These days, commercial airlines are about as popular with the general public as a cattle rancher at a conference for vegans. Somewhere, airlines went from being symbols of elegance and glamor to examples of corporate penny-pinching and disregard for customer needs. Commercial flight is only slightly less glamorous and comfortable than having both your legs hit with a baseball bat and being stuffed into a broken refrigerator for six hours.
Airlines who want that image to go away might want to look to U.S. Air Express as an example of how not to manage customer relations. Wednesday evening, when the flight crew tried to kick a blind man and his guide dog off a flight, the rest of the passengers refused to fly unless the man was allowed on the plane.
By the time things came to that point, of course, there was probably some significant tension building up. The flight from Philadelphia to Long Island, which was supposed to take about 40 minutes, had been sitting on the tarmac for almost two hours. Under the best of circumstances, that can make people start to think about assembling the pitchforks and torches.
Albert Rizzi and his service dog, Doxology (nicknamed “Doxy” — those familiar with British slang may find themselves raising an eyebrow at the nickname), boarded at about 8 p.m. Rizzi says that the dog was under the seat in front of him, as required by airline policy, but around about 9:45, Doxy began to get restless. The dog curled up under Rizzi’s legs, instead of under the seat, where the airline requires guide dogs to be. Rizzi says that the passenger next to him offered to move so that Doxy could sit next to him and have some space.
The airline claims that at that point, Doxy started to walk up and down the aisle, which Rizzi and other passengers deny. The airline also claims that Rizzi became verbally abusive.
The plane was finally taxiing toward takeoff, but the pilot turned it around so that Rizzi and Doxy could be removed. Frank Ohlrost, one of Rizzi’s fellow passengers, said that the airline was wrong.
“We were like, ‘Why is this happening? He’s not a problem,'” Ohlrost told the International Business Times. “‘What is going on?’ And we all kind of raised our voices and said, ‘This is a real problem.'”
The airline eventually canceled the flight and offered Rizzi and other passengers transport by bus to New York. Rizzi and several other passengers took the offer, eventually arriving at 2:30 a.m.
Rizzi gave his version of the incident on his Facebook page. (Note that Rizzi was probably using a voice transcription device, hence certain grammar and spelling oddities.):
There were 35 people on the flight tonight. Every one of them stood up in solidarity for the discriminatory treatment I received and the way my dog was unwelcome on the flight. The flight attendant told the pilot that I was confrontational and was attacking. Everybody on the plane counter that with the truth that we were accommodating to the best of our ability. What was most disturbing is that contrary to what most of my blind peers choose to do I let the manifest know and I let US airways know in advance of my flight that I was blind and traveling with my guy dog. I always do that just so people will not be made to feel uncomfortable. Yet today my effort to make sure that everybody’s flight was an enjoyable one was countered with Aiden obstinant and rude flight attendant I cannot tell you how honored I am that everybody got off the flight and we are all now on a bus going to Islip.
As of this writing, U.S. Air Express has not returned Rizzi’s fare, as it is still investigating the incident.
Via International Business Times, ABC News, and NBC News
Top Photo: Dog is Helping a Blind Man, by Shutterstock.