US Airways Responds to Story of Passenger and Service Dog Who Were Removed from Flight


Albert Rizzi and his guide dog are at the center of an airline controversy.
Photo via 6abc.com

Last Thursday’s story of a blind man and his service dog being kicked off a US Airways flight—and of the many passengers who stood up for the man—elicited a ton of comments, the vast majority of them outraged. On Friday, US Air spokesman John McDonald posted on the US Airways Facebook page the company’s response to the growing media coverage. I doubt that this will satisfy many you:

Folks – I know there is a lot of heat around the issue of the passenger and his service animal that was removed from one of our express flights recently. One of the first things everyone should ask themselves is, “There certainly must be more to this story than meets the eye … an airline wouldn’t just boot them off a flight for no good reason, right?” Absolutely.
US Airways transports more than 80 million customers each year and ensures that all customers, including those with disabilities, are treated with dignity and respect. We’re particularly sensitive to those customers who travel with service animals and we partner with Assistance Dogs International (ADI), an organization that trains and places assistance dogs around the world. US Airways employees volunteer to travel with and work with assistance dogs in training to help them prepare for travel with disabled partners. Over the past 10 years, US Airways employees have participated in transports everywhere from California to Croatia. So we understand the special needs and laws surrounding transporting our disabled customers and their service animals. So we have been investigating what happened here, and that investigation continues.

Here are a few things folks should consider:

• The safety of every passenger on our aircraft is our first and foremost priority.
• To ensure the safety of all passengers, the carriers and FAA have approved cabin policies the ensure that, should an incident occur, everyone can be safely evacuated without aisle-way obstruction.
• In compliance with the Air Carriers Access Act, and the FAA, service animals must be either under the seat in front of a passenger, on their lap (if equal to or smaller than a lap child), or at their feet … but at no time can they be in the main aisle of the aircraft as that is a primary evacuation route. In this instance, the animal was not able to be secured out of the main aisle, and attempts to work with the customer failed to ensure compliance with this safety rule.
• The customer is an advocate for disability rights, and appears to have forced a confrontation with his disruptive behavior, rather than simply complying with the instruction and securing the dog. Everyone was tired, it was near midnight, and I’m sure patience was in short supply as the aircraft had already been delayed on departure due to a mechanical issue and the animal was restless. We all would be.
• Once that was communicated by the cabin crew to the flight deck crew, the decision was made to return to the gate to remove the customer and calm the situation.
• Several other passengers, upon seeing the customer’s removal from the flight, piled on to the emotional confrontation, making threats to contact media and make an issue of out ‘kicking a blind man and his dog off a US Airways flight.’ This reduced the FA to tears, and they were unable to continue as they believed their safety was in jeopardy. The captain made the decision to cancel the flight and alternate means of transport were secured to get the passengers to their destination. Again, everyone was tired, it was late, and I’m sure folks simply wanted to get home. As a result, our customers did not get to their destination until after 2 in the morning.

So, having said all that, we apologize to the customers of the flight for the inconvenience caused by this incident and will be reaching out to them. I am sure everyone involved wish it had never happened and they had simply gotten to their destination on time.

We are also supportive of crews as they do a very difficult job, and in very sensitive emotional circumstances, to guard the safety of all our customers, on every flight, every day. If a crew member ask you to do something, there is a lawful and reasonable reason to comply with the request. That is simple and easy to do. Feel free to ask questions and get clarification, but forcing confrontations or making threats jeopardizes the safety of everyone on board. You can bet that will create a delay and potentially removal from the aircraft. No one wins there.

As I said, we continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident, and we welcome any additional information that will enable us to better accommodate our disabled passengers and their service animals. We want to improve our service, and avoiding these kinds of confrontations through education and sensitivity are always the better path.

Thanks for taking two minutes to read a bit more about what we believe occurred on this flight. After all, there certainly is more to the story … right? Absolutely.

— John McDonald – Spokesman, US Airways

Unfortunately for Mr. McDonald, several folks who were actually on the flight immediately took to the comments section to offer a different version of events:

I was on the flight – USair’s representation of what occurred is absolutely incorrect – at no time was the dog running in the isles, creating a problem or anything else – also, Mr. Rizzi never threatened anyone, and was always courtious and tried to accomidate the Flight Attendent – that is why every passenger came to Mr. Rizzi’s defense and that is why the captian forced us all off the flight.

