It's not been an easy year for United Airlines. A brief social-media hubbub over whether leggings constitute appropriate travel wear gave way to a fiasco in which airline employees forcefully dragged a man off a plane, injuring him in the process. And now the latest PR disaster involves the death of a well-known rabbit being transported in its cargo hold.
The giant rabbit named Simon was 10 months old, and already measured 3 feet, 5 inches (104 centimeters) long, the size of an elementary school-aged human child. While an inspector signed off on Simon's good health when he left London's Heathrow airport, he was found dead upon arrival in the United States, of unknown causes.
Simon comes from a famous lineage of large rabbits: His father Darius holds the Guinness World Records title for largest rabbit at 4 feet, 4 inches (129 centimeters), while Simon's brother Jeff seems to have surpassed their dad in length at 4 feet, 5 inches (135 centimeters), though this hasn't been certified by Guinness. The rabbits can grow to weigh 42 pounds (19 kilograms). Learn more about bunny patriarch Darius in this video:
This breed of rabbit, known as a Flemish or Continental Giant, typically doesn't reach its maximum size until about 18 months, according to Annette Edwards, a rabbit breeder living in Worcestershire, England who sold Simon to a new owner in the United States. She predicted Simon might have overtaken his relatives.
"Any other bunnies I've sent to the U.S. have been fine," Edwards told the Washington Post. "I've been doing it for quite a few years. I don't sell unless it's to the right person, because these animals are not like normal rabbits. They're more like dogs, so you have to have the right facilities for them. They can't go into a rabbit hutch."
In the past two years, United was the major airline with the highest rate of animal incidents per 10,000 animals transported. According to the U.S. Transportation Department's Air Travel Consumer Report, United had nine deaths and 14 injuries in 2016, with 109,149 animals transported — a rate of 2.11 incidents per 10,000. In 2015, it was 14 deaths and nine injuries with 97,156 animals transported — 2.37 injuries per 10,000 transported. That may not seem like much, but it's nearly double the rate of United's closest competitors.
In what seems like an unfortunate case of a pun going terribly wrong, the plane carrying the sizably fluffy cargo left London's Heathrow and was bound for Chicago's international airport — an airport named O'Hare.
Following the conclusion of the flight to Chicago, the rabbit died in a United-run pet facility while awaiting transit to another flight.