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.