Monday, May 07, 2007

Confuse "Pet" for "Service Dog?"

On our way home from the Abilities Expo in Edison New Jersey, we ran into a bit of a problem with Continental. To their credit, our first problem ever with them, and it was sorted out without an issue.

However, we figured we might as well just share it, so if you come across this issue, you know what to do.

The request: Our service dog is big, and we like the bulkhead for her and for extra room for us.
The problem: The gate agent thinks "No animals in the bulkhead row."
The truth: "No PETS in the bulkhead row."

His justification: All animals must be considered as luggage, and stored out of the way of passing customers for safety. Therefore they must be stowed under the seat in front of them.
Our justification: Mohawkie is not a pet, and we've done this for five years without question.

How do we protect ourselves usually?
1. We bring a copy of the FAA rules with us to back our rights up.
2. We bring a copy of the Service Animal rules from the ADA with us to back our rights up.
3. When in doubt, we ask for the airport disability representative or a TSA representative to protect our rights.

How did we resolve this issue? Upon proving to both the gate agent AND the green flight attendant that although the FAA states "Pet," this does not apply to a service animal because a)many of them are too big to go under the seat in front, and b)the bulkhead is the official disability seating.
We did have to get a TSA agent over to settle our dispute professionally, but we spent the first 10 minutes nicely stating our point so that the issue didn't get inflated with defensiveness and anger so it could be resolved more quickly. When our case wasn't accepted, we had someone else back it up.

Usually Continental employees are more informed than this, so we were surprised, but not disappointed. We managed to educate 5 staff members, and got into our seat on time as usual.

The bottom line: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.

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