A decorated combat veteran who uses a service dog to help her cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was barred from boarding onto an American Airlines flight in Manhattan, Kansas, in 2015, according to a federal lawsuit filed by Lisa McCombs, a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
McCombs, who attained the rank of captain during her stint in the military and received multiple medals for her service to the country, filed a federal lawsuit against American Airlines. She says the airline was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, was negligent in refusing to allow McCombs to board the airline with her service dog and was in breach of contract, according to a report in the Washington Post.
U.S. Department of Transportation rules stipulate that passengers with service dogs be allowed to board all U.S. airlines and stay in the cabin with their owners. The Federal Aviation Administration also says that service animals are classified as working animals, assisting persons with disabilities. There is also no limit on the number of service animals on any flight, and that no health certificates are required to travel with their owners.
In her lawsuit, McCombs alleges that the difficulty began when an American Airlines airlines agent approached her as she waited to board. In a tone McCombs described as condescending, the agent asked her if she was “going to fly with that?” referring to McCombs’ service dog, Jake, who McCombs says was wearing his service vest and was properly documented at the time of the incident in question.
According to the Washington Post report, that encounter was the beginning of what McCombs said was a 48-hour nightmare in which she was questioned, stressed and humiliated by agents with American Airlines.
McCombs claims that the agents questioned what the nature of her disability was and how the serviced dog aided her in her disability. This conduct, the lawsuit claims, implies that McCombs lied about her disability. The agents were so harsh to McCombs, the lawsuit states, that total strangers within the vicinity of the alleged incident verbally scolded the agents while at the same time comforted McCombs.
When McCombs cursed out loud in frustration, agents called the police, who offered to take her to a shelter for the night. According to the report, American Airlines never offered any type of accommodation over the 48 hours she was stuck in Manhattan, Kansas.
She was allegedly not allowed to board a flight the next day either, according to the report, and another American Airlines manager denied that there was a notation put in by another customer service agent that she would in fact be traveling with a service dog.
So she made arrangements to fly on another airline when someone from the corporate offices of American Airlines booked a third flight for her, assuring her that Jake would be allowed to travel with her. After two days of frustration, you would think that her problems with the company would be over, right? Well, according to the Washington Post report, they were not.
McCombs alleges that during a layover in Dallas, Texas, she was humiliated yet again by workers with American Airlines, when what the suit claims was an entourage of American Airlines employees came down the access bridge, pushing a wheelchair and loudly saying: “We have a disabled veteran, excuse me, a disabled veteran, we are looking for Lisa McCombs, a disabled veteran.” McCombs said in her lawsuit that she wasn’t in need of a wheelchair and was “embarrassed, humiliated and mortified.” The suit states that the representatives insisted on escorting McCombs through the airport, and the lawsuit states, made a spectacle of McCombs in the airport.
McCombs is seeking compensation for her airline tickets, legal fees and medical treatment. She is also seeking damages for the “reckless disregard” of her rights.