Could it really be that the FA was just doing her job and bears no responsibility for the death of a dog?
Reader Anthony did not agree with the arguments I made for why the United Airlines’ flight attendant who ordered a woman to place her dog in the overhead locker should be fired.
While I disagree with his overall conclusion, I’m featuring his rebuttal because I considered it thoughtful. This is not a “dogs don’t belong on planes” diatribe.
Matthew, I love your writing but you are just plain wrong on the issue of who is to blame in the recent tragic death of a dog aboard a United flight.
You fairly laid out the facts, but consider how the facts look through the lens of my analysis.
1. Lack of Personal Responsibility
First, it is inconceivable that the passenger should be given a free pass for failing to exert personal responsibility. I don’t dispute that many passengers obey flight crew instructions out of fear. Nevertheless, if a FA demanded that you engage in injurious behavior, would you just blindly oblige? Even if it meant placing your loved one in harm’s way? The passenger had a choice to make. There is always a choice.
But that’s only half the point. A flight from Houston Bush Intercontinental to New York LaGuardia is 3.5 hours. How can you simply not check in on your puppy for the duration for the flight? What if he needed food or water? This was neglect on the part of the owner. Even if she was occupied with her newborn, her teenage daughter could have checked on the dog during the flight.
The passenger must take responsibility for ultimately failing to do her part to protect the life of her dog.
2. Regulation Does Not Explicitly Prohibit Overhead Storage
Second, you were correct in your Law in Travel post that no federal regulation or internal United Airlines policy excplcity prohibits placing a pet into an overhead bin. While the rules and regulations point toward stowing a pet under the seat in front of you, I see no rules that either mandate storage under the seat or prohibit storage in an overhead bin.
Don’t you think that if it was so self-apparent that pets could not be stored in the overhead bin, someone would have known better and stopped it from occurring?
Thus, the law is not a compelling indictment of the FA. Even so, I don’t believe the FA even knew it was a dog. More on that below.
3. Safety of Other Passengers Come First
Third, the safety of other passengers should always come before that of a pet. Why would the FA ask the lady to place the kennel in the overhead bin if it fit under the seat? Since the mother was traveling with an infant and 13-year-old daughter, we know they were not in an exit row that would have precluded underseat storage.
Consequently, either the passenger was traveling with too many carry-on items or the kennel was too large to fit under the seat. In either case, the FA was correct to intervene. Imagine an emergency landing that required a rapid evacuation. Carry-on baggage protruding into the aisles and blocking egress can make the difference between life and death.
4. FA Not Responsible for Communication Barrier
Fourth, the passenger did not speak English. Although she claims she made clear to the FA it was a dog, I don’t see how this is possible if she was saying “perro” instead of dog. FAs are used to passengers protesting over where to store their carry-on baggage. The FA was simply preparing the cabin for departure and did not understand what the woman was trying to communicate. It is unlikely she closely scrutinized the bag. Rather, she just saw it was sticking out from under the seat and mentioned that it had to be stored.
5. No Motive for Harm
Finally, why would a flight attendant knowingly place a dog in harm’s way? I see no motive for harm. While one passenger claims the FA knew it was a dog, another one claims she had no idea. The FA herself also claims she had no idea. Why are you so quick to dismiss her and the other passenger?
Her reaction of shock and sorrow after learning of the dead dog is a great indicator of her innocence. I don’t think even the grumpiest United FA would ever want to kill a dog, let alone endanger one.
The answer is not about whether the FA is innocent, but rather there is sufficient doubt to conclude she is not guilty. Have I convinced you?
No Anthony, you have not convinced me. I appreciate your attempt and perhaps you will convince others. But I believe in the post-Dao world, many passengers are afraid to ever question a FA. This fear for their own personal safety is not illegitimate. I also think a FA is responsible for communicating safety issues with a passenger, even if it ultimately has to be by charades. Last, I don’t think you can fairly argue this was a matter of safety, since other bags presumably could have been re-adjusted so that the kennel could be placed fully under the seat.
Anyway, what do you think of Anthony’s argument?