Flight faux ‘paw’: Airline admits service could be better

HONOLULU, Hawaii (KHON) – A long flight felt even longer for one passenger who says he was forced to deal with a dog invading his personal space, so his family called Action Line for help.

He says the 75-pound service dog was resting on his lap for most of the flight from Portland to Honolulu.

With the number of service dogs increasing, we wanted to know the rules regarding service dogs and what a passenger’s rights are in that situation.

Airlines are required to accommodate service animals as long as the owner has the proper documents. In this case, Hawaiian Airlines admits it could have done a better job in handling the situation.

Natalie Lum says her 24-year-old son boarded a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Portland and saw a service dog on his seat. The owner moved the dog, but Lum says her son is allergic to pet dander.

“He had asked if he could be moved to a different seat and at that time the flight attendant said there were no available seats and they closed the cabin doors and there was no other option but to sit down,” she told KHON2.

So, Lum says, her son sat down with the owner next to him and the dog on the owner’s lap.

As the flight continued, he snapped a picture of the dog, which was partially on his lap. “He said that this was the worst trip he ever had and he’s traveled all over the world,” Lum said.

According to Hawaiian Airlines’ website, “service animals must be small enough and confined to sit in the lap of a Qualified Individual with a Disability or in the space under the seat without invading another passenger’s seat area.”

A spokeswoman for Hawaiian Airlines said she could not confirm how big the dog was or how much it weighed, but said the size or the demeanor of the dog did not raise any concerns with the flight crew when they boarded the plane.

“They need to be able to know the difference between a small animal and a large animal. Clearly, that was not a small animal,” Lum said.

The spokeswoman said when a passenger has a service animal that is too big, they try to accommodate them by putting them next to an open seat. If that can’t happen, the passenger could be asked to move to a later flight.

It’s not clear if the dog owner in this case was asked to do that. The spokeswoman also said Lum’s son never told the flight crew that he has an allergy and that he wanted to move.

“In this case, had this passenger let us know of his allergies or had said he was not OK with the situation… we’d have moved him,” she said.

Late Monday afternoon, Hawaiian sent another statement saying that it doesn’t think the customer received the best service, which is why they refunded the miles he used to buy his ticket.

Service animals are protected under federal law, and airlines have lengthy policies on how they handle passengers traveling with the animals.

However, any passenger who is uncomfortable should speak up, so the airline can address his or her concerns as well.

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