Blind Woman “Humiliated” After American Airlines Removes Her & Guide Dog From Flight

Image courtesy of Travelin’ Librarian

A blind woman who says she’s never had an issue flying with her guide dog in 30 years claims she was “humiliated and traumatized” after American Airlines kicked her and her guide dog off a flight recently.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the Maine woman said she was flying with her husband and guide dog from Bangor to California on March 1. The problems started when they stopped over at Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C.

Their assigned seats were a tighter fit than others on the plane, and the woman said she fell while trying to settle the dog at her feet and hurt her hip. She says she asked a crew member for a different seat that would let the dog rest on the floor in front of her, but the flight attendant refused twice, and then told her to exit the plane and talk to a ticketing agent in the terminal.

When the ticketing agent told her she couldn’t change the seating assignment, she also refused to upgrade her to a first-class seat — one with more leg room for the dog — saying it was against American’s rules to allow guide dogs in the first-class cabin, the woman claims.

However, the woman says she knew that would amount to illegal discrimination, based on her experiences flying with several guide dogs over the years.

Indeed, as the Herald points out, under the federal Air Carrier Access Act, service animals are required to sit on the floor, and if they can’t be accommodated at the passenger’s seat, airlines “must offer the passenger the opportunity to move with the animal to another seat location, if present on the aircraft, where the animal can be accommodated.”

Upon reboarding the plane, a first-class passenger offered her his seat, she says, so she accepted it. An American employee then boarded the plane and asked her to speak with him on the jetway. He informed her that her “‘presence on the plane is not safe,’ or some stupid thing,” she said.

She returned to her seat to get her stuff, and upon exiting, her husband asked the pilot why they were being removed. “‘Because I can,’” she recalls him responding.

The airline’s policy on service animals says that they are welcome on all flights free of charge. It doesn’t mention keeping animals out of the first-class cabin, notes the Herald.

The couple was rebooked on a United Airlines flight out of Dulles International Airport, and spent $80 in cab fare between the two airports.

She’s since filed two complaints with the airline and one with federal transportation authorities. She says the same person who told her she was being removed from the flight later called to tell her the airline had investigated the incident and determined the crew acted properly.

“It pretty much ruined my vacation,” she said of the experience. “I’ve never been so humiliated and traumatized.”

In a statement, American told the Herald that it takes “all disability complaints very seriously and we are thoroughly investigating these allegations,” without directly addressing the incident.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.