By Debbie Gregory.
Decorated Army veteran Lisa McCombs, who suffers from PTSD, says flying the friendly skies with her service dog, Jake, has always been easy. McCombs relies on Jake to calm her anxiety and panic before it overwhelms her.
But that changed in 2015 when she and Jake, a Labrador retriever, were barred from boarding an American Airlines flight, in spite of the fact that Jake was wearing his service vest and was properly documented.
Now, American Airlines has settled a 2016 lawsuit filed by McCombs. Due to confidentiality, representatives for both sides declined to discuss the terms, though both said the case was resolved “to the satisfaction of all parties.”
During the trial, the veteran, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, told the court that Jake was trained to distract her during panic attacks. On the day of the flight, an American Airlines representative treated her and Jake with disdain, according to her lawsuit.
“Ummmm, are you trying to fly with that?” McCombs says an airline employee told her.
Airlines are trying to find a balance between allowing service animals, most often canines, and an array of other emotional support animals (ESAs), such as a kangaroo, a turkey, a duck, and recently, a peacock.
Traditionally, airlines require small animals to travel in cages under the seat of their owner, while large animals travel in the cargo bay. ESAs, however, are allowed to travel with the owner in the open, without the restriction of being caged.
The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 gives a broad definition for service animal — basically any animal individually trained to help a person with a disability, or any animal that provides emotional support to a person with a disability, unless they are too large for the cabin, too disruptive, or a risk to the safety of others.