I suspect that this story is far from over.

Click here for to go the US Airways Facebook page and read the comments.

9 thoughts on “US Airways Responds to Story of Passenger and Service Dog Who Were Removed from Flight”

  1. This is a case of “he said, she said”–oh, poor boo boo FA reduced to tears–excuse me, I want one well trained enough to AVOID those situations. And YES, USAir, I WILL believe the accounts of a whole airplane full of passengers who witnessed this as opposed to the “company line” provided by the employees. If the dog was in the aisle & could not be secured in front of, or on the passenger’s lap (really, it looks like a pretty good sized LABRADOR) then somebody, namely an employee of USAir should have noticed that prior to the flight and taken care of the issue BEFORE it occurred. Shocking, isn’t it, how people don’t do their jobs.

    OK, my rant is over. But get serious about customer service USAir. That’s why I avoid travel with you at all costs.

  2. I don’t believe that statement came from any spokesman of U.S. Airways. No professional spokesman, media representative, public or community relations manager, or other executive in charge of crisis communications would ever have writing something like that. The use of “folks” is a dead give-away. Also terms such as “…you can bet…” and the question at the end are highly unprofessional and unorthodox. As someone in corporate communications, I highly doubt the above was an official U.S. Airways statement.

  3. Without getting into the “he said, she said” of this story, what strikes me most is the objective fact that it is nearly impossible for any full sized Lab to fit under a coach seat of a US Airways flight without contorting into an impossibly uncomfortable position. As a former puppy raiser for CCI, I’ve had my dog-in-training on a plane, and guess what? Her paws stuck out into the aisle just a little bit, and no one cared. When the beverage cart came by, I had her sit and she was totally out of the way. If there were a true emergency and evacuation was needed, you can bet a service dog would not be lying under the seat, totally out of the way – they’d be helping their person evacuate and the other passengers would be in the aisle too. So the containment boundaries these dogs are supposed to abide by in the airline industry are just not realistic – and the reason this doesn’t come up constantly is that most FA’s are not so uptight about it. Everyone has been functioning this way for quite awhile without issue. So I think the solution is for US Airways to just lighten up.

  4. Maybe the regulation dates back to when there was more legroom, and needs to be modified. I have seen flight attendants assist disabled passengers with service animals, and there is actually a very funny picture of a pilot wearing sunglasses walking a passenger’s seeing eye dog at a layover – turned quite a few heads to see an apparently blind pilot emerge from the plane! When we were travelling with our own children we were asked if we minded having an unaccompanied minor seated with us, and since then I have offered and have met some delightful children and reassured them on take-off (my own children are long grown-up). This works a lot better when we all cooperate and help each other, especially since we are sharing a tight space. On one flight I was having balance difficulty in the turbulence and was grabbing the seat backs to get to the bathroom when I missed and got a man’s shoulder instead. I apologized, and he helped me through the next few rows when someone else rose up to get me through the following few – I was helped down the aisle a few rows at a time by four different men, and the last one waited for me and took me back to my seat. Fellow passengers, helping out. Sounds as though the fellow passengers saw the injustice with the dog and spoke up. I am going to avoid USAir when I can from now on.

  5. I have been traveling with a service animal for many years now. I’ve always been accommodated quite nicely. All of my animals happened to be big sized Labrador Retrievers. Certainly too large to sit in my lap and absolutely would never be able to sit in front of me where there is barely room for human feet.

    I have always tried to sit in the ‘bulkhead’ which could afford some room for my dog, granted, her feet lay over the line a bit, but when the beverage cart came by, I asked my dog to sit. She was able to stay out of the way and bothered no one.

    When I got up to deplane, people in back of me were amazed! They all said they had no idea a dog was on the plane. They didn’t hear any barking or anything. I smiled and gently said, that was because he is a well trained service animal and that if they would have heard him, that might possibly mean that I was in trouble and needed help.

    It is truly a sin that the airline representatives couldn’t have remained calm enough to figure out a way to better accommodate the blind man and his animal. I thinking this attendant was not a dog lover…

    Signed,
    Lucky not to have been on that particular flight with my service animal,
    Rusty Groffman

  6. Pingback: Woman Claims Her Dog Almost Died on a Flight, Yet Airline Tries to Silence Her | Orvis News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *