American Airlines Stops Hero Service Dog From Boarding Plane Home

Mary Simpson
by Mary Simpson
Shame on you, American Airlines – it sounds like the company is full of hot air when it comes to its pet-friendly travel policies. Axel, a service dog and newly crowned Hero Dog winner, was denied access to his flight home after the awards ceremony.

Let’s award the prize for “sucking the life right out of a warm and fuzzy moment” to American Airlines for their short-sighted and arbitrary decision to ban a canine hero from his flight home.

It seems German Shepherd Axel is not only a respected service and therapy dog, but had also just been named 2015 Service Dog of the Year at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards held at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.

Related: Air Canada Loves Dogs… Or Does It?

When he and his partner, now-retired Marines Captain Jason Haag tried to return home from their heady moment of honor they were quickly given a nasty reality check by an American Airlines representative who decided that in spite of the pooch possessing all required documentation, the lack of a medic alert card by Haag meant Axel couldn’t fly with him.

It seems that as proof a canine is in fact a service animal, the airline requires at least one of the following:

  • Animal ID card
  • Harness or tags
  • Written documentation to verify the service, psychiatric or emotional support status of your animal
  • Credible verbal assurance

Related: Safety Tips: Flying With A Dog

Fair enough. Axel wore a harness and vest that identified him as a service dog and credible verbal assurance had been provided (and accepted) at the time the boarding pass was issued. Under the airline requirements, he was covered.

But what should have been a seamless end to a perfect evening didn’t work out that way. Apparently an airline rep decided that in spite of Haag meeting and exceeding the carrier’s minimum requirements, more documentation related to his disability would be required if Axel was to board the flight. An airline representative later stated to American Humane Association’s legal counsel that Capt. Haag needed to have a medical alert card, which is not in fact a requirement. So are you starting to hear that sucking sound I mentioned earlier….?

To provide context, Axel is a rescue pooch who has been trained to provide support to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Trained by K9s for Warriors – an organization that partners veterans with service canines – Axel has been taught to recognize Haag’s panic attacks and take the actions necessary to diffuse the situation. Before he was recruited by K9s, Axel was just days away from being put down at a local shelter. Haag was taking more than 30 medications to deal with his debilitating symptoms and slept with a gun under his pillow. Now he claims to share a bed with his “big, furry security blanket.”

Although American Airlines issued an apology, the American Humane Association (AHA) is calling on them and all airlines to better train their staff to meet the needs of our nation’s brave veterans and others who require the help of a service animal. And I think a little compensation is warranted here… treats for life? A sizable donation to K9s for Warriors, perhaps?

And we hate to say this, but was American Airlines’ “Cuddle Class” recent announcement just a load of hot PR air? This company is supposed to be pet friendly, but it seems like they want to promote their love for animals when it’s convenient for them (that means when it nets them some happy PR coverage)

According to Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of AHA, “Service animals are absolutely essential to so many people who struggle with emotional and physical challenges. While airlines certainly have the right to maintain appropriate protocols, these should not and cannot prevent life-enhancing and life-saving service animals from accompanying the people who so greatly need them. In this case, the airline did not even follow its own guidelines. We call upon the company to reimburse the costs endured by Captain Haag in the course of this regrettable action, and on all airlines to better train their staff.”

The American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards are broadcast nationwide by Hallmark Channel on October 30 at 8 pm ET/PT, 7 pm Central. Axel’s story will be included, which won him the title of hero dog following more than one million votes by the American public and the support of the nation’s leading animal lovers and experts.

Mary Simpson
Mary Simpson

Sharing space with three seriously judgy Schnoodles and a feline who prefers to be left alone. #LivingMyBestLife

More by Mary Simpson