American Airlines issued an apology to yet another one of its customers who was kicked off a flight with her service dog. Sue Martin, a 61-year-old blind woman, was accompanied by her husband and her guide dog, a 75-pound German Shepherd named Quan, when she boarded her plane. When her dog wouldn’t fit in the row she was assigned to, she asked a flight attendant if she could switch seats. The attendant told her to speak to an agent who said she could not change seats or sit in first class as it was against airline regulations to allow a dog in first class.
Martin got back on the plane, and a man in first class offered to switch seats with her, so she did. That’s when an American Airlines employee told her to leave, claiming that her presence made the flight unsafe.
The federal Air Carrier Access Act says that an airline must allow service animals on flights and offer another seating option if the animal can’t be accommodated. American Airlines later apologized to Martin and said that their policy is to allow service animals on all flights, so long as they don’t block the aisle. But American Airlines just doesn’t seem to get it.
This is not an isolated incident with American Airlines, and they’ve gotten into trouble before for turning down service dogs on flights. The airline was called out for stopping the 2015 Service Dog of the Year, a PTSD support dog named Axel, before boarding one of their flights along with his veteran owner, Captain Jason Haag.
American Airlines employees pulled Haag and Axel out of line, harassing them with questions and demanding proof that Axel was a real service dog. A quick Google search could have given the airline all it needed to know about the famous dog, but apparently they were enjoying giving a PTSD sufferer a hard time too much to bother. They later blamed Haag, making up the excuse that he switched flights, before finally apologizing.
American Airlines topped that by kicking a 12-year-old boy with epilepsy and his service dog off a flight in November of 2016. Amy Jo Weasel’s son relies on a 110-pound Goldendoodle named Chugg to help him with severe epilepsy. The mother contacted American Airlines ahead of time, and they gave the family space in the bulkhead so Chugg could fit.
— BeckyW (@beckywheeler74) November 27, 2016
After boarding, an attendant asked the family to put Chugg under the seat, but that wasn’t enough for her. She came back with management, who asked Weasel’s family to leave the flight. American Airlines later offered an apology. Are you seeing the same pattern I’m seeing here?
The same thing happened to Lisa McCombs, another Army veteran, and her dog, a Labrador named Jake who helps with her PTSD. McCombs was also stopped, asked harassing questions, and prevented from boarding her flight. American Airlines, again, interrogated a PTSD sufferer. After she missed the first flight, she booked a seat on another American Airlines flight the next day and was assured that Jake could board the plane this time. You’ll probably be able to guess what happened next.
McCombs found herself turned away a second time as she tried to board and was harassed for documentation. Management tried to say that her documents didn’t have proper dates. She missed the flight again. American Airlines booked her another flight, and surprisingly she was able to get on board, but the company wasn’t finished humiliating her. During her layover in Dallas, airline representatives pushed past other customers with a wheelchair, calling out, “We’re looking for Lisa McCombs, a disabled veteran.” She tried to explain that she didn’t need a wheelchair, but representatives insisted on escorting her through the airport, drawing unwanted attention to her and her condition.
American Airlines apologized, as usual. McCombs sued the company for her treatment.
This is a pattern of incidents that needs to be addressed by American Airlines, and its employees need to be properly trained on how to handle people with service dogs. Certainly fake service animals brought by people who just want to have their pets with them are a problem. But a better system needs to be in place to identify real service animals.
No one should have to be shamed and harassed for their disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects individuals with service animals from being denied or needlessly interrogated, and American Airlines has clearly violated some of these people’s rights. Apologies aren’t good enough when the same thing keeps happening.
American Airlines, stop apologizing and make some meaningful changes.
What do you think American Airlines should do to stop harassment of disabled people with service animals? Will you use other airlines if they fail to address the issue? Let us know in the comments below!