C Stephens says:

    All this, and yet people STILL book flights on United; I’m starting to lose my capacity for sympathy. United needs to die, and anyone who prolongs their life by giving them their business deserves what happens to them.

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