Kevin Crowell, who is a U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service and "countless hours of combat," according to a WAWS-TV report, said that he and his wife were refused entry to an American Airlines flight at Miami International Airport because he was traveling with his service dog, Bella. That left him humiliated and in need of another way home.
The retired Sergeant First Class and his wife had flown from Jacksonville, Fla. for a Wounded Warriors event that took place in Key West. He said he brought his dog, Bella, on the flight down without a problem. According to federal law, he should have been able to do the same on his return. She's been with him through military banquets, award ceremonies, and a graduation.
Crowell not only suffers from PTSD but physical injuries. "They have no idea that part of my spine was replaced from roadside bombs, OK?" Crowell said to WAWS. "They don't have an idea that my shoulder was destroyed in Iraq. So now I rely on her for a lot of things and oftentimes I physically lean on her to help me through the day."
Crowell said that he had checked with American Airlines before his return and was told that he could keep her with him in bulkhead seats they had. Bulkhead sections have extra leg room and Bella would have stayed on the floor of the plane.
But when it came time to board, airline personnel said that he could not bring the dog with him. A flight attendant said that it was against airline policy to bring a pet into the bulkhead section. According to Crowell, he tried to explain the difference between a pet and a service animal, but to no avail. He, his wife, and Bella were turned away and had to walk back through the waiting crowd in "humiliation." They had to rent a car and drive back, a trip that would take roughly 5.5 hours, according to TravelMath.com.
Maybe the airline personnel should have read their employer's service animal policy:
His wife complained to the airline. American Airlines reportedly offered a refund and said that staff will get additional training on dealing with service dogs, according to The Consumerist.
American Airlines and American Eagle® accept service animals used by persons with disabilities at no charge. An animal may accompany a customer with a disability in the aircraft cabin, provided the animal can be accommodated without obstructing an aisle or other area used for emergency evacuations.
If a service animal is disruptive or too large to fit under the seat or at the passenger's feet without encroaching on another passenger's space or protruding into the aisle, it will need to travel in a kennel (provided by the passenger) in the cargo hold. The kennel must meet IATA kennel and size requirements for the animal. Temperature restrictions apply to ensure the safety of the animal.
There is no charge for service animals used by customers with disabilities. However, credible verbal assurance that the animal is providing a service to assist with a disability will suffice should an inquiry be made.
"I didn't join the military in the '80s and retire in 2013 to be discriminated against, especially in the United States," Crowell told WAWS.
Update 5/12/2014 10:26: American Airlines sent the following statement:
On further questioning, the American Airlines spokesperson said that the "customer service team helped place him on the flight, but he elected not to travel."
We sincerely apologize for what happened and have offered a full refund. In addition, we are using this as a training opportunity for our employees, reinforcing our culture of diversity and respect and the importance of our customers' comfort and safety. Our agents should always accommodated passengers traveling with fully trained service animals. Once this mistake was realized, our customer service team in Miami apologized and attempted to accommodate the customer, but ultimately he elected not to travel.