Heartbreaking Death of Kokito the Dog on United Airlines Flight Raises Questions

Everyone makes mistakes. And, anyone who says he or she never makes mistakes just made one by saying that.

But it’s hard to place the mistake label on the cause of the in-flight death of French Bulldog Kokito (who looks like the dog in the photo in this post, except Kokito was black). Kokito, a passenger’s pet, died on a United Airlines flight after being put in an overhead storage bin by a flight attendant before takeoff. What a tragedy!

It’s hard to call it a mistake because the pet owner and some other passengers claimed that the dog’s barking was audible for about two hours after being put in the bin.

Here’s what we know:

The pet owner paid extra to have her Kokito in the plane cabin with her and her family. But she had to have Kokito in an airline-approved pet carrier bag that could be easily stowed away during the flight.

Kokito was brought aboard the plan in an approved pet carrier bag.

The pet owner was having difficulty storing the carrier under a seat.

The flight attendant insisted on putting the carrier bag in the overhead bin before takeoff – even after the pet owner’s young daughter reportedly told the attendant that their dog was in the carrier. Witnesses on the flight said they heard the daughter saying that. The mother apparently didn’t speak very fluent English.

The pet owner and her daughter said they could not get up during the flight to check on the dog because there was a lot of turbulence, and everyone has to stay seated during turbulence.

There’s no oxygen getting into those bins.

Because French Bulldogs have short faces, these type of dogs already has less efficient breathing, according to The American Kennel Club.

When they landed, they checked on Kokito and discovered that he had died.

The flight attendant said she didn’t hear the daughter say a dog was in the carrier, and didn’t understand the mother, according to a statement released by United Airlines.

Many people who either are flight attendants, were flight attendants, or who instruct flight attendants say that putting a pet in an overhead bin is just NOT done.

United Airlines has accepted responsibility for Kokito’s death. United released this statement this week:

We have spoken to the family, our crew and a number of passengers who were seated nearby. We have learned that the customer did tell the flight attendant that there was a dog in the carrier. However, our flight attendant did not hear or understand her, and did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin. As we stated, we take full responsibility and are deeply sorry for this tragic accident. We remain in contact with the family to express our condolences and offer support.

To prevent this from happening again, by April we will issue bright colored bag tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets. This visual tag will further help our flight attendants identify pets in-cabin.

In the wake of Kokito’s death aboard this plane this week, two U.S. senators (a Republican and a Democrat) introduced a bill that calls for prohibiting airlines from putting animals in overhead bins. If it becomes law, the so-called “W.O.O.F – the Welfare of Our Furry Friends Act,” would direct the FAA to create the regulations to prevent this, and set civil fines for violations.

So … I’m torn. While it’s hard to believe that none of the flight attendants heard the dog’s barking (flight attendants routinely check overhead bins to make sure their closed), it’s also hard to believe that the flight attendant did this on purpose.

No, I wasn’t there. No, I didn’t talk with the flight attendant or the family (other than media interviews given by the family). And yes, I do know that there are some heartless people who in the world who don’t put value on an animal’s life. But my gut tells me that this flight attendant isn’t that type of person.

If it was a mistake, it was a costly one. It cost Kokito his life.

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