U.S. Senator wants answers in dog death on United Airlines

United Airlines faces a deepening public outcry after a dog perished in an overhead bin on one of its planes, prompting a U.S. senator to demand an explanation for the carrier’s industry-high rate of animal deaths.

Eighteen of the 24 animals that died on a major U.S. airline last year were in United’s care, Louisiana Republican John Kennedy wrote in a letter to United President Scott Kirby on Wednesday. By comparison, Delta Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc. each reported two deaths, Kennedy said.

The dog’s death is the latest incident putting a spotlight on United Continental Holdings Inc. management’s handling of public relations scandals. Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz drew scorn for his response last April when a passenger was forcibly dragged from a plane. Just weeks later, a giant rabbit died while in United’s care.

“This pattern of animal deaths and injuries is simply inexcusable,” Kennedy wrote. “For many people, pets are members of the family. They should not be treated like insignificant cargo.”

United accepted responsibility and apologized for the pet’s death Monday, saying the flight attendant wasn’t aware a dog was inside the crate when the passenger was asked to store it away for the duration of a Houston-to-New York flight. “We’re not making excuses. Anytime an animal suffers an injury or dies in our care, we are devastated,” spokesman Charlie Hobart said.

United’s higher animal death rate can be explained in part by the higher number of animals transported on United, Hobart said. United transported 138,178 animals last year, or more than double the number carried on Delta or American, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, Alaska Airlines carried almost 115,000 animals last year and reported just two deaths and one lost animal, the data show.

"To prevent this from happening again, by April we will issue bright colored bag tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets,” the company said Wednesday. “This visual tag will further help our flight attendants identify pets in-cabin.”

Thursday, Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) and Senator Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced the Welfare of Our Furry Friends Act, also known as WOOFF...here's more

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