American Airlines came under fire after refusing to allow a veteran to board a plane with his service dog on Sept. 20.
Captain Jason Haag, a former Marine, was trying to take a flight to Virginia with his service dog Axel. They were returning home after attending the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards in California, where his German shepherd was named Service Dog of the Year.
Haag’s relationship with his service dog has become a life-changing one for him. The 35-year-old veteran, who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He was introduced to Axel in 2012 through K9s for Warriors, a program that connects disabled veterans with service dogs.
In an apology issued by American Airlines on Sept. 21, company spokesperson Victoria Lupica said, “We apologize to both Captain Haag and his family for the confusion with the travel plans . . . Thank you, Captain Haag, for your service to your country. We are extremely proud to fly you, Axel and your family.”
The apology came after American Airlines employees reportedly demanded proof that Axel was a real service dog even though he was wearing a special vest and harness that identified him as one. Although Haag was in compliance with the airline’s policy on service animals, he was interrogated about his disability and asked to supply additional paperwork. The American Airlines website states that service dogs are welcome on flights and does not mention an ID card requirement.
The American Humane Association said Haag’s experience highlights the need for better employee training. “Service animals are absolutely essential to so many people who struggle with emotional and physical challenges. In this case, the airline did not even follow its own guidelines,” the association’s president and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert said in a statement.
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