United Breaks Guitars. And Puppies.
Get the name of the dog.
That's a basic rule of journalism. One that cub reporters learn on Day One.
For instance, if you’re interviewing a guy who scratches the ears of his mutt, a good writer always works in a description of the dog and the pooch's name.
It's called color.
And it's what separates news stories from police reports.
I was thinking about that old newspaper maxim yesterday when I read story after story about the dog that died Monday on a United Airlines flight - after being stuffed in an overhead bin - and couldn't find the poor canine's name. Not until late in the day, that is.
I wanted that moniker. Maybe you did too.
What we did know was that a family lost a beloved pet, passengers on the flight were shocked by what happened and United Airlines got gobsmacked with yet another heap of self-inflicted bad publicity.
Shoot, 10 years ago a Canadian band recorded a ballad called “United Breaks Guitars” about the shoddy treatment their instruments received on a United flight and their futile attempts to get the airline to pay for the damage.
Then just last spring a passenger was dragged off an overbooked flight when United insisted he give up his seat.
And also this week United mistakenly flew a dog to Japan instead of Kansas. (At least that dog is still among the living.)
Not a good look for the "friendly skies" airline.
On Monday, a mother with an 11-year-old child, a newborn and a little French bulldog boarded a flight from Houston and LaGuardia. The puppy’s carrier wouldn’t fit under the seat in front of the mother and the flight attendant reportedly told her to stash the carrier in the bin with the carry-on bags.
The harried mother reluctantly followed instructions.
Passengers said they heard barking for a while. Then silence.
“At the end of the flight, the woman found her dog, deceased," said one eyewitness, according to NPR. "She sat in the airplane aisle on the floor crying, and all of the surrounding passengers were utterly stunned."
On Wednesday afternoon - after animal lovers around the world howled about the ghastly treatment of a helpless pup - United issued an apology:
"We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them," the airline said. "We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again."
You want to prevent this from happening again, United? Here's a thought: Don't cram pets into airless overhead bins to suffocate.
There. Problem solved.
Traveling by air is already uncomfortable. Seats are cramped. Passengers try to bring all sorts of phony "comfort" animals on board.
But many honest passengers pay more than 100 bucks to have their small pets travel with them in the cabin. That may not entitle the animal to a seat, but it surely should guarantee them enough oxygen to survive the trip.
By the way, the puppy's name - according to CBS and Fox News - was Kokito.
Makes a sad story a little sadder, doesn't it?