Question: I was supposed to fly to Heathrow on United Airlines, but the airline wouldn't let me on because of my hearing service dog, Aubie.
Per its website, I called United a week earlier about Aubie and was told I could either send the airline all her international passport information before the flight or bring the paper copy to the check-in desk.
After the vet gave Aubie the final pill, she needed to get her pet passport. I emailed all her information to United. I also emailed the U.K. authorities and got their written permission to bring Aubie into the U.K. They agreed to meet me when my flight arrived to clear us through customs.
I arrived at Dulles International Airport at 3 p.m., and a United Airlines desk manager said Aubie couldn't fly, then kept changing her story about why. First, she said I should have filed Aubie's medical paperwork with them seven days before the flight. I said I couldn't do that because Aubie's health-certificate paperwork had to be done closer to the day of the flight. Then she said United needed the paperwork 48 hours before the flight. I told her I had called United specifically about paperwork and was never told that.
The soonest United could fly me to the U.K. was two days later. I'm out two nights at a hotel, the price of a play I made reservations for (the only captioned night), and two whole days of my trip. I did everything United and the City of London told me to do, and they still wouldn't let me on the plane. Can you help me? - Chris Kielich,
Answer: You did everything you were supposed to. When it became clear that you followed all the procedures, United should have made this its problem - not yours.
This case is particularly puzzling given the special attention the Department of Transportation pays to the needs of disabled travelers. It even has a special category for disability complaints. I can't imagine United's not bending over backward to get you on that plane with Aubie.
Your case required a real-time resolution, so the conventional approach - sending an email to United and waiting for a reply - was not going to work. Otherwise, I'd recommend reaching out to one of the United Airlines executive contacts listed on my site (elliott.org/company-contacts/united).
United's published policy is clear on this issue: Trained service animals are allowed in-cabin to accompany qualified customers with disabilities. United has a special "service animals" section on its site, which you appear to have followed.
This shows the importance of paperwork, particularly on a special request such as traveling with a service animal. You argued with a United representative over the airline's service-animal policy. Having that policy handy when you tried to check in, either as a printout or on your personal electronic device, might have helped move this along. I wasn't there when you tried to check in, so I don't know what was said or wasn't said. But I do know there's no substitute for having something in writing.
I contacted United on your behalf. You received a message from the airline apologizing for its "disservice," and it rebooked you on a plane the next day.