Blind man, service dog kicked off US Airways plane; passengers object

PHILADELPHIA - November 14, 2013

It happened Wednesday night on a US Airways Express flight from Philadelphia to Long Island.

Albert Rizzi, who is legally blind, was told his guide dog Doxy had to stay under the seat in front of him during the flight.

"I said to her, 'I really don't understand what the issue is. I can't do anything. She was expecting me to put my dog in other people's space. They were paying good money for those seats. It was kind of odd," Rizzi said.

Two other passenger offered to help him and allowed Doxy to curl up under the seat in front of them.

But Rizzi says after passengers waited more than an hour to take off, the dog became restless and curled up under his legs.

Rizzi said the flight attendant then informed him the dog had to be under a seat or the plane would have to turn around.

US Airways says Rizzi became verbally abusive, and that other passengers became argumentative, sparking safety concerns.

Passenger Frank Ohlhorst described what happened.

"When we, the passengers, realized what was going on, we were, like, 'Why is this happening? He's not a problem. What is going on?'" said Ohlhorst. "And we all kind of raised our voices and said, 'This is a real problem.' The captain came out of the cockpit and he basically asked us all to leave the aircraft."

The airline says both the dog and the unrest among the passengers created a safety hazard as defined by its operating protocols.

The flight was eventually cancelled.

US Airways offered to transport passengers by bus from Philadelphia to Islip, New York.

Rizzi accepted the offer, along with a number of other passengers. Others decided to schedule another flight.

Rizzi says he saw it as a show of support from fellow passengers.

"These people, all of them, got on a bus and drove 3 and a half hours from Philadelphia," he said. "They could have stayed on the plane, but they chose not to. I'm so humbled."

US Airways says its investigation is continuing, but released the following statement:

US Airways transports more than 80 million customers each year and ensures that all customers, including those with disabilities, are treated with dignity and respect. We're particularly sensitive to those customers who travel with service animals since we partner with Assistance Dogs International (ADI), an organization that trains and places assistance dogs around the world. US Airways employees volunteer to travel with and work with assistance dogs in training to help them prepare for travel with disabled partners. Over the past 10 years, US Airways employees have participated in transports everywhere from California to Croatia.

In this instance, Mr. Rizzi became disruptive and refused to comply with crew member instructions when the flight attendant asked him to secure his service dog at his feet. As a result of his disruptive behavior, the crew returned to the gate and removed Mr. Rizzi and his service dog from the flight. The flight eventually cancelled and we transported Mr. Rizzi, his service dog, and the rest of our passengers on the flight to ISP by bus.

We apologize to the customers of the flight for the inconvenience. We are continuing to investigate the incident.

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