United Airlines is under investigation for the mysterious death of an especially large rabbit.
Yes, you read that sentence correctly.
Just a few weeks removed from the enormous public relations disaster of calling on the cops to drag away a customer who refused to leave his seat on an overbooked flight, the company is now under investigation again.
This time, over the passing of an animal named Simon.
Simon was a 10-month-old, three-foot long Continental Giant rabbit who was being transported in the cargo hold of a Boeing 767 while traveling from his breeder’s home in Great Britain to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
He was on his way to The Windy City to go to live with a new owner.
However, when a United handler went to fetch Simon upon landing, the animal – whose 4’3″ father actually holds the Guinness World Record for longest rabbit – was unresponsive.
He was dead.
It was expected that Simon would outgrow his famous parent and eventually be crowned the new Longest Rabbit on the Planet.
He had been sold to Bryan Bergdale, a farmland investment manager, who says he purchased the rabbit for his boss, Steve Bruere, who hoped to show it at the Iowa State Fair.
“We’d built a pen and had toys all ready. It’s sort of a sad deal,” Bergdale told reporters. “We’re still in the mourning process. We’re not quite sure what we’re going to do.”
Bergdale added that he paid $530 for the rabbit, along with $1,800 in shipping costs.
According to Annette Edwards, a former Playboy model who lives and breeds these large animals in Worcestershire, Simon had been labeled fit to fly, with vets declaring him “in good physical condition” the day his plane took to the air.
“Simon had a vet’s check-up three hours before the flight and was fit as a fiddle,” Edwards told U.K.’s The Sun newspaper yesterday, adding in confusion and anger:
“Something very strange has happened and I want to know what. I’ve sent rabbits all around the world and nothing like this has happened before.”
Across the globe, airlines require rabbits and most other caged pets to travel in a plane’s cargo holds.
Here, the air pressure and temperature are supposed to be the same as they are in the cabin.
Many companies also demand animals arrive with letters from a vet or certificates assuring they are healthy to travel. It’s unclear at this time whether or not Edwards provided documents of this nature.
As previously cited, this is an especially bad time for United to be at the center of another scandal.
It will likely shell out millions to Dr. David Dao for his horrendous mistreatment on board an oversold flight earlier this month.
The passenger, who was sitting in a seat he purchased fairly and legally, was ordered to disembark so that United could fit four employees on board his plane.
When Dao refused, he was physically yanked off board against his will, resulting in a concussion and multiple broken bones.
And now USA Today reports that more than one-third of all 136 animals who died on passenger flights during the last five years passed away on United planes.
That’s what PETA wants to know.
“This rabbit was failed first by the breeder – who churns out and sells baby bunnies when animal shelters and rescue groups are full of homeless rabbits – and then by United Airlines, which shipped him off in a cargo hold like an old suitcase,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement to E! News.
“This rabbit’s death is not unique – more than 300 animals have died in cargo holds since 2005, and many more have been injured or lost.
“PETA urges United to join JetBlue and Southwest in prohibiting companion animals from being flown as checked baggage in the confusion, noise, extreme temperatures, and improper pressurization of a cargo hold.”
United is yet to commit to a change in its policy.
But a spokesman has issued the following statement in the wake of this tragedy:
“The safety and well-being 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.”
May Simon rest in peace.