Kicked off a flight because of a dogfight

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By Christopher Elliott

Mention the word “pets” and “planes” and it’s enough to start a dogfight.

That’s exactly what happened to Marilyn Bruno, who was flying from Miami to Boston on American Airlines recently. Bruno is allergic to dogs — technically, it’s a class 3 allergy, which is relatively mild and doesn’t require her to travel with an epinephrine pen.

When she boarded flight 452, she found an unexpected passenger had joined her.

I was getting ready to sit down in seat 14A when I heard the barking of a dog under my seat.

I stood up and told the young man and woman sitting in seats 15A and 15B that I was allergic to their dog because I immediately felt the first symptoms of an allergy attack.

I rang for the flight attendant to change my seat.

The dog owners started laughing and shouting loudly to the other passengers how cute their dog was and how it would not hurt anyone.

Uh-oh. A crewmember tried to separate the feuding passengers.

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The flight attendant changed my seat to 10B, which I thanked her for. I said I was going to take a Claritin, but would have starting taking it the day before if I had known a dog was going to be on board.

She explained that the owners paid for the dog in the cabin and there was no policy to warn passengers.

I thanked the flight attendant again for changing my seat and told her that I had an epinephrine pen (Epipen) with me, so I expected no problems even in the event of an allergy attack.

Problem solved? Unfortunately, no. In fact, things were about to get much worse.

I’ll let Bruno explain:

The flight attendant went somewhere and came back saying that Claritin was not enough.

She asked to see the Epipen, which I voluntarily showed her.

I told her that my allergy was classified as a Class 3, and that my doctor had assured me that there was no need for an Epipen even in the event of a dog allergy.

The flight attendant became very agitated, as if I had shown her a lethal weapon.

She left and came back with a man and two women from the terminal. One of the women, told me that I had to get off the plane and that she would get me on the next flight, which left at 10 a.m.

Bruno told the trio that was unnecessary and that she was medically fit to fly, despite her allergy to dogs. Also, she had an 11 a.m. meeting in Boston, which she would miss.

At that point, the airline representatives accused her of delaying the flight’s departure (Bruno says passengers were still boarding the flight). They threatened to have her arrested if she did not disembark the flight immediately.

“I said that I had important meetings in Boston that I could not reschedule, that this treatment was discriminatory,” she says. “Rather than listen to what I was saying, I was physically kicked off [the flight]. Another American Airlines employee who had come from the terminal got my carryon bags.”

American eventually rebooked her on another flight and she flew to Boston without incident. But Bruno wants to know if she’s entitled to anything for her hardship.

“I missed being picked up at the airport, and missed the crucially important meeting that had taken over a month to set up,” she says. “The meeting could not be rescheduled since the principals left Boston, so my subsequent meetings were also cancelled. My entire trip to Boston was a waste of time and money. My meeting has not been rescheduled.” (Here’s what to do if your flight has been canceled or delayed.)

American’s side of the story

This is one of those cases where I thought I needed American’s side of the story before I wrote anything about it — even if the end result is that I couldn’t mediate it. I asked the airline to review its record from the flight. It hasn’t responded. (Related: Removed from a Delta flight — but it doesn’t know why.)

Strictly speaking, American fulfilled its end of the bargain. Its contract of carriage requires that it transport Bruno from Miami to Boston, which it did.

Just hearing her side of the story, it sounds as if American made several mistakes with this incident. Moving Bruno to another seat was the right call, but I wonder where the flight attendant got her M.D. from? And forcing her off the flight — that seems like a TSA tactic, not the behavior of an airline that cares about its customers.

Update (11:30 a.m.): Received this update from American Airlines via Twitter: “Thanks for your interest in this issue. The situation was thoroughly investigated and we’ve communicated with the customer.” Sounds like the case is closed, as far as AA is concerned.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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