British Airways Accidentally Sent a Dog to Saudi Arabia Instead of Nashville

The 5-year-old Lab mix spent more than 60 hours in transit

Picture of a cage with a dog following a long journey as cargo, massive stress for animals while traveling.
Chris world / Getty Images

When Madison and James Miller relocated from London to Nashville, they booked a Dec. 1 British Airways flight for James and their dog Bluebell, anticipating a smooth journey across the Atlantic. Instead, what followed was, according to a statement by Mr. Miller, "an absolute nightmare."

When Mr. Miller arrived in Nashville, he discovered that Bluebell, a five-year-old black Labrador mix who had to ride in the cargo hold, did not make the journey with him. Instead, Bluebell had mistakenly been flown by British Airways to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Millers then requested "proof of life" and were sent a photo of Bluebell peering out from her crate. 

It would take more than 60 hours for the Millers and Bluebell to be reunited—Bluebell was flown back to London before continuing onto Nashville, despite the Millers' request for a direct flight from Riyadh. (There are no commercial or cargo flights connecting the two cities, but the Millers pointed to another case in which a misdirected dog was flown home via a chartered private jet.) According to the Millers, their dog was mostly confined to her crate during the ordeal, save for a brief break during her layover in London. 

IAG Cargo, which manages cargo operations for British Airways and other airlines, apologized for the mixup in a statement provided to TripSavvy. "We are very sorry for the recent error that occurred during Bluebell's trip to Nashville. We take the responsibility of caring for people's loved animals seriously and are investigating how the redirection happened," said a company spokesperson, who noted that Bluebell "received refreshments frequently and had time outside to stretch her legs—including regular walks and eight hours with the team at the Heathrow Animal Reception center who cared for her."

Mrs. Miller tells TripSavvy that the only explanation she and James received for the error was that "multiple people didn't check Bluebell's paperwork, despite all her paperwork on her crate being correct, and therefore loaded her onto the wrong plane."

Since the ordeal, the Millers said Bluebell has developed behavioral issues, which they believe are due to the traumatic flight experience. "The first time we tried to leave her at home alone after the ordeal, she ripped through her kennel in the first 10 minutes. The next time she chewed through a wooden door crying the whole time," said Mr. Miller in a statement. "So now we can't leave her—she could harm herself. Being apart from us is too traumatic for her."

The couple is seeking nearly $10,000 in compensation from British Airways for Bluebell's medication and rehabilitation. But British Airways only offered the couple 50,000 frequent flier miles, which the Millers rejected. The dispute is ongoing, though Mrs. Miller told TripSavvy that they have not heard from the airline in a week.

Unfortunately, this is not the first instance of an airline mishandling a pet. In 2011, a cat named Jack escaped his kennel after an American Airlines handler dropped it at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Jack was found 61 days later in such poor health that he had to be euthanized. In 2015, a cat named Felix had his carrier crushed while being unloaded from an Etihad flight, also at JFK, allowing him to escape. Felix had a happier ending than Jack, as he was rescued within two weeks in reasonably good condition.

Then, in 2018, a United Airlines flight attendant demanded a French bulldog be stored in the overhead compartment rather than beneath a seat—that dog died during the flight. And just a week later, United Airlines accidentally sent a German shepherd named Irgo to Japan instead of Kansas. (That was when the airline paid for a private jet to fly the dog home.)

Such examples highlight the statistically unlikely but real risk associated with transporting pets on planes—particularly in the cargo hold. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were seven reported animal deaths and 14 reported injuries in 2021, though there were zero lost animals. That constitutes a rate of 0.82 incidents per 10,000 animals transported.

While the vast majority of pets make it to their destination safely, mistakes—and sometimes fatal ones—do happen. Given such high-profile incidents as the Millers', airlines will hopefully take greater strides to ensure the safety of traveling pets.

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  1. U.S. Department of Transportation. "Air Travel Consumer Report: December 2021, Full Year 2021 Numbers." February 28, 2022.