Flight attendant forced to apologize to veteran with service dog

by Sue on January 2, 2015

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It was yet another case of someone not understanding what a service dog looks like. This time it happened to Eric Calley, a former Marine who served in Iraq, when he was traveling with his service dog, Sun, a Doberman Pincher. The pair were on a U.S. Airways flight from Florida to Detroit.

According to the Lansing State Journal, one of the flight attendants yelled at Calley because Sun had put her front paws on an empty seat next to him during some turbulence. Calley suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Witnesses on the flight noted that the attendant was so rude to Calley that a number of other passengers came to his defense.

Calley, who served two tours of duty in Iraq and now spends his time working as an advocate for veterans with PTSD, has Sun by his side all of the time. She monitors his heart rate, his breathing, and the tension in his muscles. If Sun notices a change, she immediately nuzzles Calley with her nose to calm him. She also jumps in his lap to put warm pressure on his chest.

The problem with PTSD is that people who have it look totally normal. They don’t have a cane, which is associated with someone who is blind, or a wheelchair, which shows a definite disability. Add that to the fact that Sun is a Doberman, not a typical looking service dog.

It used to be that service dogs were either Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, or Labrador Retrievers. Today, a variety of breeds can work as service dogs. Many service dogs are rescues from animal shelters.

A few weeks after the flight, Calley received an apology in the form of a letter from U.S. Airways. The letter says, “It appears our airport personnel didn’t handle the situation with the quality customer care we expect.”

Calley called the apology “insufficient” because he was mistreated by other airline personnel. He is speaking out about this to raise awareness on behalf of veterans and those with service animals. He tells Louise Knott Ahern at the Lansing State Journal, “We are going to continue to have this huge influx of new veterans coming back. And it can take a veteran four to five years after getting out to even attempt to get help. The thing I want U.S. Airways to understand is that this is going to be a growing problem.”

Calley is promoting Liberty’s Legacy — a program helping veterans from Michigan to get service dogs. His goal for the New Year is to bring “as many dogs as possible” to Michigan veterans.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ronnie 01.05.15 at 7:43 am

My service dog is a Pembroke Corgi. If it was not for my Mario I could never leave my house. I have never ever had a problem anyplace I go.

2 Turner K.Goldsmith 01.05.15 at 8:00 am

Happened to me
Got same exact letter from USAirways and they
Do not leave a way to get back in touch w them
Nothing is done
No legal ramifications
The service dog law is w out enforcement

3 Catherine Hunter 01.05.15 at 9:05 am

Thank you for posting this. I think US Airways have a systemic problem as far as service dogs go.
Last year I was traveling to Scotland to visit my aging mother, I have flown on US airways before with various small inconveniences due to my traveling with my service dog. Last year however was a nightmare. I booked my flight online as usual and I called and told the service agent that I would have my service dog with me. No problem. Two days before my flight standard procedure for entering the UK requires me to call the airport where I will be landing and to fax my dogs health certificates to the arrival airport animal reception center. Glasgow airport officials told me that US Airways had not filed the required MOA with Glasgow airport and therefore could not deplane dogs at Glasgow. They told me that if I did arrive on the US Airways flight my dog would be put quaranteen, even if he had the required health certificates. I have flown into the UK 6 times with my dog with very little hassle. I called US Airways and told them what I had been told by UK animal reception. The solution they offered was a refund of my ticket, leaving me with no way to get to my destination in time. Us Airways blamed Glasgow airport, and they did not offer me any apologie. I have subsequently verified that the fault lies with US Airways, who seem to have no intention of following US laws.

4 Frank Klafs 01.05.15 at 9:23 am

If you get harassed , demeaned, mistreated by a government worker or employee, go to the manager and than file with the US Attorneys office.
There will be no change until you make change happen

5 Linda 01.05.15 at 11:55 am

I have flown MANY miles on US Air and around 100,000 of them with a service dog (in fact two different dogs). Only once have I ever been asked by gate personal to “prove” my dog was a service dog (and I just pointed out his vest) and it was taken care of.

I have had a few at check in want my “papers” since emotional support dogs need paperwork, and they have more emotional support dogs flying than service dogs. It has taken a few minutes, but always solved when they read their own rules. I don’t check bags too often so it has not been a big issue.

Once on the plane I have never had issues. Once one was a bit concerned and going to move my seat since my dog was on the next passengers feet. It was my husband so we had let her stretch out more than I do when I fly alone.

I did have issues with one other airline once, but again it was more the emotional support vs service dog lack of knowledge and understanding of the differences.

6 Diane Zsalako 01.06.15 at 5:28 am

As a former Flight Attendant who now too has a service dog. Sadly to say in my career I have seen this over and over. Unfortunately society is under the impression that only the blind are in need of a service dog.
So many do travel with their service dogs and airline personal is not trained on this. They still treat service dogs as pets and require that they be on the floor at your feet and god forbid if your dog should happen to move. It is so very sad and I have seen this treatment that Mr Calley received over and over.
I do hope that US Airways and the other airlines start to recognize this on going problem. All airline employees should be trained on the proper handling of a service dog and their owner.
Mr Calley I am so sincerely sorry that you had such a degrading experience and I do hope in the future your travels with Sun are met with a more professional attitude from the airlines and it’s employees. What you are doing in Detroit I commend you for your work and dedication. Thank you for your service to our country!

7 Sue 01.06.15 at 10:41 am

The problem with overseas travel is that the ADA laws only apply to the USA. While the ACAA does apply to Airlines, there again is a problem as it only applies while you are flying. In a perfect world, there would be Service Dog laws that are the same in every country. But that will never happen.

8 Carol ohun 01.07.15 at 7:59 pm

My sister and I were going to CA for my daughters wedding, the flight attendant insisted that, all pets were required to be on the floor if they were in the cabin for any reason. I very calmly explained that CoCo was not a pet and I certainly was not going to crate her on the floor. At that time I seriously thought she was going to attempt to remove CoCo from my lap; we had both lost our cool. Luckily an ex marine noticed what was going on and stepped in. He was able to take control, brief the attendant on the guidelines concerning service dogs and calm everyone down. In the past I think most people with disabilities confined themselves to their home; in today’s world more people are understanding that just because you are disabled does not mean you are not a whole, interesting, even vibrant person, someone that is certainly worth getting to know!

9 Sue 01.08.15 at 10:35 am

Do keep in mind that Service Animals must be on the floor or in a crate, secure, during take off and landing. It is for the safety of the animal, much like we have to wear our seat belts during those times.

10 Ilda Molly Dumas 01.08.15 at 10:54 am

I have been has sealed and embarrassed so many times that I don’t travel anymore. I live in wi. and my son lives in key Largo, Florida. I am 71 and each day is a gift. Like to spend more time with my son but till they change some service dog rules I’ll be staying home. My son is the one missing out.

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