American Airlines Removes Blind Woman From Aircraft Over Limited Space For Her Guide Dog

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American Airlines “brilliant” customer service came to shine again when a flight crew had a 61 year old blind woman removed from the plane after issues developed over accommodation of her guide dog.

Apparently ground agents didn’t assign the lady a seat that would easily accommodate the dog which led to issues once they got on board.

A situation in First Class where another passenger wanted to swap seats with the senior then escalated (in typical AA fashion) to the woman being kicked off the flight on the cabin crews request and pilots authorization.

There was an article about this in the Dallas Morning News (see here) which I saw in my social media feed this morning.

A blind woman says she and her guide dog were removed from an American Airlines flight this month after she asked for a new seat.

Sue Martin, who is blind, was booked on a connecting flight from Washington, D.C., to DFW International Airport on March 1. When she boarded, the 61-year-old realized her dog, a German shepherd named Quan, wouldn’t fit in the row to which she’d been assigned.

“There was not enough room for a 75-pound dog and three adult humans,” said Martin, a Maine resident who was traveling to San Diego with her husband.

Martin said she asked to be moved to a row with more floor space for Quan, but a flight attendant told her to speak with an agent in the airport.

That agent told her she could not move to another row, Martin said, or sit in first class, saying it was against airline regulations for a service dog to be in first class.

Martin returned to the plane, and a man in first class offered to switch seats with her. After she accepted and sat down, another American employee got on and asked her to leave the plane, she said.

On the jetway, the employee told Martin her ” ‘presence on the plane is not safe,’ or some stupid thing,” she told the Press Herald. Her husband asked the pilot why he had asked for their removal, she said. “Because I can,” he reportedly said.

This is a ridiculous response from the flight crew and it makes me wonder at the same time why no provisions have been made ahead of boarding time to accommodate a person with a seeing eye dog at a proper space. It’s very common that German Shepherds are used as service animals and those are obviously much bigger breed than your average dog at home, unlikely to just fit under a seat. At the same time the lady was traveling with her husband so I wonder if the dog could just have laid in front of their two seats but who knows.

I looked through American Airlines website for the transportation guidelines of service animals (see here) and pets (see here) and couldn’t any outlined regulation that says service animals aren’t permitted in First Class which leads me to assume this was just something the Flight Attendant made up in that moment.

American outlines the service animal rules as follows:

  • For security reasons, service animals can’t block any aisle
  • You can’t sit in an exit row when traveling with service animals
  • If you’d like seating, contact us before your flight

Not sure if such a rule would even be legal in the U.S. to begin with given the stringent regulations of the ADA governing the handling of disabled passengers.

Conclusion

If you have a really large guide dog (75 pounds isn’t huge for a German Shepherd though) then it would probably be recommended to advise an agent at check-in or at the gate about these seating requirements and not do this during the boarding process. They knew they have a dog, they knew Economy Class isn’t exactly the epitome of spacious luxury so why wait this long?

Even though the lady wasn’t entitled to a First Class upgrade a passenger decided to offer her a seat and move to Economy yet the crew intervened again and decided to kick her off the flight. The response of the captain was completely unprofessional. I’m confident the lady complained through the appropriate channels including the Department of Transportation.

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  • Judy Jones

    Not like it was a fake service dog in this case. I think the ADA will get involved with this one.

    • Barry Parsons

      It seems like this was handled very badly.
      I am not sure though realistically how a 75ib German Shepherd dog can realistically be accommodated in the ever reducing space of an Economy class row with 3 passengers.

      • Joe S

        Saw a service person with a service dog, and they were at the front bulkhead which gave enough room. But of course those seats are the first to go.

        • cscasi

          A lot of times the aisle seat on both sides of the first row are fir handicapped persons (upon request); meaning one can reserve the seat but may have to give it up if a handicapped person needs the seat. I am not sure if a person with a service dog would be allowed that courtesy or not – especially since she was kicked off the flight.
          Not sure why a service animal cannot be accommodated in First Class, especially if someone gives up his/her seat for that purpose.
          Perhaps concerned people should write and ask American Airlines about that. If enough letters are sent, perhaps management will do something about it or at least print out a rule concerning that.

