United Airlines mistakenly puts dog on flight to Ireland

On March 14, Hendrix, a 6-year-old English Springer Spaniel from Staten Island, N.Y., was scheduled to board a United Airlines flight from New Jersey to Phoenix, Ariz.

But when the plane touched down around 9:45 p.m. Thursday evening at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, United Airlines staff realized to their horror that Hendrix was not on the flight. Instead, the black-and-white Spaniel was accidentally loaded onto a different flight headed in the opposite direction — Hendrix was en route to Shannon, Ireland.

A mere seven minutes before her dog’s flight was set to land safely in Arizona, Hendrix’s owner, Edith Lombardo-Albach, received a phone call from United Airlines explaining that Hendrix would not be on the plane. A shocked Albach immediately feared the worst.

“Originally, I thought the dog had died and I started screaming,” Albach tells ABC News.

When Albach learned Hendrix’s whereabouts, she could hardly believe what had really happened — her dog was on his way across the Atlantic Ocean to the Emerald Isle.

“I felt like somebody punched me in the stomach,” Albach tells CNN.com. “I mean, that’s my dog. That’s like my child,” she says of Hendrix.

Albach says when she dropped Hendrix off for his flight at Liberty Newark International Airport, there was no indication that such a catastrophic mistake was going to unfold. She expected that, in just a few short hours, Hendrix would arrive in Phoenix and join the rest of the family at their new Arizona home.

“When my mom called me I was like, ‘my dog got sent to frickin’ Ireland?” says Albach’s daughter, Meredith Grant, in disbelief over what had happened. “How Ireland? Not even like he went to Florida…he’s in Ireland.”

“They marked everything Phoenix, and put the tags on Phoenix” Albach says of the United Airlines staff. She has no idea what could have happened in the interim that would have landed her dog on the wrong plane.

The United Airlines representative assured Albach that Hendrix would be well taken care of upon arriving in Ireland, that he would be walked, fed, and even bathed before boarding a return flight to the United States as soon as they could schedule one for him. But for Albach, these assurances were little consolation, and she worried for her poor dog, stranded in an unfamiliar place after spending so long on an airplane.

“The dog had already gone seven hours to Ireland, and now the dog has a two-hour layover and then a seven-hour flight to Newark,” Albach exclaims. “I was insane.”

By Friday morning, a very jet-lagged Hendrix was back on a plane bound for Newark, and Albach was right there at Liberty Newark International Airport to greet him. Hendrix was back on American soil at 11 a.m., thrilled to see his owner after his long, strange journey.

But the friendly skies weren’t done with this well-traveled Spaniel, who still had to get from New Jersey to Phoenix that day. Albach waited with Hendrix at the airport until his third and final flight left at 5 p.m.

“They boarded him the last possible moment they could,” Albach says. “I stayed and watched them physically put the dog on the plane.” She says Hendrix was understandably reluctant to get back in his crate before his flight.

United Airlines spokesperson Megan McCarthy released a statement from the company, apologizing for the mix-up. “We are reviewing the circumstances surrounding the situation and will take steps to prevent this from happening again,” says McCarthy. “Hendrix’s experience is not typical of the service we provide to the more than 100,000 pets who travel with us every year.”

Albach says while she appreciates the apology, she hopes United Airlines will make things right.

“This was a major failure on United’s part,” she says. “He’s a member of my family and they nearly left him.”

Sources: CNN.com, ABC News