United Airlines' 2017 public relations fiasco worsened when news of the death of a giant rabbit in one of the carrier's cargo holds was widely reported.
The New York Times reported that the rabbit (whose name was Simon) was found dead on arrival at O'Hare after traveling from London Heathrow, but did not indicate when the rabbit died:
Less than three weeks after a passenger was dragged off a United Airlines flight at the Chicago airport, the carrier found itself facing another public relations fiasco on Wednesday after a three-foot-long rabbit died on a flight from Britain.
The continental giant rabbit, Simon, which was bound for O’Hare, had a veterinary checkup three hours before takeoff from Heathrow Airport near London and was “fit as a fiddle,” his breeder said. The animal was traveling to a buyer in the United States.
Continental giants are an ancient breed, descended, appropriately enough, from Flemish giants ... Simon’s death remained a mystery on Wednesday. “Something very strange has happened, and I want to know what,” the breeder, Annette Edwards, told the British tabloid The Sun.
Despite United Airlines' increasingly tarnished reputation, a rabbit dying in the cargo hold of an airplane is not exactly surprising, said Dr. Sarah LaMere, a veterinarian who has worked with wildlife:
Rabbits are prone to dying unexpectedly under situations with high stress, and being in the cargo hold of a plane would certainly be considered stressful.
United had the second-highest rate of animal deaths on flights last year (2.11 deaths per 10,000 animals), though Hawaiian Airlines' rate was significantly higher (3.99 per 10,000 animals). USA Today pointed out that just six years ago, Delta Air Lines had the highest rate of animal deaths — though they were able to reduce that number significantly in just a few years and now have a low rate of 1.23 deaths per 10,000 animals.
United responded to news outlets' requests for comment with a statement:
We were saddened to hear this news. The safety and wellbeing of all the animals that travel with us is of the utmost importance to United Airlines and our PetSafe team. We have been in contact with our customer and have offered assistance. We are reviewing this matter.
In April, United Airlines garnered unfavorable international press after a video of a passenger's forceful ejection from a flight was shared to social media and went viral. We contacted United to confirm details of the claim, but have not yet received a response.