US Airways didn’t earn any goodwill recently when it removed a blind man and his service dog from a flight at the Philadelphia International Airport. As fellow passengers left as well, the flight was canceled and everyone was given the option of a bus ride to Islip, N.Y.
lbert Rizzi, who is legally blind, told reporters he was told that his guide dog had to stay under a seat during Wednesday night’s flight to Long Island. According to news reports, Rizzi said the dog became restless after a flight delay and curled up under his legs. Then he was told that the plane would have to turn around if the guide dog wasn’t under a seat.
Other passengers spoke up for Rizzi. An airline spokesman said he became verbally abusive, and the other passengers were argumentative. Because of safety concerns, the flight ended up being canceled.
The airline says it is investigating the incident. After a flurry of “citizen reporting” and comments on social media, US Airways posted its side of the story on its Facebook page. They kind of point a finger at Rizzi, saying he is “an advocate for disability rights, and appears to have forced a confrontation with his disruptive behavior, rather than simply complying with the instruction and securing the dog.” But the post ends with an apology: “We apologize to the customers of the flight for the inconvenience caused by this incident and will be reaching out to them. I am sure everyone involved wish it had never happened and they had simply gotten to their destination on time.”
Maybe US Airways did the best it could in an unusual situation. Maybe employees did the right thing. But with other passengers speaking up on Rizzi’s behalf, it sounds as if things could have been handled much better.
This would be a good time for the airline to review its treatment of service dogs, and a very good time to review its treatment of human beings.