NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- After a woman tweeted Sunday that United Airlines (UAL) - Get United Airlines Holdings Inc. Reporthad mistreated a dog, many people immediately assumed that United had in fact mistreated a dog.
If only life were so simple. If only tweeting would make things clear, when they might be more complicated. So what really happened?
Some Internet headlines sounded very sure. One said, "United Airlines Leaves Dog on Runway: Crated Dog Seen Neglected in Rain at Houston Airport." Another began, "United Airlines faces angry backlash after pet dog was left on tarmac in the pouring rain 'for more than half hour despite alerts to staff.'" Still another: "United Airlines Facing Backlash For Mistreatment Of Pet Dog -- Airline left caged dog out on tarmac in pouring rain, faces outrage on Twitter (TWTR) - Get Twitter Inc. Report ."
The affair began Sunday when Barbara Galletly, a passenger on United Flight 1273 to Los Angeles, which departed at 12:03 p.m., looked out the window and noticed a dog cage on the tarmac. From her angle, it did not appear that the cage was in the shelter of the aircraft's wing. So she tweeted about it.
Here it is probably appropriate to ask what really happened to that dog in Houston.
In an interview with TheStreet, Galletry said it drizzled or rained all morning and "if the dog was under the wing, that's great. It didn't look like it from my angle. There was nobody attending to it."
"I couldn't stand of the thought of this poor cold wet dog spending three hours in the cargo hold after that," she said, noting that despite all of the uproar and tweets and stories posted on websites, she was not interviewed until TheStreet called her.
Rather, people seized the opportunity to express outrage, again and again and again.
News traveled fast, igniting an outpouring of outrage. Keith Olbermann, a sports and political commentator, tweeted: "How an airline -- United -- should not treat dogs or the bipeds who love them." Sia, an Australian singer, tweeted: "I will never
United again." The singer thanked Galletly for "exposing their sh---- treatment of our beloved pets."
Yet somehow the carrier managed to attract more than 140 million passengers this year. Maybe not everyone reads Twitter.
So what is United's take?
Around midday Sunday, when the incident occurred, it was raining in Houston and in the high 40s, said United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson.
United's "PetSafe" employees, cargo workers trained in pet handling, were following their usual procedure. They take animals, typically in a cage, to the ramp while the aircraft is loaded. They place the cage under the wing because that provides shade from the sun and shelter from the rain.
Then ramp workers load the bags and cargo. Animal cages are loaded last. That way, they can be unloaded first.
The passenger, Johnson said, took photos from inside the aircraft at an angle that did not clearly show that the cage was under the wing. He said the cargo and ramp workers kept an eye on the dog throughout the process.
But the outrage remains.
On Twitter, there's a hashtag called #UnitedHatesAmericans," populated with all types of nasty remarks. Here, someone noted, "This makes me sick. First your passengers and then defenseless animals?" Someone else said, "All of my son's Xmas presents are in the bags you are refusing to deliver."
Clearly the story hit a nerve.
--Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.