United Airlines says the airline is changing its pet policy after the in-flight death of a French bulldog puppy earlier this week.
Cataline Robledo and her 11-year-old daughter and 2-month-old son brought their family dog, Kokito, onto a flight from Houston to New York in a pet carrier. Robledo initially stored the carrier under the seat in front of her but was later told by a flight attendant to move it, with Kokito inside, to the overhead bin. Robledo resisted the direction but ultimately followed the flight attendant's instruction.
At the end of the flight, when Robledo retrieved her dog, who was heard barking at least 30 minutes into the flight, she discovered her pet had died during the trip.
"We have spoken to the family, our crew and a number of passengers who were seated nearby. We have learned that the customer did tell the flight attendant that there was a dog in the carrier. However, our flight attendant did not hear or understand her, and did not knowingly place the dog in the overhead bin," United spokesperson Maggie Schmerin told PEOPLE in a statement. "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."
Schmerin said the airline plans to change its pet travel policy to ensure something like that never occurs again.
"To prevent this from happening again, by April we will issue bright colored bag tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets. This visual tag will further help our flight attendants identify pets in-cabin," Schmerin added in her statement to PEOPLE.
According to Department of Transportation, United has the highest rate of incidents involving loss, injury or death of animals during air transportation — 2.24 per every 10,000 animals transported.
United has experienced harsh backlash on social media following the death of the dog, with some people saying the airline "murdered" or "killed" the dog. Actress Olivia Munn, a vocal supporter of pet adoption, said she'll never fly with the airline again.3comments
"I'll never fly United," Munn told TMZ. "I mean, if they can't take care of all their passengers and the animals, I mean, I don't think anyone should fly them."
The Department of Transportation has launched a federal investigation into the death of the puppy, with officials from the department announcing Wednesday that they were probing the incident.