A highly-decorated Army veteran with PTSD was mocked by American Airlines employees on two separate occasions when she tried to fly home with her service dog, a lawsuit charges.
Lisa McCombs was “emotionally crushed and humiliated” by the conduct of agents when she attempted to fly to Gulfport, Miss., from Kansas in October of last year.
She said she never had any trouble before flying with Jake, her Labrador retriever. According to the lawsuit, the American Airlines website stated that “service animals are welcome on all flights. There are no additional charges for service animals traveling in the cabin.”
According to the lawsuit, the airline website stated that a passenger should provide one of the following to prove that he or she has a service animal: an animal ID card, harness or tags, written documentation, or credible verbal assurance.
When McCombs arrived at the airport in Manhattan, Kan., on Oct. 25 of last year, Jake was “appropriately harnessed and vested as a service animal,” according to the lawsuit.
However, while they were in a waiting area, an American Airlines agent approached and asked in a condescending tone, “ummm, are you trying to fly with that?”
McCombs replied yes, and the agent asked if she had documentation. McCombs replied she never had to submit this in the past, and asked what she should do. The agent asked for identification and left.
Then the agent’s supervisor rudely told McCombs “you’re not flying with that (gesturing toward Jake), we are canceling your flight,” according to the lawsuit.
McCombs was put on the phone with another official, who was also impolite, according to the lawsuit.
She was told she could pay $125 and put Jake in the cargo part of the plane, or re-submit documentation and be rebooked on a flight 48 hours later.
An anxious McCombs called customer support, and the operator seemed to think she had everything in order, according to the lawsuit. However, that didn’t seem to make any difference.
After she missed the flight, she was verbally assaulted again and asked by an American Airlines employee, “what is your disability anyway?”
A crying McCombs told them: “I have PTSD, look at me, I’m an anxious mess! He’s my Service Dog! I don’t understand why I’m being treated like this!”
Police were called and McCombs was kicked out of the airport.
“I am terribly sad and DISGUSTED to report that I was just denied flight home with my registered Service Animal and I’m currently stranded in Manhattan, Kansas for 48 hours,” she wrote on Facebook at the time.
“I was questioned about my disability and what kind of service my animal provided me,” her post continued. “This is AGAINST THE LAW to question me about my friends. I had proper documentation, Jake was wearing his vest, and had his license attached. The American Airlines agents were NASTY, disrespectful, and even called the law on me and threatened to have me arrested.”
When she returned to the airport again, she was again treated rudely, the lawsuit states. She even had to tell a manager “you need to step back from me. Clearly you are upsetting my dog, you’re upsetting me, and you’re harassing me. It is against the law to harass a service animal and their handler and I will call the police on you.”
The manager laughed, said “OK” and walked away, according to the lawsuit. Again she missed the flight.
McCombs made arrangements for a flight home from a different airport before American Airlines contacted her and promised to get her home from the same Manhattan airport that booted her twice.
When she returned again, the same manager who mocked her on her last visit said “have a nice flight” and made no other comments, according to the lawsuit.
McCombs said when she finally arrived home, 48 hours after her first attempt, she was embarrassed by American Airlines staff who presented a wheelchair for her, which she did not need.
The lawsuit alleges negligence and claims that the conduct by American Airlines violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
American Airlines said in a statement to the Daily News on Friday that “we will not be able to comment” on the lawsuit, since the matter is “pending litigation.”
The airline said that Capt. Jim Palmersheim, American’s senior manager of Military and Veterans Programs, reached out to McCombs and spoke to her for more than an hour immediately after the incidents took place.