Airlines Attacking Disabled Veterans’ Service Dogs

Afghanistan war veteran Jesse Murphree talks to his service dog Jasper during an interview in Westminster Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. Among other duties, Jasper helps Murphree cope with his PTSD. Murphree is featured in the film "The Current" being shown at the Boulder International Film Festival. (Lewis Geyer/Times-Call) TO VIEW A VIDEO VISIT WWW.TIMESCALL.COM

It’s one thing to suggest that airlines have done their best in providing needed services to our disabled veterans. But attacking disabled veteran’s service dogs? Ridiculous you might say, but true indeed.

There is no excuse for these stories being reported over the last couple of years.

American Airlines (2016)

On October 28, 2016, Captain Lisa McCombs filed a lawsuit  against the employees of American Airlines for preventing her from returning home from a trip. There were no problems with getting to her destination, but everything went south on her return trip.

According to her 35-page brief, McCombs suffers from VA-diagnosed PTSD and had found her service dog, Jake, to help her cope with anxiety. But airline employees made her trip home a total nightmare by their saying her service dog could not fly with her.

The result was a delay in getting home that lasted a couple of days. The airline later owned up to the mistake and said they would “do whatever it took to make things right.”

Former Capt. Lisa McCombs and her service dog, Jake. McCombs filed a lawsuit Monday against American Airlines for their refusal to let her fly home with the dog last year (Courtesy Christopher Van Cleave).
Former Capt. Lisa McCombs and her service dog, Jake. McCombs filed a lawsuit Monday against American Airlines for their refusal to let her fly home with the dog last year (Courtesy Christopher Van Cleave).

American Airlines (2015)

Captain Jason Haag was a combat Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. However, on September 22, 2015,

American Airlines staff told him they didn’t believe his service dog Axel was actually a service dog. This despite the fact that Axel had just been honored as the American Humane Association’s Hero Service Dog of the Year.

American Air has four requirements for a service dog to be allowed on a flight: an Animal ID card; harness or tags; written documentation to verify the service, psychiatric or emotional status of your animal; and credible verbal assurance.

The problem was Haag had three of the four items. Then a spokeman for the airline lied to the press about the incident, claiming he “elected not to fly”.

AA later apologized.

Other airlines have been involved with this type of stories. Examples include US Airways in 2014 when a flight attendant yelled at a veteran because he service animal put his paws on a nearby seat. United Airlines in 2012 in an incident where airline workers kicked the veteran’s service dog. And Continental Airlines in 2010 where airline workers refused to believe the veteran’s dog was a real service animal.

For more information, there are two U.S. Government documents applying to service animals:

The U.S. Department of Justice: Service Animals 

The Department of Transportation: Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel.

And finally, there is a USA Today article entitled, Rules for Flying with a Service Dog.

It is clear that veterans traveling with service animals and appropriate documentation should never be denied any flight nor be harrassed by any airline employee whatsoever.

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Chuck Yarling has had many titles in his career thus far: veteran, engineer, math teacher, consultant, technical writer, book author and publisher, and triathlete. He was a member the Military Order of the Purple Heart and Bugles Across America, which plays Taps at military funerals and special events. Spec. 5 Chuck Yarling served with the 26th Combat Engineering Battalion in Vietnam as an awards clerk. His service with the U.S. Army resulted in being awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Army Commendation Medal. You may reach Chuck at [email protected]