        • Barry Parsons

          Yes, I can just about understand the possibility at the front bulkhead with a little more space.
          In normal economy rows though, all I know is that at 6ft 4ins I can barely squeeze into the available legroom by contorting myself and even my wife at 5ft 8ins has no space for a bag or anything else in front of her.
          So I just don’t know how a service dog is accommodated without an empty seat for it to sit in front of?

  • David

    Did the woman contact AA in advance? We know that the only place such a large dog could be accommodated in the leg/under seat area in coach are the emergency exit rows…which of course breaches FAA rules. With flights now 100% full finding an open seat elsewhere in coach is less possible.

    Sorry but should not people flying with large guide dogs be required to purchase (at a discount) a second seat as is required of overly large people?

    As for sitting in F, I’d certainly hate to find a huge slovering animal stuck adjacent to my leg room space for 2 or 3 hours.

    Let’s have the full story here. Did she advise AA in advance? Did her group demand to be seated together thus limiting options if there was an open seat? What type of plane was this? What fare was paid that limited advance seat selection. Not to mention if she was with three others in her group, why not check the dog to fly in the cargo space since her friends could provide assistance until the dog was “released” to her.

    • Eric Daniel

      Check the dog cargo???? Terrible advice for a guide dog. Given their level of training and the time spent matching and training dog and owner they are much more valuable than cargo. I’m sorry you have a problem with dogs sitting in first class but I highly doubt it’s “slovering” (whatever you mean by that – perhaps slobbering?} would be an issue since guide dogs are extensively trained as are their owners. This particular woman travels often for professional reasons and this hasn’t been a problem in the past. The airline dropped the ball on this one and exacerbated the problem with terrible customer service.

      By the way, saying they have a policy against guide dogs travelling in first class is a direct violation of the ADA. People with visual or other impairments have as much right to seating travel first class as you or any other person do. Your suggestions and the implications of your response are both bigoted and demeaning of people with disabilities.

      • David

        Figured someone would bring the “bigot” word into the story. Animals have no place in airplane cabins…period! But let’s get the full story. She may have a right to be accommodated but is it practical on a full plane? She has an obligation to advise the airline ahead of time. Did she? Again a lot of unanswered variables and I seldom believe such news stories until all the details are known. As I wrote, she was travelling with three others who could care for her inflight and airport needs. Check the dog as cargo!

        • Dogmatick

          Yes she has every right to board with a service animal. It is not a pet it is her eyes….

          I’m sorry but US flight crews abuse massively their rights that seem to have been afforded them in recent years.

          I don’t like your shirt, it offends me, get off….. Etc etc

          For the captain, the captain for God’s sake, to say ‘because I can’ means he needs firing.

          These staff are basically applying company standards over and above human rights.

          By the way there aren’t many seeing eye dogs smaller than an Alsation . Retrievers and labrador are similarly sized when you take the hair away so this is utterly moot.

          Or is the US going to the society that many wish for which is to give no heed to those less able.

          Until Nov 8th I thought that impossible

        • BenniHK

          Asking to check a service dog in cargo just as ignorant n idiotic as suggesting to check the infants in cargo!

        • cscasi

          Since you do not believe news stories until all the details are known, how can you comment about this? You don’t know if she contacted the airline in advance or not. It was not in the story. So, all you can do is assume and we all know what “assume” means, right?

        • Harry Webb

          Unfortunately you’re up against the irrational bleeding-hearts, David. To avoid difficulties, the blind person should certainly have booked an extra seat if the airline did not grant one anyway, as one would expect it to do.

          But here we have a blind person with a sighted companion – her husband no less – beside her every inch of the way, so what on earth is wrong with the dog’s being treated like the average dog for the duration of the flight anyway Eric Daniel, Dogmatick, cscasi and BenniHK?

