“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin,” Maggie Schmerin, a spokeswoman for the airline, said in a statement. “We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them.”
The airline declined to comment on what role, if any, its personnel may have played in the decision to put the dog in the overhead compartment. But Ms. Gremminger said the flight attendant, whose name she did not know, appeared distraught after the flight in New York when she learned that the dog had died.
The dog’s death is the latest in a string of alarming customer service incidents for United, including an episode last year in which a passenger was dragged screaming off an overbooked flight at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Video of his rough treatment was shared widely online and in the news media.
In Monday’s episode, the pet owner discovered her dog was dead shortly after the plane landed at La Guardia Airport. Ms. Gremminger said she, like the other passengers, was rummaging for her bags and looking for her coat when she “heard sobbing and gasping.”
Ms. Gremminger turned around and saw that the pet owner had collapsed to the floor, rocking back and forth while clutching the dog’s body.
“She realized the dog was dead right there and she just started crying,” she said. “Then the daughter started crying, then a passenger, a stranger, took the infant and held the baby while they cried right there in aisle 23.”