Decorated Captain accuses airline of “verbal assaults”; alleges agents asked, “What service does [your dog] provide?”
A former captain of the United States Army is taking her complaints against American Airlines to court, claiming the airline would not allow her to board her aircraft with her service dog in tow. In a lawsuit filed in federal court, Lisa McCombs is suing American, regional carriers Envoy Air and American Eagle, as well as regional carrier ExpressJet for $75,000 in damages over an alleged incident with the airline in October 2015.
According to the lawsuit, McCombs was honorably discharged from the Army at the rank of Captain after tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. After her discharge, the decorated soldier was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was assigned a service dog. The animal is trained to sense when a panic attack is coming and move close to McCombs to distract her from a panic attack.
When attempting to fly with American on October 15 from Manhattan Regional Airport (MHK) in Kansas to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) with her service animal, McCombs claims she was denied boarding on her aircraft by gate agents. While waiting for the security area to open up, McCombs claims an agent came up to her and asked in reference to her dog: “Are you trying to fly with that?”
In the lawsuit, McCombs claims the situation was escalated to a local supervisor, who claimed that the flyer did not have “documentation in the system” for her service animal. After being handed off to another department over the phone, McCombs says she was given two options: continue on her flight and book her service dog as cargo, or resubmit her documentation for the animal and be rebooked in two days.
During the episode, McCombs claims customer service agents verbally accosted her, asking questions like, “What is your disability, anyways?” and “What service does [your dog] provide you?” After McCombs suffered from a PTSD attack during the episode, the lawsuit claims police were called to assist the gate agent but did not get involved in the incident.
Over the next two days, McCombs claims she was repeatedly denied boarding by airline agents in MHK and ultimately purchased a ticket on Delta Air Lines before being accommodated by American. In DFW, she claims she was ultimately embarrassed by American agents who met her at her aircraft with a wheelchair and identifying her as a “disabled veteran.” Now, she is asking the court for restitution on multiple counts for her experience.
A spokesperson for American told the Army Times they appreciated McCombs service and the senior manager of military and veteran programs reached out to discuss the situation. They did not comment on the lawsuit.