US airlines pressured by lawmakers to improve travel for pets after United incidents

Two U.S. lawmakers are taking action following a tumultuous week of public relations snafus for United Airlines, co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to make the transport of animals safer during commercial flights.

Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, introduced the bill, known as the Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act, on Thursday, which would prohibit putting animals in overhead compartments on aircraft on flights. The filed legislation, which would also direct the Federal Aviation Administration to impose civil fines if the act is violated.

“I hate to have to sponsor a bill to legislate common sense and common decency, but the airlines – United in particular, though I think it’s trying to do better – is not doing an especially good job,” Kennedy told Dagen McDowell during an interview on Saturday.

The latest incident involving a pet on a United flight occurred Friday, when an aircraft was diverted after the airline realized it loaded an animal onto the wrong flight. Earlier that week, on Tuesday, a family’s 10-year-old German shepherd was flown to Japan instead of Kansas City. Just a day earlier, a 10-month-old dog died after a flight attendant reportedly forced the puppy’s owner to put the animal in an overhead compartment.

“I wrote Mr. [Scott] Kirby, the president of United a letter, and I don’t mean any disrespect, but how would he like to be put into a cage and put in the overhead compartment. He wouldn’t like that very much, and it killed this puppy,” Kennedy, who owns two dogs, said.

In the letter, Kennedy said the airline’s “pattern of animal deaths and injuries is simply inexcusable,” and that pets “shouldn’t be placed in the cargo hold much less an overhead bin.” United had the worst rate of pet deaths in 2017 among U.S. airlines, according to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report.

The airline’s current pet policy requires animals to be kept in an approved hard- or soft-sided kennel, which must fit underneath the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times during the flight. United confirmed to FOX Business that the policy prohibits pets from being stored in overhead compartments and that it addressed the situation with the family, the crew and passengers seated nearby on the flight.

“We have learned that the customer did tell the flight attendant that there was a dog in the carrier,” a United spokeswoman Maggie Schmerin said in a statement provided to FOX Business last week. “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.”

The DOT is looking into the incident, according to Reuters. The agency did not respond to FOX Business’ request for comment at the time of publication.

Kennedy said he will continue with the legislation until he’s “convinced” airlines take the issues of pet safety and comfort aboard flights seriously.

“I believe in free enterprise,” he said. “If airlines are making money by transporting pets, more power to them. They ought to treat animals humanely even if they’re not making money off it. But if they are, they have a contractual obligation.”