Albert Rizzi's guide dog Doxy. (Photo : Facebook)
Thirty-five passengers aboard a U.S. Airways Express flight flying from Philadelphia to Long Island walked off their plane in protest Wednesday after a flight attendant allegedly hassled a blind man and his guide dog.
After waiting on the tarmac for almost two hours, Albert Rizzi's says his guide dog, Doxy, became restless and moved from his designated place under Rizzi's seat, reports The Gothamist. A flight attendant reportedly told Rizzi that the dog needed to stay put be the plane would take off. He also said that the flight personnel told him that the dog needed to be "stowed under the seat."
"I took offense to that. My dog is not to be stowed, he's not an inanimate object," he told CBS' 1010 WINS. "This woman just did not want to understand that sitting on a plane for an hour and a half for any human is uncomfortable. The dog was just antsy and wanted to get comfortable."
Rizzi said the flight attendant eventually kicked him and his dog off the flight claiming that the plane could not be secured with the dog. However, as Rizzi exited the plane, a number of airline passengers went with him in a show of soliditary.
"Security comes on and they go to take this gentleman off the plane with his dog," fellow passenger Frank Ohlhorst said. "So when we, the passengers, realize what was going on, we were like 'why is this happening? He's not a problem.'"
"All the passengers got off the plane and I was so emotionally moved by that," Rizzi said. "I was just humbled to believe that people, 35 people, got off the plane angry and upset and yelling at management saying 'she needs to be fired today.'"
In a statement to CBS Philly, a spokesperson for U.S. Airways said Rizzi was asked to "keep his dog near his feet when the dog was walking up and down the aisle," saying "the protocol for service animals is to keep them at foot of the passenger, or under the seat, as they are considered extensions of the passenger."
"When a flight attendant asked the passenger to keep the dog where it needed to stay for safety reasons, the passenger got verbally abusive. A decision was made to return to the gate to take the passenger and the dog off the plane," the statement said. "At that point, other customers were unhappy about the situation. The crew did not feel comfortable operating the plane so a decision was made to cancel the flight."
U.S. Airways arranged a bus to transport passengers to Long Island. The airline says it is investigating the incident.