Tuesday, April 15, 2008

For those of you who are wondering about why I didn't try to do anything about my treatment on the return flight from Chicago to BWI, well I have. I was just way more interested and getting home and to bed at the time of the incident that I was in risking not being allowed to stay on the plane.

Below is a copy of the email I sent to United Airlines about my experience. Considering just how hard all but the Captain worked to my my flight as comfortable as possible I sure hope I hear from them about this "no dogs in first class rule". We shall see. I realize United doesn't have a very good track record the higher up you go in the origanization. Too bad for the lower level employees, that's a fact.

I travel by air enough to understand that the many flight delays and outright cancellations are in almost all cases not the fault of the individual airlines. In this case, the employees representing your airlines on the ground were as helpful and caring as time and the crowds would reasonably allow.

I am disabled and walking is a slow, painful process. I travel with a Service Dog who assists me in both walking and carrying things as well as in other ways. This particular Service Dog had at this point one international and 9 long distance domestic flights to her credit. She is calm, quiet and very much focused on her tasks.

On this date (March 31, 2008) the airport at O'Hare was in total chaos, packed with passengers hoping to finally get on a flight or find a place to stay until a flight came available. The boarding agents were wonderful, kind and caring. They apologized over and over again for what happened to me. The flight attendants were equally kind and carrying and actually went out of their way to be helpful.

After many delays and gate changes the flight was nearing the boarding point and I was both extremely tired and in a great amount of pain. All I wanted to do was to PAY to upgrade to first class so I could have a seat that was just a little more comfortable. I don't know if there were any seats available or not because an angel of a man offered to exchange his ticket with mine and allow me to have his first class seat. I was so grateful for this kindness.

Imagine if you can, my shock and dismay when I was told the Captain of this flight stated no dogs were allowed in first class on this type of plane. What on earth is that all about? I have searched your web site in vain and can not find where it states that Service Dogs are not allowed in first class.

When we boarded the plane this captain showed up and while being very stiff and correct in his choice of wording, his questions left me feeling both dismay and worry about the advisability of using United in the future.

I understand that it is very necessary to insure any dog being presented as a Service Dog be a mannerly and task trained dog. My dog wears a shoulder pack that clearly states her position. Her behavior clearly shows her understanding of her duties. I try to go out of my way to keep her as unobtrusive and invisible as possible.

So why rather than a welcome to the flight did I receive a hostile grilling on why I needed a dog, what she did for me? Why did he feel the need to poke her? Yes, he did ask if he could touch her, but that was after he had already poked her the first time. Why did he all but order me to announce her presence to all the passengers on the plane once the plane was loaded? I have never been told such a thing was necessary in the past and I demurred from doing so on this flight. Why did he demand to know how long she would be barking during take-off and landing? The response is never, ever have any of my Service Dogs barked while on a plane. Why did he want to know just how many times she was going to have to use the aisle for “exercise” during the flight? Service Dogs are not supposed to be in the aisles other than for boarding or deplaning or when owner is moving to or from the restroom.

I keep telling myself it was because of the lateness of the hour, the crowds, the pressure or maybe because of some prior bad experience with a passenger attempting to pass a pet dog off as a service dog. Still the entire experience has left me with a very bad memory of what flying United has sunk to these days. It makes me so sad. I have flown United many, many times over the years and while there have been some bumps in the flight, so to speak, this business with the Captain has made me start to rethink my willingness to consider United as my carrier in the future.

Will you please let me know just which of your planes allow me to travel in first class with my Service Dog? That way I can at least take some steps to protect myself from any further occurrences, should I decide to fly with United again.

Margot Woods
Laurel, MD

And now it's up to United to respond. Wonder if they will?


  1. I hope you will get a response from United! This business the Captain tried was quite frankly in excusable not to mention a violation of the ACAA! According to the ACAA there is no provision stating that one cannot be accompanied with their service dog in first class.

    Personally I do not get why he poked your dog. Touching your dog is one thing but poking. It boggles my mind!

  2. Oh I understand exactly why he poked. He was looking to get a, shall we say, negative reaction from her. He wanted a reason to say we couldn't be on "his" plane.

    Somehow I very much doubt I will hear anything from them, but at least I sent them notice of what happened.

    I knew he was in violation of ACAA but by that time the last thing I wanted to do was to start a fight over it. All I wanted to do was to get out of O'Hare and get home and to bed.