Death of giant British rabbit adds to United Airlines’ woes

Airline reviewing its handling of the animal

LONDON — United Airlines is reviewing its handling of a giant showcase rabbit that died after being shipped across the Atlantic from Britain on one of its flights, the latest in a growing list of customer complaints.

Distraught breeder Annette Edwards told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday that a veterinarian had checked Simon — a 10-month-old, 3-foot-long continental rabbit — shortly before the animal was placed on a United flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to Chicago’s O’Hare.

Edwards 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 metres).

“Simon had his vet check just before getting on the plane,” she said from Worcestershire in central England. “He was fit as a fiddle.”

United spokesman Charles Hobart said the rabbit was moving around in its crate and appeared healthy when taken off the plane in O’Hare, waiting to be put on another flight to Kansas City. About a half-hour later, at the company-run pet facility, Simon seemed to be sleeping. Shortly after that, a pet facility employee opened the cage and found the rabbit dead. He says the airline is reviewing its handling of the animal.

“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.

Bryan Bergdale, a farmland investment manager, said he bought the rabbit for his boss, who had hoped to show it at the Iowa State Fair. He had driven from the Des Moines area to Kansas City and was nearing the airport last Thursday when United called with the bad news. At first, he didn’t believe it.

“We’d built a pen and had toys all ready. It’s sort of a sad deal,” he said.

Bergdale, 29, said he’d tracked down the breeder and bought the rabbit for his boss, Steve Bruere, who owns a farm real estate company in the Des Moines suburb of Clive. Bergdale said the rabbit cost 415 pounds ($530) and the shipping was 1,400 pounds ($1,800).

Bergdale said the United representative didn’t say anything about compensating him for the loss.

“We’re still in the mourning process,” he said. “We’re not quite sure what we’re going to do.”

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 the U.S. Department of Transportation. Only Hawaiian Airlines was worse at 3.99, the result of three deaths among the 7,518 animals it transported.

United transported 109,149 animals last year, second only to Alaska Airlines with 112,281. United reported nine deaths and 14 injuries, the highest figures for each category among U.S. carriers. 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, adding that the carrier has plenty of tips for those who do decide to ship their animals.

United is already working to repair its battered image after a passenger who refused to give up his seat on an overbooked flight was forcibly dragged from a plane at O’Hare Airport.

Airport security officers removed David Dao, a 69-year-old from Kentucky, from the United Express flight. Images of his bloodied face were widely circulated on social media, forcing United CEO Oscar Munoz to apologize. Munoz was widely faulted for his early responses to the situation. He first blamed Dao but later apologized repeatedly for United’s handling of the situation.

Two weeks earlier, United was criticized after a gate agent stopped two young girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing leggings. The airline said leggings violate the dress code of the United Pass program, a benefit for employees and their dependents.

The airline said last week that Munoz would not automatically become chairman of the carrier’s parent company, United Continental Holdings, next year as originally planned.

__

David Koenig and Scott McFetridge in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this story.

Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

Just Posted

BREAKING: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

The cost of flushing sanitary wipes is brought to Red Deer city council

More public education is needed about what not to flush down toilets

Veterans’ Park barrier key to pedestrian safety, says Red Deer traffic engineer

The recently roughed-up concrete barrier in front of Veterans’ Park has seen… Continue reading

Man accused of home invasion in court

Victim was shot and cut with machete in September 2017 attack

WATCH: Rebels play floor hockey with Annie L. Gaetz students

The Rebels may be on a losing streak but they were definitely… Continue reading

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag at Pyeongchang Olympics

Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure… Continue reading

Beer Canada calls on feds to axe increasing beer tax as consumption trends down

OTTAWA — A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal… Continue reading

Central Albertans recall Hawaii’s false missile alert

Former Red Deer councillor Paul Harris was hanging out at the Ka’anapali… Continue reading

This robotic maid takes us one step closer to ‘The Jetsons’

Imagine this: You’re rushing to get ready for work — juggling emails,… Continue reading

Milan line offers canine couture for pampered pooches

Milan has long been the world’s ready-to-wear fashion leader. Now, dogs are… Continue reading

Kim Kardashian West and husband Kanye welcome baby girl

NEW YORK — It’s a girl for Kim Kardashian West and her… Continue reading

Advocate poll takers oppose plastic bag ban

Red Deer Advocate readers like their plastic bags. In an Advocate poll,… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month