WASHINGTON - The death of a family dog aboard a United Airlines flight this week has grabbed the attention of federal regulators and at least one U.S. senator.
A French bulldog puppy named Kokito died Monday after a flight attendant told the family he and his carrier had to be stowed in an overhead storage bin during the Houston-to-New York flight.
The U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration both say they are looking into the case.
Senator demands explanation
Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana sent a letter to the president of United Airlines, J. Scott Kirby, “demanding an immediate explanation” of why so many family pets have died aboard United flights.
“Pets are members of the family. They should not be treated like insignificant cargo,” Kennedy wrote.
A Transportation Department report said of 24 animals who died aboard U.S. airlines flights last year, 18 were traveling on United planes. Thirteen other pets on United flights were injured.
Puppy put in overhead bin
According to United passenger Catalina Robledo, the flight attendant told her she would have to put Kokito into the storage bin above the seats because his carrier was sticking into the aisle.
Robledo said she could hear the dog barking throughout much of the 3.5-hour flight but was not allowed to get up and check on him because of turbulence. She found Kokito dead inside the carrier when the flight landed in New York.
Robledo’s daughter told CBS News the flight attendant did not seem to care that there was a live animal in the bin who likely could not breathe.
United says the flight attendant may not have heard or understood the carrier had a dog in it and “did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin.”
United refunded the family’s airfare and the fee it charges to take a pet on board.
Experts say flat-faced dog breeds, such as bulldogs, are vulnerable while flying because they have trouble breathing in thin oxygen.
Animal rights groups urge passengers to use good judgment when traveling with pets and “consider all the alternatives to flying.”