Blind man, guide dog kicked off plane, passengers protest

PHILADELPHIA — A dispute involving a blind man, his guide dog and an airline crew led to the cancellation of a flight from Philadelphia to New York, leaving passengers to be sent by bus to their destination.

Albert Rizzi said the argument began Wednesday night when a crew member told him to put his service dog under the seat in front of him as they waited for the US Airways Express flight to leave for the airport in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.

He told The Associated Press on Thursday that the flight attendant claimed the dog was creating an unsafe situation.

“She was very confrontational to the point where her tone was not appreciated,” he said. “I was ripped off the airplane. I was very upset.”

Rizzi said the dog had gotten restless and was curled up beneath his legs.

But flight attendants described the dog as agitated and expressed concern that Rizzi was not controlling it, airline spokeswoman Liz Landau said.

Rizzi became verbally abusive, and the crew decided to remove him, Landau said. That decision caused some of the other 33 travelers to become upset, she said, and the flight was canceled.

US Airways then arranged for a bus to drive passengers to Long Island.

Fellow passenger Frank Ohlhorst told WPVI-TV, which first reported the encounter, that Rizzi wasn’t being disruptive.

“We were like, ‘Why is this happening? He’s not a problem. What is going on?’” said Ohlhorst.

Landau told the AP that crews are very familiar with the protocol for service animals, but that the airline is reviewing how the situation was handled.

Rizzi said he later learned there had been open seats on the plane. “She never tried to move me or anybody else to secure the aircraft the way she said needed to be secured,” Rizzi said of the flight attendant.

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