What to Know
United Airlines said an attendant didn't knowingly put a dog in an overhead bin on a flight, even though the passenger told her as much
The dog, Kokito, died at some point during the flight from Houston to New York; his owner discovered the death after landing
A passenger aboard the flight told NBC News that she heard the dog's owner mention that a dog was in the bag
A criminal investigation has been launched into a dog's death aboard a Houston-to-New York United Airlines flight after a flight attendant ordered the animal be placed in the plane's overhead bin.
In a statement issued late Wednesday, the Harris County, Texas, district attorney's office said its animal cruelty division is working with the county's animal cruelty task force to investigate the death of the 10-month-old French bulldog named Kokito that occurred on the Monday night flight.
The statement said prosecutors won't decide if criminal charges are warranted until the investigation is completed.
United Airlines says the flight attendant who ordered the passenger to put her pet carrier in the overhead bin didn't know there was a puppy inside. However, the family and other passengers contradict the airline's account, saying the dog's barks were audible from inside the bin.
"We have learned that the customer did tell the flight attendant that there was a dog in the carrier," the airline said. "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 probe comes just days after the owner's daughter, 11-year-old Sophia Ceballos, told News 4 that her mother repeatedly said there was a dog in the carrier.
"My mom was like, 'It's a dog, it's a dog,'" said Ceballos, speaking for her mother Catalina Robledo, whose native language is not English. "And (the flight attendant) said, 'You have to put it up there."
The airline added that by April, it will begin issuing bright-colored bag tags to travelers flying with pets.