Help! Southwest Airlines stranded my puppy in Little Rock

puppyIt was just a matter of time before Southwest Airlines, which started accepting pets as passengers earlier this year, got into a dog-fight with a customer. Actually, this one’s more of a cat fight.

Jonathan Camp’s rescue puppy, Gatsby, had to be left in Little Rock, Ark., after airline employees decided he was too big to fly. Southwest’s policies are clearly spelled out on its Web site, but there is always room for interpretation — and it appears Camp and Southwest didn’t see the policies in the same way.

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Camp asked me to intervene after Gatsby was stranded.

Here are excerpts of his appeal:

We need your help! Southwest Airlines made us leave our sweet 15-pound rescue puppy in Little Rock, after they let us fly there. We met all the specifications to get the dog on board, and the main reason he did not get on the plane was because Southwest Airlines hired employees who are supposed to be in charge of checking the dogs, but hate dogs/are deathly afraid of them, and do not know how to follow their own rules.

And now our puppy is in Little Rock, he already has separation anxiety, he had vet appointments today in San Diego, and all because of petty, cruel employees. Also, Southwest does not seem to care enough to respond quickly to the situation, because we are just two nobodies as far as they are concerned, and think it is OK to let our family puppy be away from his loving owners.

OK, let me stop the tape right there. Separation anxiety? I don’t know. Then again, I’m not a dog person, so maybe they do get separation anxiety after being away from their owners for a few hours. But on with the story …

We had sedated Gatsby but Beren, my fiancee, had him in her arms as we waited to check our bags and to purchase the pet boarding pass that we had already reserved. The Southwest lady finished with the passenger ahead of us in line, and so we walked up to her.

She all of a sudden noticed Gatsby in Beren’s arms and freaked out. Freaked out bad, because apparently she was afraid of all dogs, even cute 15 pound puppies that are asleep. She told Beren to put him in the dog crate immediately, and she said that he had to be in his crate at all times, which we know is not entirely true, because you have to take him out to go through security, and the policy said that he only has to be in his crate once you go through security, so she was misinformed.

She calls out her supervisor because she is so freaked that she saw a dog, even though it is part of her job, and so he comes out suspicious and slightly hostile. He then says that the
dog is too big and that he is not getting on the flight. We flew with Gatsby to Little Rock from San Diego and have before, he is under 25 pounds, and meets all their policies regarding dogs, and they let us bring him here.

Beren told him that Gatsby is 15 pounds and not too big. Then the supervisor said that the crate was too small for Gatsby. We put Gatsby in the crate to show that he was erroneous. Then the supervisor said that the dog needs to stand up in the crate.

Southwest policy says the dog must be able to move around comfortably and be able to stand up in the crate (there was a boarding pass on the pet carrier from the San Diego airport showing the dog and the carrier passed inspection there and had flown on Southwest just a week earlier). We have the photos to prove that Gatsby can stand up in the crate and move around, but the man just was not in a good mood and was rude and just kept saying no and no and no, because Beren was crying and telling him that this is ridiculous, the dog had flown several times in that crate, he can stand up, he just wasn’t at that split second because he was sedated to ensure that he was quiet in the plane for the other passengers.

The man tells Beren she needs to calm down and that there is no way that the dog is getting on the flight (which was only half full, and we had reservations for Gatsby, and we had met all their requirements because we had traveled a few times with him). Beren goes outside and calls her stepmother Ashley who dropped us off, and Ashley returns and attempts to talk to them.

Alright, you get the idea. The police are called to the scene. Eventually, the great Gatsby goes home with Ashley the stepmom, but Beren and her fiancee are furious at the airline and are threatening to sue.

I contacted the airline on the family’s behalf. Here’s its response to Camp:

Our policy, as stated on our website, says that Southwest Airlines accepts small domestic cats and dogs, which must be carried in an appropriate carrier. Furthermore, the cat or dog must be completely inside the pet carrier and be able to stand up and move around with ease.

According to our Little Rock Employees, the dog that was with you when you checked in could not stand up, turn around, or fit comfortably in the carrier. For that reason, they could not allow him to travel.

I can understand how frustrating that situation must have been for you – you’re at the airport, you’re ready to travel, and suddenly, your plans are interrupted. So, I can understand why your fiancées temper may have flared, causing the Little Rock Airport police to arrive on the scene.

That said, our Employees have an obligation to ensure that all pets and Customers that travel onboard Southwest Airlines can travel safely and comfortably. The fact that Gatsby did not meet our policy requiring pets to fit comfortably in their carriers is the reason that he was denied boarding.

My research also suggests that you had trouble traveling with Gatsby back in September when he was just 14 weeks old, at which time, he was denied boarding after several Customers complained about the noise and our Flight Crew discovered that he was not secured in his carrier, as is required at all times. Nevertheless, our records indicate that our Customer Relations Departments provided you with a $75 gift certificate as a gesture of goodwill and apology for your inconvenience.

Mr. Camp, we added our P.A.W.S program earlier this year as an added convenience for our Customers, and I am truly sorry that this service has been anything less than convenient for you, your fiancée, or your dog, Gatsby. As Gatsby continues to grow and mature, please keep in mind that, having already outgrown the terms of our P.A.W.S. policies, it is unlikely that he will qualify to travel with us moving forward.

Of course, I understand that there is still the lingering issue that Gatsby remains in Little Rock. Please contact me offline so that we can discuss options for getting him home to San Diego.

I think that was an appropriate response from Southwest. And the part about discussing options for getting Gatsby back to San Diego was a nice touch, too.

(Photo: dakotaduff/Flickr Creative Commons)