Puppy death puts focus on passenger care, of all types
On Monday, consumers across the country experienced the total lack of respect with which United Airlines treats its passengers and their pets. The headline reads: United kills puppy. This abhorrent action comes just about a year after this same airline beat a passenger into submission and dragged him off a flight in order to send some employees to their destination.
This episode has been explained to me many times, but I still can’t understand how an animal which has been paid for by a family can be treated this way. Right now, there are still many unanswered questions.
Evidently, a flight attendant told the passenger with the animal in a carry-on case that she had to put the pet carrier in an overhead bin because the carrier was obstructing the aisle. We don’t know if this was the space under the passenger’s feet or the actual main aisle. The passenger protested and told the flight attendant that she had a dog. Other nearby passengers understood what the woman was saying, however, the flight attendant claims she did not understand there was a dog in the baggage under the seat.
The passenger acquiesced after the flight attendant told her to either put the dog in the overhead bin or get off the flight with her pet and her family. One thing that passengers have learned is that being designated an unruly passenger by a flight attendant is almost a certain fine and much legal hassle.
The puppy was barking. Where in heaven’s name were the other passengers and other flight attendants?
Later, various reports indicated that the puppy was barking, obviously distressed. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the pet owner did not open the bin and comfort the animal. Or, why didn’t another passenger speak with the flight attendant and get the pet back under the seat where it should have been during the flight?
Then again, if the puppy was barking, where were the other flight attendants? Every flight I travel on has flight attendants marching up and down the aisles with plastic bags repeatedly picking up trash and flight attendants also serve drinks at least once every flight. The entire episode is surreal.
To me, the dog owner was negligent, other passengers who saw what happened and heard the puppy barking and whimpering should have done something, and other flight attendants upon hearing barking from the overhead should have realized something was wrong, very wrong.
The ultimate responsibility is United Airlines’
The ultimate responsibility falls on the airline. All common carriers in the United States have a duty of care. United Airlines failed in that responsibility. They did not take care of this canine paid passenger. All airlines have scaled back their care of passengers during airline trips, and now, that mistreatment has been extended to animals as well.
Rather than simply focusing on the issue as a mistreatment of a pet, the investigation should be broadened to become a general mistreatment of passengers in general during tarmac delays, IT outages, extreme weather, schedule delays, sexual assault, and so on. Airlines should treat all their passengers and their pets with respect. Today, the treatment that we and our pets receive is often not even as good as that of fragile cargo.
Unfortunately, as long as the flying public put up with excessive fees, incomplete pricing, inhumane seating on long-haul flights, and a blatant caste system for passengers, nothing will change. When it comes to customer service, sometimes passengers are their own worst enemy in search of the biggest airfare bargain.
Treat all passengers with respect and dignity
Airlines will only treat passengers with the respect that they demand and expect. When passengers submit to miserable treatment and their expectations are so low by being squeezed like sardines into a metal tube in the sky, they are empowering the very corporate attitude that harms passengers of all kinds.
The solution to customer service is simple — treat passengers with dignity and throw in some humor and basic human flexibility. It is not that difficult. For the most part, the only airline to embrace such a world of customer service is Southwest Airlines. Their customer service is legendary. Why can’t other airlines operate with the same focus on their passenger service rather than focusing on simply squeezing more profits from their customers?
After decades in this business, it is still a mystery to me.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.