By Rachel Pierce | Staff Columnist
Many of us remember the images of the bloodied Dr. David Dao, who was dragged from a United Airlines flight last year. This time, it’s not humans United Airlines put in danger. The victims are furry with four paws.
Catalina Robledo boarded her flight on March 12 with her daughter and 10-month -old French Bulldog, Kokito. When she landed, Kokito was dead. According to Robledo and the New York Daily News, his case was blocking the aisle, and she was asked to move it to overhead storage.
“I asked them, ‘How am I going to put my puppy in the overhead?’” Robledo recalled to the New York Times. “He’s going to suffocate!” Witnesses report that the dog was barking before take off and until his last moments. Of course, there are always two sides to one story.
A spokeswoman for United Airlines claims the flight attendant did not hear Robledo say that her dog was inside the case. “As we stated, we take full responsibility and are deeply sorry for this tragic accident,” she said.
As recorded in United Airlines policies, animals are not to be kept in overhead storage. Following the incident, United Airlines announced that brightly colored tags would be issued to travelers with animals.
If only these measures were enacted before Kokito’s flight. The New York Daily News turns the story to Robledo’s 11-year-old daughter, Sophia Ceballos.
“I just think about him everyday at school, and I can’t concentrate,” she said. “I cry every night for him because it feels really bad without him.”
Though Kokito did not have a voice in his life, it seems he has one now.
A protest, or “dog-in,” was orchestrated at Terminal A at LaGuardia Airport. Kokito’s family was joined by other families and their dogs, as well as the SPCA and democratic New York Senator Marisol Alcantara. Along with a protest, legal action is in swing. New legislation has been proposed called “Kokito’s Law.” Senators John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) proposed a bill on Thursday called “WOOFF” (Welfare of our Furry Friends) Act. This new law would prohibit flight attendants from stashing animals in overhead storage.
There has also been action against the flight attendant. Robledo’s attorney, Evan Oshan, says the flight attendant should be criminally charged. But before we grab our torches, Chris Matyszczyk of Business Insider considers a different perspective.
Matyszczyk spoke to a handful of United Airlines flight attendants anonymously about the conditions which they must work under. While I would be the first person to criticize a flight attendant for killing a dog, this perspective made me stop to think. There seems to be different factors enforced by United Airlines that have created a panicked, on-edge environment for flight attendants. Perhaps this is a bigger issue than just this one flight attendant on Kokito’s plane.
United Airlines pressures their flight attendants to board all passengers as soon as possible. If the plane pushes off the gate just one minute late, flight attendants must explain why to their supervisor. To turn up the pressure, flight attendants are not paid until the flight pushes back from the gate. Bad morale and understaffing was also cited as an added stressor.
“I think everyone is just shocked and saddened by the incident,” said one employee. “Pets don’t belong in overhead bins, and we all know that … This should not have happened. We know better.”
It seems that through policy, the higher-ups of United Airlines have created a stressful environment. This does not justify putting a dog in overhead storage. Yet this perspective offers another lens into United Airlines. The airline has faced controversy after controversy, unlike competing airlines. There may be a bigger problem at United Airlines than just Kokito’s death.
If so, United Airlines must create a different atmosphere for its employees. Boarding is already a stressful time. Due to the multiple incidents within the past year, it seems that there is a bigger problem. Are flight attendants under so much pressure they forget or become out of touch of what is the right thing to do? Are they so stressed about their paycheck since it is not guaranteed? Reprimanding the one flight attendant does not seem like enough if the entire company’s atmosphere is unhealthy.
If there is a problem of morale, United Airlines is due for intensive training on how to handle situations correctly. Last week, United Airlines accidently sent a Kansas bound dog to Japan. Beyond that, they killed one.