A black man has filed a lawsuit against American Airlines alleging racism and discriminatory treatment after he was removed from first class to accommodate an emotional support dog.
Dana Holcomb was booked in first class from Las Vegas to Austin via Phoenix. When he sat down on AA691 from Phoenix to Austin, he noticed his seatmate had a dog in her lap.
I sat on the seat and there was a young lady sitting next to me who had a pet with her, a medium-sized dog in her lap. As I sat there for a few minutes my eyes, my face everything began to fluster so she looked over at me and she asked me if I was allergic to dogs. She began to ask everyone in the first-class section if they would be willing to exchange seats with her and no one was willing to do that.
Flight attendants and the captain became involved. In a video shared with local Austin ABC affiliate KXXV, the captain can be seen pointing his finger in the face of Holcomb. It is not clear what led to that escalation nor was audio of the encounter provided.
Holcomb claims that the captain ordered him into the economy class cabin, but he refused. Over 30 minutes later (it is not clear what went on in the meantime), another first class passenger finally agreed to switch seats with the lady and her dog.
But another first class passenger, Jay Youngdahl, claimed that the captain was not satisfied. Instead, the captain said, “I think this man is going to be a danger at 35,000 feet,” and ordered him removed from the flight.
Holcomb says the flight took off with his bags onboard, including his medication. He also claims American refused to rebook him and he was forced to buy a new ticket for $1700 on Delta.
You can watch his take on the matter here:
American Airlines Tells A Different Story
American first issued a more general statement affirming its commitment to all passengers while noting its mandated by law to transport emotional support animals:
If a lawsuit is filed, American will review it and respond in court when appropriate. We are proud to serve customers of all backgrounds and are committed to providing a positive, safe travel experience for everyone who flies with us.
Regulations require American Airlines to transport service and support animals. American makes every effort to accommodate all passengers, including those traveling with and seated near service or support animals. In the case of an allergy, we work to re-seat a passenger further away from the service or support animal.
Mr. Holcomb’s seat was next to a customer with an emotional support animal. In an effort to accommodate Mr. Holcomb, the customer with the emotional support animal offered to switch seats with another customer so Mr. Holcomb could remain in his seat. Mr. Holcomb wasn’t satisfied with that solution, so he was given the option of a seat further away from the service animal in the main cabin with a refund in the difference in fare, which he also declined.
After all the attempts to accommodate Mr. Holcomb were declined and he refused to comply with crew member instruction, he was removed from the plane. Our team offered to rebook Mr. Holcomb and refunded his first-class ticket. American has not received [a] lawsuit but once we do we will review it and respond in court when appropriate.
Reginald McKamie, Sr., Holcomb’s lawyer, calls this characterization defamatory.
Youngdahl, the witness onboard who backs Holcomb’s account, allegedly told the Captain, “That was a racist thing, sir.” Yet he still got back on the plane. I’d hope that if the events occurred as Holcomb described, I would also step off the plane. I also wonder why Youngdahl did not agree to exchange seats with the dog lady?
In any case, we have two very different accounts to consider. Although somewhat tertiary to this story, this whole incident would not have occurred if airlines were allowed to ban emotional support dogs. As far as I am concerned, it’s time for the law to be changed. No passenger should be forced out of first class to accommodate a dog.
image: Good Morning Texas (Fair Use Exception)