A Southwest Airlines passenger Tuesday evening complained to crew upon boarding her Baltimore – Los Angeles flight about an emotional support animal another passenger had on the aircraft. She claimed a severe allergy.
Now the airline has a problem, right? Two passengers claiming medical needs, and they have to adjudicate between them. They’re between Scylla and Charybdis, as it were, because the Air Carrier Access Act requires them to accommodate passengers with medical needs and there aren’t clear guidelines or safe harbors for handling emotional support animals.
Sure we know most claims are bogus, and the science is suspect even where the passenger claims aren’t. And I say this as someone that has traveled with my dog (under the seat, paying for pet in cabin, though now at 15 he’s too old to travel that way). But the airline faces liability and indeed faces liability either way.
They decided to kick the complaining woman off the flight. Here’s why:
An official from Southwest said that a customer without a medical certificate may be denied boarding if they report a life-threatening allergic reaction and cannot travel safely with an animal on board. They say after explaining the situation, the passenger refused to leave the plane, and law enforcement was forced to step in and removed her.
There’s not a lot you can do if you have an allergy and you’re seated near an animal onboard. I offer 9 tips for planning to deal with pet allergies onboard. Number one is simply being moved to a seat at the other end of the aircraft.
A couple years ago I boarding a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong where a business class passenger went into the lavatory and tried out items from the amenity kit. She reported that what I assume was the Jurlique face cream was causing her skin to break out. She was removed from the flight. The last thing the airline wanted was a medical diversion. That makes sense to me.
But then the whole situation went wrong. The Southwest airlines passenger refused to leave the aircraft. Southwest escalated a customer service problem into a law enforcement problem. Law enforcement proceeded to grab the woman, yank her and push her off the flight!
During the incident a Southwest Airlines flight attendant makes an announcement telling passengers not to film the incident. Shameful.