An American Airlines gate agent refused to allow a wounded veteran board a plane with his service dog and brought the veteran's wife to tears as airline staff "bullied" the couple, even saying the dog was a "fake" service dog, in front of other passengers waiting to board the American Airlines flight. And after refusing to allow wounded veteran, Captain Jason Haag, to board with his service dog, the airline would not even retrieve the couple's checked bags leaving them stranded with no clothes.
After catching wind of the airline's actions, staff members with the American Humane Association re-booked the couple's flights, found them a hotel and got them some clean clothes. Now, according to a Fox News video, American Airlines has issued an apology but would not reimburse the veteran and his wife for their plane tickets.
While in the past we have reported on many inspirational stories of injured veterans and their service dogs, it is also important to share stories like this one to help bring exposure to this issue of wounded veterans and their service dogs being denied services. As Captain Jason Haag noted in his interview with Fox News, even though there are laws on the books against these discriminatory practices - no matter if it is a wounded military veteran or anyone else with a disability - occurrences like his continue happen.
Here is some background info on Haag and his service dog Axel along with brief summary of the incident. Captain Jason Haag is a former Marine who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is a recovering alcoholic.
Haag was paired with Axel in 2012 through K9s for Warriors - a group that connects disabled veterans with service dogs. The wounded veteran credits his service dog Axel for saving his life as, along with dealing with PTSD and alcoholism, Haag was battling severe depression and ingesting 30 medications to help him make it through the day. Now, the German Shepard is his battle buddy helping him live a much fuller, healthier life.
When the incident with the American Airlines gate agent occurred, the wounded veteran and his service dog were returning home, along with Haag's wife, from the 2015 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards in Los Angeles. It was at those awards where Axel was named Service Dog of the Year.
As Haag explained in a Facebook post, "We made it easily through security, turned our bags in, ate lunch at the airport and then sat at the gate for over 2 hours in clear view of the employees. Five minutes before boarding they made an announcement the plane was full and that's when I was pulled out of line."
After being pulled out of line, American Airlines staff demanded proof that Axel was a service dog even though Axel had a harness and vest clearly identifying him as a service dog, and the airline was given credible verbal assurance at the time a boarding pass was issued.
Both of these things, according to the airlines own requirements, are all that should have been needed for the service dog and veteran to be allowed to board the plane.
For the American Airlines staff, however, that wasn't enough, and they even went on to accuse Axel of being a "fake" service dog while questioning the combat veteran's disabilities and asking for further proof.
“Well I answered all their questioned but didn't provide "paperwork" because 1) it's illegal to ask for and against federal law 2) I don't carry it because I've never had issue 3) I called ahead and everything was fine 4) but I did provide an ID to try and appease them. But to no avail,” Haag posted on his Facebook page.
American Airlines issued an apology today, and American Humane Association is calling on them and all airlines to better train their staff to meet the needs of our nation’s brave veterans and others who require the help of a service animal. American Humane Association supports both our two-legged and four-legged veterans and believes we must all stand up for all those who serve our country and help and defend those in need. There should be no room and zero tolerance for discrimination against these heroes.
“Service animals are absolutely essential to so many people who struggle with emotional and physical challenges,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane Association. “While airlines certainly have the right to maintain appropriate protocols, these should not and cannot prevent life-enhancing and life-saving service animals from accompanying the people who so greatly need them. In this case, the airline did not even follow its own guidelines. We call upon the company to reimburse the costs endured by Captain Haag in the course of this regrettable action, and on all airlines to better train their staff.”
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