Bomb threat? Yes.

Heart attacks? Sure.

Mechanical problems? Absolutely.

Aggressive passengers? Yes.

But a 12-pound dog? Apparently so.

"Mandy," a Manchester terrier, has joined the exclusive club of causes of airplane diversions.

Mandy and her owner were flying from Newark to Phoenix on a US Airways flight. The dog was sedated and in an airline-approved cage under the seat, as per airline policy. So far, so good.

Then the dog started to become agitated. One report suggests it was because the sedation was wearing off. Whatever the cause, the owner tried to take the agitated dog out of the protective confines of its cage, into a noisy, crowded and potentially frightening new environment. Not surprisingly, when you take a dog coming out of sedation (and perhaps not completely aware of what’s going on) and put it in a unfamiliar and confusing environment, bad things can happen.

In this case, it resulted in the dog biting the passenger in the seat next to the owner (who was trying to help calm down the dog). The dog then got loose and ran up and down the aisle of the plane, barking. A flight attendant who tried to grab the dog was also bitten.

The bites were minor, but the pilot decided to divert the flight to Pittsburgh so the bite victims could be treated (and presumably to get the dog off the plane before it bit more people). The people who were bitten eventually got back on board and continued the flight. However, Mandy and her owner did not, as "separate transportation" was arranged for them.

There’s no information in the reports I’ve seen about the dog’s rabies vaccination status, something that was hopefully queried by medical personnel. There’s also no information about whether any action will be taken against the dog’s owner. If the airline (and/or passengers) wanted to, I imagine a lawsuit could easily follow (especially given the litigious nature of US society). They might win, too, since the dog’s owner deliberately broke clear rules that say the dog must remain in the carrier at all times. As a result of her action:

  • Two people were injured.
  • Medical costs were incurred.
  • The plane had to be diverted, probably resulting in a large cost to the airline for additional landing fees, fuel, personnel time, and perhaps the need to move flight personnel or postpone flights because of the diversion. (I’d love to know an estimate of what such a diversion actually costs.)
  • 122 passengers were inconvenienced and might have incurred costs from the delay as well.

…all for something that could have been avoided by leaving the dog in its cage.

(click image for source)