TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Mark and Marla Cheney were making their way back home, by air, after a visit to Rapid City, South Dakota, but when they landed at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport, their trip turned into outrage.
The pair from the City of Tonawanda are both disabled veterans – Mark served 13 years in the Air Force, Marla was in the Army for 8 years – and their flight home might have been a comedy of errors. The Cheneys found the experience humiliating and disgusting.
Marla has a number of serious medical issues. she is a cancer survivor and has diabetes, so her service dog Bella is her constant companion to help her during a low blood sugar episode or high blood sugar that can render her unconscious.
After changing planes in Dallas, the Cheneys say an abusive American Airlines staff member caused a scene when the plane apparently could not accommodate Bella, a 60 lb. yellow lab-golden retriever mix.
“It was very humiliating to actually get off this aircraft,” Mark said, “I was under the impression everything was fine.”
As the Cheneys were disembark from the back of the plane, with Bella, most of the other passengers were just starting to board the flight from jetway.
“For me, it was a major embarrassment,” recalled Marla, “I was apologizing to everybody because there was a line as I was getting off the plane. There was a line up the bridge.”
Once they got on another plane to head home a passenger seated next to Marla objected to being so close to a dog, so they moved Belle across the center aisle to be with Mark, which could have caused a serious disruption, since Bella is trained to accompany Marla, her handler.
Chris Kreiger of Western New York Heroes, a Clarence-based veterans service and support group, said that is backwards.
“If that individual sitting next to the handler has an issue then that individual should relocated somewhere else on the plane, not create the disturbance to the individual with the disability and the service dog.”
American Airlines has issued the Cheneys a formal apology and vouchers for free flights and food, but no admission they violated federal laws or regulations handling the Cheneys.
Kreiger said the U.S. Department of Transportation is formulating new uniform airline industry rules for handling service animals and emotional support animals, which might avoid embarrassment for passengers like Mark and Marla.
“So now that they are trying to redevelop everything, and get everything under one set of rules and regulations, eventually they will get there.”
At the present time all of the airlines have their own policies covering pets, emotional support animals, and service animals.
That should change when the US DOT comes up with their new regulations later this year. The DOT is also also for input from the flying public, and you can offer your ideas by clicking on this link to the US DOT’s website.