When Dogs Fly

November 14, 2013 • Posted in blindness, guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, travel, Uncategorized, Whitney by

Hi folks–Mike (Beth’s spousal unit) here with a guest post.

Beth wrote recently about people abusing the ADA by falsely or at least loosely claiming their pet was a service dog. Well, the less I say about that phenomenon, the better.

For Whitney (and all of Beth's dogs) travel by planes, trains (here the L) and automobiles is a big yawn.

For Whitney (and all of Beth’s dogs) travel by planes, trains (here the L) and automobiles is a big yawn.

On the extreme flip side—at least from what I can glean, is this example of bad airline behavior excluding a blind man and a legitimate guide dog. I’ll link to the Gawker post here that includes a TV news report video, but here’s the gist:

A passenger who is blind named Albert Rizzi boarded the U.S. Airways Express flight from Philadelphia to Long Island. He was asked to have his dog sit under the seat in front of him—yes, like a piece of carryon luggage.

Well, judging from comments at the Gawker blog on this subject, lots of people can’t believe the dog has to scrunch up under the seat. But as a veteran of traveling with a person with a guide dog, I can tell you it’s true. Unless we are seated at a bulkhead (which the airline often moves us to, whether or not we request it), the dog is supposed to get under the seat in front.

And you know what? They manage, just fine. It’s part of their training. The Seeing Eye taught Beth to back her dog into the space, and indeed, all of her dogs—each 60 lbs. at least—fit fine. In fact, it’s pretty routine for  passengers who board after us not to even notice Beth’s dog until we stand to exit the plane—at which point the dog stands, shakes and stretches to the extreme surprise (and occasional shrieks) of nearby passengers.

Now, on long flights or during turbulence, sometimes the dogs stir, and Beth has had to re-situate them. Well, on Mr. Rizzi’s flight, there was a delay and an extended time on the tarmac. During which—from what I can guess, anyway—the dog got up, stretched, and was probably part way in the aisle for a bit and—for a while—not under the seat. At which point Mr. Rizzi and his guide dog were asked to leave the flight.

Which I don’t get at all. Even when they’re up, the dogs are easy to navigate around—easier than getting around, ahem, some humans. Apparently none of the passengers got it either. As in none. When Rizzi and his dog were asked to get off, all the passengers got off with him in solidarity. And the (as did he) took the airline’s offer of a bus ride to their destination instead.

Which, come to think, of it, makes for a heartening if not totally happy ending.

Carli On November 14, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Mike! Nice post– I saw your share on FB, too. I’ve been following that story today as well. It seems, according to a statement made by a fellow passenger who supported Albert, that there was an EMPTY front bulkhead seat (with plenty of space for his guide dog) several rows in front of him. Also, according to this or perhaps another eyewitness, the flight attendant approached him “with an attitude” about his dog being beneath his seat, and Albert was overheard pleading with the crew member “Please, let’s not escalate this to a situation where you’re going to kick me off the plane.” Local coverage had some of these accounts from other passengers. While I, too, was heartened by the eventual outcome, the whole thing just makes me so mad! I’m shaking my righteous fist in solidarity!

London Lake Pickett On November 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm

I have had my share of trouble when traveling by air with my guide dog, but have yet to cancel a flight! Fortunately this story exposes compassion in addition to ignorance.

Lauren On November 14, 2013 at 8:01 pm

I’m not as forgiving as you are, Mike. I find air travel barbaric these days, from the ever-exciting security line to the dog stuffed under the seat to the reality that a blind passenger is at the mercy of the overworked, overstressed, overtired airline employees, both in the airport and in the air. I know, I know. It all works out. You smile, and be gracious, and charming, and courteous, and the dog is always a class act, and you get where you’re going. But it is no easy feat.

Mike On November 14, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Well, on flying days I’m not so forgiving either, Lauren:) Add in the security lines–which have improved but still, not exactly consistent. And they address me me instead of addressing (and listening to) Beth–and I’m usually frazzled by the time we’re sitting in our seats. And then they come back and tell us they’d like us to sit elsewhere for no particular reason. (After we’ve gotten ourselves and the pooch settled in.)

Doug Finke On November 15, 2013 at 9:08 am

Great story. I love the solidarity component. Good for them. I wonder if the airline did any retraining.

Maria On November 15, 2013 at 9:40 am

Good for them, the people who took the bus and ditched the plane. In my experience, dogs traveling on planes, service or otherwise, are many times better behaved than the people.
Good for them, the people who took the bus and ditched the plane. In my experience, dogs traveling on planes, service or otherwise, are many times better behaved than the people.

Carl On November 15, 2013 at 9:42 am

Love the photo of Whitney.

Fancy Nischer On November 15, 2013 at 3:16 pm

That was a great ending to a disappointing story. When are airlines going to realize they are in the service business? They need to make their customers happy! Thanks for sharing.

bethfinke On November 16, 2013 at 10:02 am

Oh, Fancy Nischer, it makes me happy just hearing your name — thanks for leaving the comment to Mike’s post.

Hava On November 16, 2013 at 9:45 am

I love that the other passengers got off the plane too. I hope the airline in question took note.

bethfinke On November 16, 2013 at 4:54 pm

This just in, Bob Ringwald follows my blog and emailed me this update from CNN-New York: After Rizzi and Doxy were removed from the plane, passengers demanded that the flight attendant be removed from the plane and Rizzi let back on, said passenger Kurt Budke. He said that all 35 passengers banded together in support of Rizzi, and after realizing the passengers would not budge, the pilot announced the flight was canceled.

If the flight attendant had tried to make alternate accommodations for Rizzi, Budke believes that the situation could have been avoided completely.

“US Airways is sorry for the inconvenience, and we are looking into the situation to see if it was handled properly,” US Airways spokeswoman Liz Landau said Thursday. She added that the pilot and the flight crew elected to return to the gate due to the safety concerns caused by the actions of the dog and said Rizzi was verbally abusive to the flight attendant.

Landau said that the pilot and flight crew didn’t feel that it was safe to operate the flight after seeing how upset the customers were at the incident and said that the pilot asked everyone to disembark once it reached the gate.

US Airways then provided free buses from the Philadelphia airport to the Long Island airport, Landau said.

“This became the most wonderful experience, out of the most horrible experience. I found that humanity does exist, and people can do the right thing,” Rizzi said, referring to the actions of his fellow passengers.

Rizzi said he has not been contacted by US Airways since the incident and is considering legal action.

“They picked the wrong guy to mess with,” Rizzi said. He is active in the blind community and sits on the disability advisory board for Suffolk County, where he resides.

Rizzi became blind eight years ago after surviving meningitis and has had Doxy for seven years. Rizzi said Doxy is short for Doxology, meaning “praise to God” and “a new beginning.” When they were matched seven years ago, Doxy was just beginning his service as a guide dog and Rizzi was just beginning his life as a blind man.

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When Dogs Fly | Safe & Sound blog

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