Forewarning - long post, but a very important one.
My friend Becky (crusinwithcricket.blogspot.com) and her guide dog Cricket were nearly denied their seat on board a Delta Airlines flight this past Saturday. What happened was nothing short of appalling and represents a real lack of training regarding access for service animals on the part of Delta. In support of Becky and all others out there who utilize service animals, I wrote this letter to Delta.
My name is Nicole Paloney, and I am a customer of Delta Airlines and a friend of XXXXX, a passenger on Flight 4693 from Portland, Oregon to Salt Lake City, Utah. The incident I am contacting you about occurred on Saturday, April 25 in Portland.
Becky has a medical condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). RP refers to a group of inherited diseases causing retinal degeneration, which ultimately leads to complete loss of vision. Currently, Becky has very limited vision in one eye. As her declining vision began to impact her independence and mobility, Becky opted to obtain the services of a guide dog through Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). GDB’s Mission Statement is as follows:
“Guide Dogs for the Blind provides enhanced mobility to qualified individuals through partnership with dogs whose unique skills are developed and nurtured by dedicated volunteers and a professional staff.”
Public access laws for Guide Dogs are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The ADA states the following:
“The ADA prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity and access for persons with disabilities.”
I have also attached the following ADA brief regarding Service Animals I obtained from the government’s website.
“Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. This federal law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos.”
On Saturday, April 25, in Portland, Oregon, while waiting to board her flight to Salt Lake City, Becky and her guide dog Cricket were approached by a representative of Delta who informed her she would need to move from her bulkhead seat because the flight attendant was afraid of dogs. As the plane was a small plane, Becky informed the representative that for the safety of herself and her dog, she needed to keep the seat she was given. The representative then approached the flight attendant about meeting Cricket prior to getting on the plane. Whatever transpired in that conversation caused the representative to come back and tell Becky she would not be allowed on the plane. Ultimately, Becky and Cricket were allowed on the plane, as a CRO officer finally intervened and informed the flight attendant that Becky and Cricket were indeed permitted to be on this plane. Cricket’s behavior on her way home was nothing short of expected behavior from a service animal – near perfect. The only offense she committed on her way home was having her tail in the foot space of the empty seat next to her – which was rudely pointed out to Becky by the flight attendant.
While I realize there are people out there who inappropriately take their animals to public places, Becky possessed the proper identification to show that Cricket was indeed a service animal, whose public access was defined under the ADA. At no time during this encounter was such identification requested, which a vendor is permitted to do under the act.
I urge you to evaluate your Diversity Initiatives as a company, and ensure your training program is adequate to educate your employees on the ADA. Lack of training in this case nearly led to an egregious and clear violation of the law, which could have resulted in fines and embarrassment to the airline. The conversation about whether or not Becky had to move her seat or not get on the plane at all should have ceased as soon as it started; that it continued in the manner in which it did should be an embarrassment to the employees at that counter on Saturday night in Portland and the airline’s executive management. I could hardly imagine what your Legal department would think of this.
In making you aware of this situation, it is my hope that another person using a service animal will avoid a confrontation similar to Becky’s. Sadly, this is not the first encounter of this type Becky has had with your airline. Both encounters resulted in completely unprofessional behavior from your employees and demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of the ADA. Ultimately, the situation was resolved so that Becky and Cricket were accommodated for their safety needs, but the manner is which the situation was resolved resulted in a lot of heartache and frustration for my friend.
Your time and consideration of my letter is greatly appreciated. I hope that the proper action to train your employees is taken and that ultimately, Delta is able to gain a reputation of being a user friendly airline for people with service animals. For our part, Becky’s friends continue to educate the public every chance we get about the role of service animals in their partner’s life.