An Open Letter To American Airlines, “Just the Facts Ma’am” Version

An Open Letter to American Airlines:

I’ve always enjoyed adventure and new experiences and have, thus, flown many times with my five Seeing Eye dogs. Over more than thirty years I’ve developed a system that works quite well in terms of ensuring both I and my dog are safe, comfortable, and out of the way during a flight. I’ve also learned to advocate for my needs and decline unwanted and misguided offers of help.

When my husband, Jim, and I checked in at the gate of American Airlines flight 327 departing Reagan National, DCA, on March 1, 2017 bound for Dallas they gave us bulkhead row seats. Some bulkhead row seats do have more leg room than regular seats but not all. Visually, at least to some people, it looks like there’s more room but this is not true in all cases. This particular airplane was one in which there was very little room in the bulkhead row. There were about twelve inches between the front of the seats and the bulkhead wall. It wasn’t enough room for a dog and three adult humans.

In dismay I tried to get my dog out of the way so the rest of the passengers could board the flight. Taking off his harness I spun him around and tried to back him into the row. In the process I fell and injured my hip on the armrest of the seat. Frustrated, and now in pain, I waited for a lull in the passenger traffic, trailed the overhead bins with my hand, and walked forward to where the crew stood. I asked to be reseated and they told me regulations required me to be seated in the bulkhead row. I reiterated there wasn’t enough room and asked if I could temporarily sit in the row behind the bulkhead row just to get my dog out of the way so the other passengers could board. The crew said this was not an option.

I asked what it would take for me to be reseated in a regular row in which I could tuck my dog out of the way, under the seat in front of me. The crew told me I would have to go back in the terminal and ask the gate agent to reseat me.

Again, trailing the overhead bin with one hand, I returned to the bulkhead row and harnessed my dog. I made my way back up the jetway and crossed to the approximate location where I recalled the gate agent was located. When I asked to be reseated I was told it was a “rule” I had to sit in the bulkhead row. I asked if there were any seats available in first class and was told it was “against the rules” for a dog to be seated in the first class cabin.

Again, in dismay and now feeling completely helpless and out of options, I directed my dog back down the jetway and reboarded the plane. On my way through the first class cabin a man offered me his seat and, after telling my husband of the offer I gratefully sat down.

I had been sitting quietly in first class for about ten minutes when a man approached and asked me to come into the jetway with him. I asked him why and he stated he didn’t want to have a personal conversation in a public place. I harnessed my dog and directed him to the door of the plane. Before exiting I asked the man who he was. He told me he was a supervisor so I gave the forward command and exited the flight.

The supervisor told me I had to leave the flight and, upon asking why he informed me the crew had decided I was a threat to the safety of the flight.

He then went on to inform me that American Airlines knew all about the rules for emotional support animals.

At this point I interrupted him and asked why we were talking about emotional support animals,told him I was blind, and that my dog was a guide dog. I reboarded the flight and sat down.

Five minutes later another man approached and told me I had to leave the flight. I informed him the only way I was leaving the plane was if he physically removed me. For five minutes this man stood beside my seat, bullying me into leaving the plane. I gave up, stood, and harnessed my dog. Then the full import of getting kicked off the plane hit me and I began to cry. American Airlines was casting me into a strange world I could not see. I was going to be stuck without any help, without my dog’s food and supplies, totally alone.

Of course Jim left the flight with me and on the way out the door he asked the pilot why his wife had to leave the flight. The pilot’s reply was, “Because I said so.”

My husband and I both left the plane and the supervisor took over. He escorted us to a service desk where we were rebooked on United to complete our trip to San Diego. Unfortunately this flight left from a different airport and it required an $80 cab fare to get to the other airport.


I spent the entire time we were in San Diego terrified about the trip home. If American Airlines could kick me off a flight on the way out what would they do on the way home? Then the nightmares began. Although terrified during the entire thirteen hour trip back to Maine I did my best to remain calm on the outside. We did make it home safely.

And now the fallout has begun.

I don’t believe I’ve ever felt so violated, traumatized, and terrified. Most unfortunately I must travel for my job and American Airlines has the only direct flight to the DC area. I was with my husband during the whole sorry business on March 1 but what happens when I’m alone next time?

Has our culture devolved into one in which it is perceived as perfectly all right to bully and attempt to shame our most vulnerable citizens? Have we become a culture in which it is acceptable to violate Federal law with impunity? Shame on you, American Airlines.

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25 Responses to An Open Letter To American Airlines, “Just the Facts Ma’am” Version

  1. judy March 10, 2017 at 4:43 pm #

    Did you sue them?

  2. Suzanne Eldred March 10, 2017 at 11:00 pm #

    American Airline will now be the last airline I will book a flight with. Sorry you had to go through this Sue.

  3. Lara March 11, 2017 at 5:02 am #

    Talk about monumental disrespect! At no point could you be considered a threat to a flight or to anyone. Sure, you’re feisty but never in a dangerous way. No one with two brain cells to bounce off each other could ever think so. Instead, you became a target. Why, I have no idea. This was solely a result of ignorant, unempathetic, mean spirited people not wanting to resolve an issue that 100% had to do with the airplane and 0% to do with you. It’s disgusting and sickening. I hope this gets media attention.

    Shame on American Airlines indeed, and shame on the flight crew especially and individually! You sucessfully ruined an entire trip and then some for a fellow human. Hope karma catches up with you very soon.

  4. Cynthia Marvin March 11, 2017 at 9:52 am #

    So sorry American Airlines finds it permissible to hire and retain bullies. Have you contacted American Airlines corporate office? What was their response?
    Wow I am so sorry.

