Dog’s death aboard United flight spurs new legislation banning the overhead storage of pets

State  Sen. Marisol Alcantara announces her proposed legislation, named
State Sen. Marisol Alcantara announces her proposed legislation, named “Kokito’s Law,” to protect animals traveling on flights at a news conference Sunday, March 18, 2018. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

The family of a puppy that died on a United Air Lines flight after being placed in an overhead storage bin joined with lawmakers and animal advocates on Sunday to call for better conditions for pets traveling on airplanes.

State Sen. Marisol Alcantara told the crowd assembled at LaGuardia Airport she is proposing legislation so that “what happened to this family doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

A lawyer representing the Queens family also said they are calling for criminal prosecution.

The French bulldog pup, named Kokito, was traveling with owner Catalina Robledo and her family on a flight from Houston to New York last Monday when a flight attendant instructed them to place the dog’s carrier in an overhead bin.

“She felt she was bullied,” Alcantara said of Robledo’s decision to follow the flight attendant’s demands.

Alcantara said the family had purchased a ticket for the dog.

By the end of the flight, Kokito was dead.

“I think about him every day,” said Robledo’s daughter, 11-year-old Sophia Ceballo.

Alcantara said her bill, called “Kokito’s Law,” outlines a series of protections for pets including a ban on placing them in overhead bins and making sure pets are given “reasonable access” to food, water and medication during a lengthy flight.

Robledo and her daughter attended the news conference but spoke very little, deferring to their attorney Evan Oshan.

“He was part of our family,” Robledo said in Spanish, as Alcantara translated. “We miss him a lot.”

Oshan said the family has yet to obtain the name of the flight attendant or hear if she was disciplined.

“There needs to be accountability,” he said, but would not say whether the family plans to pursue future legal action against United. “We want to know what’s really going on . . . we want justice.”

United released a statement after the incident taking “full responsibility” and promising an investigation.

“What happened on Flight 1284 was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin,” United said in a statement emailed to amNewYork on Sunday. “Our existing policy is for in-cabin pets to be placed under the seat in front of the customer.”

Just a few days after Kokito died, a dog that was supposed to be transported to Kansas via a United flight ended up in Japan. The family was reunited with their pooch.

“It’s high time that society starts realizing that animals are not things,” said Nora Constance Marino of the League of Humane Voters, who supported the proposed legislation.

Kokito’s death also sparked action from federal lawmakers. Two U.S. senators introduced a bartisantisan bill that would prohibit airlines from putting animals in overhead bins. The Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act was introduced by Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, and Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat from Nevada.

Kennedy, in a letter to the president of United Air Lines, said, “According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 18 of the 24 animals who died in major U.S. airlines’ care last year were in the care of United. Another 13 animals in United’s care suffered injuries last year.”