According to ABC News, United Airlines is reviewing the handling of a giant rabbit that died after it was shipped across the Atlantic on one of the carrier’s flights, adding to a growing list of customer complaints for the U.S. carrier.
Distraught breeder Annette Edwards told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday that a veterinarian checked Simon, a 10-month-old, 3-foot-(1-meter)-long continental rabbit, shortly before the animal was put on a flight from London’s Heathrow airport to Chicago’s O’Hare, before it was set to continue on to Kansas City.
“Simon had his vet check just before getting on the plane,” she said from Worcestershire in central England. “He was fit as a fiddle.”
Edwards has said Simon is the offspring of Darius, which the Guinness World Records lists as the world’s longest rabbit at 4 feet 3 inches (1.22 meters). Simon had been purchased by a celebrity whom Edwards did not identify.
United spokesman Charles Hobart said the airline is reviewing its handling of the animal. The animal was alive and showed no signs of distress upon landing but died at a company-run pet holding facility at the airport, Hobart said.
Hobart said that the rabbit was moving around in its crate and appeared healthy when taken off the plane. About a half-hour later, at the pet facility, it seemed to be sleeping. Shortly after that, a pet facility employee opened the cage and found that the rabbit was dead.
“We won’t know the cause of death because we offered to perform a necropsy free of charge – that’s standard procedure – but the customer didn’t want us to perform a necropsy, and we understand,” he said.
Hobart said the airline offered compensation to the breeder but would not disclose the amount
United had the second-highest level of animal deaths and injuries of any U.S. airline last year, or 2.11 per 10,000 animals transported, according to U.S. Department of Transportation figures. Only Hawaiian Airlines was worse at 3.99, the result of three deaths among the 7,518 animals it transported.
United reported nine deaths and 14 injuries for a total of 23 incidents, the highest figures for each category among U.S. carriers. The airline transported 109,149 animals last year, second only to Alaska Airlines with 112,281. Alaska reported two deaths and one injury.
United said it works to protect the safety of animals through its PetSafe program, which is staffed 24 hours a day and allows pet owners to track their animals from point of origin to destination.
“Travel can be stressful for animals,” Hobart said. “We have a lot of tips and suggestions for customers who decide to ship their pet or (other) animal.”
United is already working to repair its image after a passenger who would not give up his seat on an overbooked flight was dragged forcibly from a plane at O’Hare Airport in Chicago.