Last year, American Airlines issued an apology to a retired U.S. Marine after the veteran said he and his service dog were denied boarding a flight. While the airline put that incident behind it, it’s now facing a similar complaint from an Army vet who has accused the airline of mocking her and refusing to let her travel with her licensed service dog.
The Mississippi woman says in a recently filed lawsuit against American Airlines that she was “emotionally crushed and humiliated” when airline employees mocked her and refused to allow her to fly from Kansas to Mississippi with her service dog, Jake.
According to the lawsuit [PDF], the woman — who developed post-traumatic stress disorder from her time in the Army — followed all of the carriers’ directions when it came to traveling with her service dog.
The carrier’s website stated that “service animals are welcome on all flights. There are no additional charges for service animals traveling in the cabin.”
The plaintiff says that her previous experiences with American had been uneventful and the airline had abided by its own stated policy. That is, until Oct. 25, 2015, when she claims she was forced to miss her flight because verbally abusive American employees refused to let her board.
Shortly after arriving at the Manhattan, KS, airport an American Airlines agent approached the woman and allegedly asked the plaintiff, “Ummm, are you trying to fly with that?” in reference to the service dog, who was wearing a service vest with license attached.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff tried to explain that Jake was a service animal and that, yes, he would be on the flight. The agent then asked for “documentation” and took the passenger’s ID and disappeared. When the agent returned, she announced that the veteran could not fly with Jake.
At that point, the woman asked to speak with a supervisor, who agreed “brusquely and rudely” that “you’re not flying with that, we are canceling your flight.”
The woman was then told she needed to speak to an unidentified “SAC” department on the phone. That rep, according to the lawsuit, was “extremely rude and abusive” toward the passenger. At this point, the woman was told her only options were to pay $125 to fly Jake as cargo or to submit service animal documentation and rebook in 48 hours.
However, the woman contacted the American Airlines’ service hotline, and was told that Jake was already registered as a medical alert service animal, and no further documentation was necessary.
By this time, the woman was forced to miss her flight. But, the lawsuit claims, the issues hadn’t been resolved, as the gate agents returned and “verbally assaulted” her, asking “what is your disability anyway?” and “what service does he provide you?”
The passenger, now agitated and stressed, cursed at the agent, who then called the police. While the police did not get involved in the incident, they remained present until the woman left the airport.
When the woman returned the next day after rebooking her trip and having a customer service rep note that she was traveling with her service animal, the lawsuit states she faced another round of harassment from agents. And again, she was denied boarding and missed her flight.
She made arrangements to fly to Mississippi through a different airport, but was contacted by American Airlines and promised to get home from the Manhattan airport. She finally arrived home 48 hour after the initial flight.
The lawsuit alleges negligence and claims that the conduct by American Airlines violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A rep for the airline tells the New York Daily News that they could not comment on the lawsuit as it was pending litigation. However, the carrier did note that American’s senior manager of Military and Veterans Programs reached out to the woman shortly after the incident.
by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist