RIP Simon the rabbit, who lost his life on a United Airlines flight.
As the company continues to reel from its PR disaster over its forced removal of a passenger, the group is in hot water again over the death of a 10-month-old, three-foot Continental Giant rabbit. The animal, whose 4'3" father holds the Guinness World Record for longest rabbit, perished while being transported in the cargo hold of one its Boeing 767 planes while traveling from his breeder in Britain to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, where he was to go to live with new owner.
"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," United Airlines said in a statement to reporters. "We have been in contact with our customer and have offered assistance. We are reviewing this matter."
Airlines demand rabbits and most other caged pets travel in its plane's cargo holds, where the air pressure and temperature is supposed to be the same as in the cabin, while many small dogs and cats are allowed to travel in carriers under passengers' seats. Many companies also demand animals arrive with vet letters or certificates assuring they are healthy to travel.
Simon was healthy before the flight, according to the rabbit's breeder, Annette Edwards, a former Playboy model.
"Simon had a vet's check-up three hours before the flight and was fit as a fiddle," she told U.K.'s The Sun newspaper Tuesday. "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."
More than one-third of all 136 animals who died on passenger flights during the last five years passed away on United Airlines planes, USA Today reported.
"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."
Simon's death comes less than three weeks after United faced controversy after a passenger refused to give up his seat and was dragged off a plane while it was parked at O'Hare to make room for crew members. The company's CEO has apologized for the incident. The passenger sustained a broken nose, a concussion, two knocked-out teeth and sinus problems that could require reconstructive surgery, his lawyer said, according to the New York Times.
Simon's death also comes a month after a United Airlines gate agent barred two girls from boarding a flight from Denver to Minneapolis because they were wearing leggings, saying they were relatives of employees and fly under employee pass privileges that demand a stricter dress code. The move drew controversy and anger, including from Patricia Arquette and Chrissy Teigen.