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They flew to Nashville. Bluebell, their dog, was sent to Saudi Arabia

Bluebell, seen here in England, was boarded onto the wrong flight earlier this month, sending her to Saudi Arabia rather than Tennessee.
Courtesy of the Miller Family
Bluebell, seen here in England, was boarded onto the wrong flight earlier this month, sending her to Saudi Arabia rather than Tennessee.

Under other circumstances, the airline's mix-up might have sparked an amusing anecdote about how, when a couple moved from England to the U.S., their dog went on its own international adventure.

But Madison and James Miller say that Bluebell, a black Labrador mix, endured a days-long ordeal when she was mistakenly loaded onto a flight that took her to Saudi Arabia instead of Tennessee. They also say British Airways and its sister carrier, IAG Cargo, haven't done enough to resolve the issue.

"We did everything right moving Bluebell to America with us, and it's been an absolute nightmare," James Miller told NPR via email.

"We don't know if she'll ever be the same," he added. "It's breaking our hearts."

A carefully planned move went off the rails

In November, the Millers paid the equivalent of around $2,100 to book Bluebell on a Dec. 1 flight from London's Heathrow airport to Nashville, Madison Miller's hometown.

"I arrived in Nashville a day before Bluebell to prepare our home for her," Madison told NPR.

James took a direct flight the next day, hoping for an easy trip both for himself and Bluebell, a rescue dog that Madison says is around five years old. But when the plane landed in the U.S., Bluebell and her cage were nowhere to be found.

After a delay of more than an hour, the Millers say, airline staff told them their dog had somehow been put on a jet bound for Riyadh. Concerned for Bluebell's health, they asked for — and got — a "proof of life" photo, showing Bluebell peering out from her cage. It would be two more days before they were reunited with her.

Madison and James Miller received this photo of their dog in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after they grew concerned about her well-being.
/ Courtesy of Miller Family
/
Courtesy of Miller Family
Madison and James Miller received this photo of their dog in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after they grew concerned about her well-being.

The airline apologizes for the mix-up

When reached for comment, an IAG Cargo spokesperson confirmed the mix-up, telling NPR, "We are very sorry for the recent error that occurred during Bluebell's trip to Nashville."

The company frequently transports pets, the spokesperson noted.

"Every dog that travels long-haul with transfers will be checked and their water bowls replenished," they said. "At London-Heathrow the team at Heathrow Animal Reception Centre cared for Bluebell, allowing her to stretch her legs, and receive refreshments prior to her onward journey home."

In all, the Millers say, Bluebell spent more than 60 hours in her cage, with little or no access to food and daylight. That includes three long-haul international flights, Madison said. She's disappointed the airline didn't find a way to send Bluebell to her new home on a direct flight.

Madison pointed out to the airline that in 2018, when a German shepherd was mistakenly sent from Oregon to Japan instead of Kansas, United Airlines went to great lengths to reunite the dog with its owners, even hiring a private plane — in which the dog reportedly flew in the cabin with the flight crew.

In an email reviewed by NPR, an IAG Cargo representative told the couple that in Bluebell's case, "no monetary compensation is available as all costs associated with the journey are absorbed by the airline."

The couple wants nearly $10,000 to cover expenses

Bluebell's ordeal has been a jarring setback for the Millers, who were moving to Nashville to be closer to Madison's mother and siblings as she and her British husband look to start a family.

An airline representative has repeatedly offered 50,000 frequent flier miles to the Millers as compensation, according to an email shared with NPR. The couple refused.

Bluebell destroyed the bottom of this door in the Millers' home in Nashville — a sign of the intense separation anxiety she's experiencing after her long time in a cage and on flights, the couple say.
/ Courtesy of Miller Family
/
Courtesy of Miller Family
Bluebell destroyed the bottom of this door in the Millers' home in Nashville — a sign of the intense separation anxiety she's experiencing after her long time in a cage and on flights, the couple say.

Instead, they asked British Airways for around $9,810, listing costs that range from behavioral therapy and three-times-a-day doses of anxiety medication to the price of replacing a crate, a door and other items Bluebell has destroyed in their new home — damages the Millers say are due to separation anxiety sparked by the long journey.

"We simply cannot leave her alone," James Miller said. "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."

The IAG Cargo spokesperson says they're still working with Bluebell's owners "to resolve the situation."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell
Bill Chappell is a writer, reporter and editor, and a leader on NPR's flagship digital news team. He has frequently contributed to NPR's audio and social media platforms, including hosting dozens of live shows online.