    • Karin Collinsworth March 11, 2017 at 8:22 pm #

      It seems bullies, everywhere, are being encouraged by Drumpf’s behavior and policies! This is terrible. So scary and sad.

      • S Oaks March 14, 2017 at 7:47 am #

        Wow, there of been bullies and mean people long before Trump was ever born or elected into office.
        Why make this political? it has nothing to do with him the people of the airlines were clearly being rude to a vulnerable woman.
        Spoken like a true liberal…

      • julie March 16, 2017 at 8:14 am #

        LADY!! great lady, hero dog

  5. Sharon March 11, 2017 at 4:26 pm #

    Contact a lawyer

  6. Karen March 12, 2017 at 9:12 am #

    I hope they’ve contacted you and made amends. Shameful indeed.

  7. smartin March 12, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

    Thanks for your comments and support. Two representatives of American Airlines have contacted me. Those two individuals have apologized but I have received nothing from the airline itself. The first representative with whom I spoke began by telling me they had interviewed the crew and found no wrongdoing whatsoever. I was forced to relive the entire traumatic experience again to convince him the crew was lying about their actions. For almost 32 years I have been flying without encountering such a rude, ignorant, and untruthful crew so I clearly know how to appropriately advocate for my needs and rights. I did not lose my temper. My dog was perfectly behaved through the whole sorry experience. But, no, American Airlines has not apologized or made much beyond a token effort to indicate they are even listening to me, much less that they have done anything wrong.

  8. Megan March 13, 2017 at 9:14 pm #

    Wow, I agree that contacting a lawyer seems like a good next step.

  9. Chris Johnson March 13, 2017 at 9:33 pm #

    Totally unacceptable. So sorry you had o go through this horrible experience. Hoping American contacts you and apologizes. And, hoping the terrible crew and ground workers are held accountable.

  10. Maureen Hansen March 13, 2017 at 9:43 pm #

    I can imagine what would of happened had you been traveling alone and in a strange place. I’m so very sorry. The world has become such a messed up place. I just don’t get it. Where’s the caring / compassion. I traveled quite often with my son who was very ill to get treatment in NY and DC and had a couple trips very disturbing and carelessness for someone … he had since passed away. With needing wheelchair assistance we traveled American Airlines and it was very late one night and they just left him at a gate and proceeded to assist someone else in a wheelchair with no comments no resolution. I approached the desk and was told to step back or they’d call the police ….. people need to stop and think what if this was me or one of my family members ….. hugs

  11. cass March 14, 2017 at 5:31 pm #

    This sounds like a clear violation of the Air Carrier Access Act. Contact DOT. I am aerospace engineer and wheelchair user.

    • smartin March 14, 2017 at 5:49 pm #

      You’re correct, a clear violation of the Air Carrier Access Act… Regardless of any other circumstances the fact remains, American Airlines kicked a blind woman with a guide dog off the flight. They have broken the law and traumatized one of their most vulnerable customers.

      • cass March 14, 2017 at 9:01 pm #

        please note in ACAA where it specifically states an airlines cannot require specific seating due to disability (except FAA regulated exit rows). American airlines specifically violated you twice: 1. denying you had access to other seating, 2. denying you access to 1st class. i worked for Boeing. am curious what type aircraft you were on where bulkhead seating was even that small? in any case, the law is clear. they cannot demand you only use those seats plus the law clearly states the airlines is required to respond in written form. please contact DOT. this is not, as you probably know, an ADA issue (that would be DOJ). this is strictly ACAA (DOT).

  12. cass March 14, 2017 at 9:04 pm #

    i meant to say NOT an ADA issue. sorry. ADA covers airports but not the airlines.

  13. linda March 14, 2017 at 9:22 pm #

    Tell your story there. My husband was kicked off of a plane for being a quadriplegic. It was a nightmare.

  14. cass March 14, 2017 at 10:18 pm #

    did you get names? if not, you have flight number. a very very good friend of mine is chief pilot at SWA. this would never happen there.

  15. J.L. Cerda March 15, 2017 at 3:24 am #

    This is terrible, I can only imagine your anxiety in dealing with these people! I would hate to be a person who needs an normal for P.T.S.D. and try to fly if they treat a blind person this way!

  16. Chris S March 15, 2017 at 12:34 pm #

    Much like a lot of other folks I would seek a lawyer, and fight this! I can not believe that a company that’s been around since 1926 still treats customers with disabilities so terribly. Thank you for stepping forward and telling your story. It’s a very scary one indeed especially for folks with disabilities. We’re not asking for extra special treatment, we just want to be treated with dignity and respect, and so far, American Airlines gets a zero on both of those. I’m terribly sorry you were treated so poorly by them!

  17. Barbara Lev March 15, 2017 at 8:20 pm #

    This is disgusting. Bullying and lying about it? American Airlines will never see my butt on any of their flights even if they have the best prices and times. I am so sorry you and your husband and dog were put through this horrible, disgraceful action. The crew needs to be retrained in both proper procedure and in the correct way to handle anyone with disabilities of any kind. Too bad we can’t just start a boycott of this airline. The best way to hit a bad business is in their POCKET BOOK!!! Shame on you, American Airlines. You have to do better!!!

  18. Mary Lucas March 16, 2017 at 6:28 am #

    I’m also blind and have a guide dog. I have flown Jet Blue and Southwest with no problem, will NEVER fly American!

  19. julie March 16, 2017 at 8:15 am #

    I think everyone should contact the airline, email or somehow, and state your feelings about this tragedy and the potential for the next!!!
    Unbelievable. Imagine watching this hapen from your seat. I woulda probably got kicked ff, too!!

  20. Pamela Fredieu March 28, 2017 at 6:36 pm #

    Never again will I or my family fly American airlines.

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