We see more and more service animals. Setvice animals have become a critical tool in dealing with the PTSD suffered by many soldiers. Many public places do not understand the rules regarding service animals. In one recent instance, American Airlines refused to allow a veteran on board with her service dog. Lisa McCombs of Mississippi filed suit in 2016 and just recently settled her case. A veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Ms. McCombs, like most veterans with PTSDS, relies on the service dog to provide trained skills. Those skills include shielding Ms. McCombs from other persons when she is feeling trauma and to moving closer to the veteran when she is feeling stress. Those are not small skills when a person suffers from PTSD.
Ms. MCombs was not allowed to board with her service dog, despite having documentation that her dog, Jake, was a trained animal. The AA clerk upon seeing the dog, said, “Ummmmm are you trying to fly with that?”
Ms. McCombs apparently sued under the Air Carrier Access Act. American Airlines argued that the ACA Act does not allow a private right of action. See Task & Purpose report.
Regulations define a service animal as one that has received specialized training to perform skills it would not otherwise possess. It helps that the service animal display some rig or vest to indicate it is a service animal.
The district judge in Gulfport, Mississippi rejected the Airlines’ motion to dismiss. It also allowed the Plaintiff to amend the complaint to add other veterans who were also denied boarding by American Airlines with their service animals. See Miami Herald report. One of the other female veterans had a full blown panic attack after some American Airlines employees surrounded her and asked her why she needed a dog since she was not blind.
The requirements of the ADA are not well known,. But, in each the instances mentioned in the lawsuit, the veteran called ahead and had his/her papers with them. They did their part to educate AA employees. The Airline needs to do its part. On a personal level, if that happened while I was about, I would find it very difficult to not get in someone’s face.