A woman is suing American Airlines for more than $75,000 after an April 17 incident in which she claims a flight attendant shouted abuse and called the police on her because she was travelling with an emotional support dog in the cabin. At one point, Avigail Diveroli of Miami, Florida claims the flight attendant even locked the small dog in a lavatory for an hour and slammed a toilet door against the dog’s cage.
Diveroli had booked a Business Class ticket to fly from Miami to Los Angeles, along with her husband and disabled 87-year old grandfather. Because she suffers from severe anxiety, Diveroli requested permission to have her Emotional Support Animal-registered dog, Simba, with her in the dog.
According to court papers filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the airline approved Simba as an onboard ESA and Diveroli twice called American Airlines to confirm the dog could travel with her in the cabin.
Despite those assurances, Diveroli claims one of the flight attendants who is only known as ‘Regina’ was anything but welcoming and in fact, downright hostile. Things didn’t get off to a good start when the flight attendant insisted Simba couldn’t travel in the business class cabin and then “screamed loudly”, saying it was an FAA violation.
The complaint alleges Regina shouted at Avigail and her husband for the whole flight and at one point forcibly downgraded the pair to Economy Class – presumably because that’s where she thought the dog was approved to travel.
For reasons that remain unclear, the flight attendant then insisted the dog had to be locked in a lavatory for the last hour of the flight – while placing the kennel into the lavatory she repeatedly slammed the toilet door against the dog.
If that wasn’t all bad enough, the complaint states the flight attendant said she would get Avigail “cuffed” on landing and had the police waiting on arrival. Diveroli was escorted off the plane by police officers but soon let go with action taken. Yet in one final salvo from the flight crew, the Captain is alleged to have joined the fracas and shouted at Diveroli for bringing a dog into the cabin.
Not that all the flight attendants agreed with Regina – it’s claimed at least two flight attendants apologised to Avigail for their colleague’s behaviour and described her as a “sour apple” with a known issue of ESA’s.
American Airlines contests the claim and claims Simba was travelling as a pet and not an emotional support animal – as such, the dog had to travel in a kennel that fits underneath the seat in front. In a statement, the airline explained:
Our professional crews are there to ensure the safety and comfort of all customers. In this case, the customer’s dog was traveling as a pet rather than an emotional support animal or service animal. FAA regulations require pets to stay in kennels that fit under the seat, however, this kennel didn’t fit under the seat. The flight crew tried to handle the situation in accordance with FAA regulations.
Also, this travel was booked on a 777, which doesn’t allow pets in the premium cabin. Our team at the airport in Miami offered to rebook the passenger on a later flight, but they declined, and opted to take a seat with the pet in the main cabin.
According to an aviation lobby group, over 1 million passengers travelled with an emotional support animal in 2018. The growing popularity of ESA’s and been accompanied by a sharp increase in “disruptive” incidents that have prompted airlines to take action. Many airlines have banned certain animals from the cabin altogether and many have imposed tough conditions on passengers to meet before their pets can be brought onboard.