Disabled Vet Booted Off Plane For Bringing His Service Dog

Action violated American Airlines' published policy

American Airlines Bars Veteran's Service Dog From Flight
Modern airline travel can be an unpleasant business. A disabled combat veteran learned that it could be humiliating, as well.

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.

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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:

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.

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.

"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:

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.

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."


Erik Sherman

Erik Sherman

Contributor

Erik Sherman has written for the Wall Street Journal, Inc, Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, and other publications. He's a regular contributor to CBS MoneyWatch and Inc.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman.

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johnny18350

I hate when someone tries to use the stupid employee excuse. I dont use a service dog, dont know anyone that uses a service dog and have never worked anywhere it mattered. I know the law as theres been a ton of info about it for a long time now. You would have to be living under a rock to not know about. An employee that makes an error like that is being willfully neglegent and should be punished acordingly. If I have to choose between following my employer and following the law, I'm picking the law. Many years ago I worked in retail hardware. they concidered taps and dies a consumable and not covered under the brands lifetime warrenty. One day a customer brought in a Bunch of old broken taps for warrenty and even had the the manuel that came with them that said they were lifetime warrenty so I changed them out against the stores policy. The store was mad and threatened to fire me for it. I told them he had proof they were lifetime warrenty and they had to legally honor it and if they did fire me or try to harass me from it, I would not only file a complaint with the dept. of labor but would file a suit against them. They dropped it pretty quick.

June 19 2014 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jessica

American Airlines should be fined!! Service animals are allowed everywhere their person goes. People who whine about an allergy can be seated away from the service animal , no big deal. Many cats help people with tasks and alerts just like dogs. Mine gives alerts on the presence of a spider, due to my Arachnophobia. ADA stopped recognizing cats as service animals, due to Dept of Justice's ignorance, on how many cats are working. I started a petition on Care 2 titled, Re-Instate Cats as Service Animals in Americans with Disabilities Act. PLEASE EVERYONE sign it, so they can see an impactful number of people care that cats should not be in a prejudice manner because cats help so many people with disabilities.

June 19 2014 at 4:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jessica's comment
tkaymichel

I'm very interested in what you're doing. I have MS, and currently have my second service cat. She alerts me when I'm coming down with an infection, and she also wakes me when I have asthma attacks in my sleep. My first service cat was officially registered in the county where I live, but I wasn't able to register my current cat because of changes to the ADA. I'd be interested in filing a class action lawsuit, if I could find others to help me. Most people don't realize our ignorant representatives changed the ADA so only dogs & miniature ponies can be registered. Miniature ponies, but not cats or monkeys? SERIOUSLY? Who came up with these stupid limits, anyway?

June 19 2014 at 10:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tkaymichel

I tried to find this petition but couldn't. Even when I went to Care 2 & entered "reinstate cats as service animals', I couldn't find it. I tried googling it, too, but found nothing. Maybe you should try Change.org because that seems like a better site for this kind of thing.

June 19 2014 at 10:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
recksales

Bottom line here is: I am allergic to animals, so I am told there will be no animals in the bulk head area. Then during the flight I will have a seizure, so your dog (service or pet) has more right on that plane than I?!

June 19 2014 at 2:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to recksales's comment
zecarlocris

What if another passenger who owns a pet, and has that pet's dander on his clothes, sits next to you? And unless you got that allergy from a roadside bomb in Iraq then yes, he has more of a right than you, who could simply take some medication.

June 19 2014 at 3:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
debid52

I hate the thought of more government regulation of anything....but if permits were issued for service animals then these problems would not continue to pop up. Either you have the proper license and you are allowed to have your service dog with you at all times, or you don't. End of controversy.

June 19 2014 at 2:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David

It's American Airlines - and it's every company in the U.S. and anywhere else. Policies are written for Handbooks, definitely to satisfy the law but, wishful thinking, they are also written so employees know what is expected of them. Every instance where a person and their service dog are refused access or refused a service is because an employee, not management, has interpreted the situation their way. Once they open their mouth, they don't know how to take it back and get the process moving forward. Instead they create b.s. like this, showing their employer in a bad light where in fact it's just a stupid employee who didn't read an Employee Handbook to know what company rules are. Re-education is the first option to fix the problem. Unemployment for the individual is the second. I would have no qualms whatsoever in terminating this kind of employee.

June 19 2014 at 1:39 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mjirlbache

American Airlines should be charged for the mishandling of a passenger..... After all..... we get charged when they have to handle our baggage..... Friendly Skies are not so friendly when you fly American Airlines

June 19 2014 at 12:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Isobel Taylor Sturge

I too travel with a service animal. In April I too had a problem with American Airlines in Miami. An investigation was conducted and American Airlines cleared themselves of wrongdoing. I stood at the check-in counter for an hour being interrogated about my small dog. I repeatedly stated he is a trained medical service animal. The agent, Yvonne Castaneda, did not seem to understand me. She assumed he was an emotional support animal and asked me for a letter from a psychiatrist. I have asthma. The dog alerts me prior to an attack and assists me in keeping my asthma in remission. It really isn't any of the agent's business exactly what my symptoms are or exactly how I trained my animal or every detail of my life. Ms. Castaneda insisted that I purchase airfare of $150 for my dog. My husband refused. He and I had first class refundable tickets. We finally asked for a full refund. When Ms. Castaneda realized she'd have to give us $3500 back, she finally seemed to understand that my dog was a service animal. This actually caused stress which is one of my asthma triggers. It's a good thing my dog was along. But since there wasn't any monetary damages, I let it drop. I would like to get in touch with Sgt. Crowell. I documented my incident and he could use it to show a pattern of intimidation on the part of American Airlines to try to get more money out of people with disabilities. It's a pain to travel with a dog. Why would we do this if we didn't have to?

June 13 2014 at 9:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
fawn

With more vets and people with service dogs why couldnt the airlines designate an area up front at the handicap seating area for people with their service dog

May 16 2014 at 6:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lpopenhage

American Airlines also needs to upgrade their proofreading. In their letter of 5/12 there is glaring error, due to the use the past tense at the wrong time. If they were to accurately read their letter aloud before approving the final copy, they can greatly improve their success rate all errors of this type.

Retired teacher and proofreader,
Linda

May 15 2014 at 2:51 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lpopenhage's comment
zecarlocris

Could greatly improve, not can greatly improve. You need an a between is and glaring. Also, of after use.

June 19 2014 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Wanderer

Another video in this series shows a blind man being taken off a plane when a flight attendant is lying about his cooperation with her requests about his SEEING EYE DOG.

No wonder American and US Airways merged. They are equally bad at customer service.

May 14 2014 at 12:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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