Stuck in L.A. with a 15-pound emotional support cat

By | February 7th, 2017

When Kathleen Langdon tried to visit her son in Tucson, Ariz., her connecting flight in Los Angeles was canceled. Not willing to be rebooked on multiple connecting flights, Landon and her emotional support cat spent two nights in Los Angeles at her own expense.

She wants American Airlines to compensate her with flight credits, miles, onboard credits and lounge passes, but not for the reason you think — or at least we don’t think so.

She’s asking us to help, but should we?

Langdon says she’s been flying on American Airlines with her 15-pound emotional support cat for two years and has never had a problem. She informed the agent when she made her flight reservations one month before her trip that she would be traveling with the feline and that she needed a wheelchair in Los Angeles.

As her first flight approached the Los Angeles airport, it was apparently placed in a holding pattern, and Langdon claims it circled the airport “at least 12 times” before landing. When she arrived, she learned her flight to Tucson had been canceled. She also learned that her wheelchair wasn’t waiting for her, leaving her on her own to navigate the airport in the Los Angeles heat with a backpack and her large cat in tow.

Langdon claims American offered her flights the following day with connections in Las Vegas and Phoenix, and she refused, saying that neither she nor her cat was mentally or physically able to make so many connections. So she booked a hotel near the airport where she spent two nights before being able to continue on to Tucson.

While she was sitting in the hotel one evening, Langdon seems to have called American Airlines, and she wrote to us. But she wasn’t complaining about her canceled flight or her hotel expenses. Instead, she was complaining about American’s failure to properly record her cat on her reservation.

American’s rules for registering an emotional support animal are pretty simple: A traveler needs to provide written proof that a credentialed medical doctor or mental health professional believes the negative effects of the traveler’s mental disorder will be lessened by traveling with the animal. The traveler must also submit the documentation at least 48 hours prior to their flight.

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Langdon claims she complied with these rules but the agent who took her reservation was negligent and didn’t properly note it. She also claims that American usually calls her 24 hours before every flight, but it didn’t call her before this trip. Instead she was forced to call American to remind it that her cat would be traveling with her, and after waiting on hold for two hours, she was finally connected and received confirmation that her cat could travel.

Emotional support animals were one of our most written-about and commented-on topics of 2016. Our own Christopher Elliott wrote a commentary about the elimination of emotional support animals a few months ago. We received the highest number of letters to the editor on this topic in 2016, as well.

While some readers acknowledged that there are people who have legitimate needs, the overall theme of the comments and responses was that many (or perhaps most) people with “emotional support animals” simply want to travel with their pets without paying the airlines’ fees. With the proliferation of websites where certificates can be purchased at a minimal cost “certifying” that the traveler needs the animal, I can understand our readers’ disbelief.

As pointed out in Christopher’s commentary, one of the reasons behind the need to travel with an emotional support animal is the desire to skip the medication that might be needed if the animal were not present. The irony is the lack of concern for people with legitimate allergies who no longer have the right to travel without medication because of all the animals in the cabin.

Langdon doesn’t mention why she needs her cat traveling in her lap. She does, however, mention that she “wasted three hours” of her day registering her animal the day before her trip and would like to be compensated for her trouble.

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Are you confused yet? Just wait.

The next thing Langdon claims in her letter to us is that American Airlines told her to call us and she wants us to “handle this complaint ASAP.” What is she asking for? A lot.

Langdon wants American to provide her with flight credits, onboard credits, lounge passes, and miles. She doesn’t say how much she wants in credits, how many passes she wants or how many miles she thinks she deserves, but I suspect it is a lot. Her demand definitely hints at a feeling of entitlement.

She also isn’t very clear about why she thinks she should receive all this compensation. Her two emails to us bounce between her original conversation with American and her problems in Los Angeles, but we don’t see the connection between the two problems.

Is it a problem that American didn’t initially register her cat? Yes, but that was resolved.

Is it a problem that American didn’t meet her with the wheelchair she says she requested in Los Angeles? Yes, but with her flight to Tucson already canceled, she could have waited for a replacement.

Is it a problem that American canceled her original flight between Los Angeles and Tucson, and instead wanted to book her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Phoenix to Tucson? Yes, but we don’t know why that option was given — her flights were only a few days before Christmas, so maybe all the direct flights were completely full? Possibly.

Do I believe it was fair that she had to pay for her own hotel accommodations for two nights in Los Angeles? The jury is still out on this one.

But the issues with the emotional support animal seem to have nothing to do with her two-day stay in a hotel — and weirdly, she actually is not asking for reimbursement of that cost, so I have to wonder why she was in a hotel for two nights.

I did a quick search on a few random days and there were no less than eight nonstop flights on various airlines on any given day between Los Angeles and Tucson, and a few dozen options with one stop in Phoenix. Of course the drive between Phoenix and Tucson is less than two hours, so even if Langdon doesn’t drive, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for someone to pick her up in Phoenix if she and her cat didn’t want to make the short flight between the two airports. In any case, I find it hard to believe that American couldn’t find a better solution for her and her cat than the one she claims they made — even if it had to book her on another airline.

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We asked Langdon for a paper trail of her communications with American, but she didn’t have one. She asked us to check our recorded phone calls and we would know it was a phone call she made, so there would be no paper trail. But all our help requests come in from our online form, so we didn’t have a phone conversation to review. If she wants us to review her call with American, we don’t have access to American Airlines’ phone recordings. Sometimes that might be quite helpful to us and our readers, but we really don’t have it.

In the end, we provided instructions to post in our forums and asked Langdon to register and post, asking if our forum advocates had any advice. We also provided information on appealing to the American Airlines contacts we list on our site and suggested the forum advocates could help her craft her letter to be clearer about what she wanted and why — and to manage her “ask” so it didn’t reflect a sense of entitlement.

Langdon hasn’t posted to our forums, and we haven’t accepted her case. What do you think, readers? Should she post to the forums or should we take her case?

Should we take Kathleen Langdon's case?

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