          Are you claiming that it will be so perturbed at being treated as the dog that it is that it will never regain its equilibrium as a guide dog? If it is so incredibly precious as that it couldn’t have been much of a guide dog in the first place. But it’s a dog, not an insecure human being.

          Don’t worry people, it will crash through the flimsy barrier better than ever.

          Surely these people made enquiries prior to the flight, or at least at check-in anyway. And yes, whether one is up the front or down the back, one should never have to put up with a slavering dog in an aircraft, although I doubt that a trained Labrador or Alsatian/Shepherd would lose a drop of saliva during such a flight. However untrained dogs do tend to slaver under stress and should not be permitted on aircraft at any time.

          Personally I would voice no objection to having such a “service” dog sitting beside me – in either class – so long as it occupies a seat, whether paid-for or not. The fewer the better of course, and only in dedicated rows surely.

          Even in business or first class there is probably insufficient room for a large dog to lie down unless its owner has purchased or been gifted by the airline an extra seat.

          The holier-than-thou pontifications by those who have attacked David are, to say the least, disappointing.

          What a bunch of dropkicks they are.

          • David

            Thank you. I was curious to know the range of opinion among followers of this blog and possibly be enlightened on the subject but also discover the full story. It’s usually Sebastian who raises much of the ire around these parts so glad I could give him a break.

    • cscasi

      “As for sitting in F, I’d certainly hate to find a huge slovering animal stuck adjacent to my leg room space for 2 or 3 hours.”
      How do you know the dog would be slobbering (nor slovering) adjacent to your leg room space? Have you had one next to you on a flight or are you just complaining for something to complain about?

  • Gaz

    Something seems VERY wrong, when you consider this!:
    http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/dog-lax-fat-big-first-class-service-viral-american-airlines-denver-337849951.html
    Especailly as we are talking about a passenger who is accompanied by a genuine/working service dog

  • James

    I’ve been in First Class many times and have seen pet dogs out in first class-not seeing eye dogs. So the excuse about dogs not permitted in first class is not correct. The excuse is just unacceptable The employees involved need to be disciplined.

  • davvet

    I am a Disabled Veteran.
    1) A disabled person needs to tell the airline in advance about there medical issues.
    2) The balk head seats used to be held on the date of flight unless a disabled person tells the airline ahead of time for it. AA now sells those seats ahead of time to non-disabled people which is totally wrong.
    3) The FAA & TSA is suppose to watch the airlines about ADA regulations but many times does not any longer. This is totally wrong by AA in general.

    • cscasi

      The FAA does NOT enforce ADA rules. What the FAA can do is enforce the rules under the Federal Aviation Regulations and it can and does enforce the Airline companies’ rules because the FAA approves the airlines’ manuals. The TSA has nothing to do with enforcing ADA rules, either.

  • gerrycf

    Well I have an issue with all rules regulating all animals on board an aircraft. Yes, of course (a) a service animal for a blind person is mandatory and maybe even some of the (b) ESA passengers requesting “emotional service animals” which can be sitting anywhere throughout the aircraft as well as all (c) “bring along your pet” because you paid $150 under the present airline policies is ALL unacceptable policies. The animals can be on “any flight” and even if questions if there are any when making a reservation, that can change when you appear on board the aircraft, ALL unbeknownst to ANY human being, including any children, who are deathly allergic to a cat, dog or any type of animal permitted on board. Something needs to be done regarding this policy and I think quickly. Suggestion: I do think the airlines need to allocate certain designated flights and/or certain days of the week for animal travel or at least some policy where a human being’s life takes precedence over an animal threatening their safety and life on an aircraft. I was recently actually told that the passenger who paid for their “pet” to be on board for $150 took precedence over my deathly allergic throat closing allergy to a cat on board which I did NOT even visual but instead my breathing changed once in flight and I inquired if there was a cat on board and was advised that the owner of the cat paid $150!!!! help!!!!!!