In April, a man by the name of Dana Holcomb was removed from an American Airlines flight from Phoenix to Austin. The reason: Holcomb had an allergic reaction to a support dog belonging to another passenger. This incident is going to court as Holcomb seeks justice and compensation.
Details of the incident
After boarding the aircraft, Holcomb says he had an allergic reaction to a support dog of another passenger. The passenger made the offer to switch seats. However, there were no volunteers accepting the offer. This resulted in the flight crew getting involved. Reporting from KWTX implies that crew requested that Holcomb move to the back of the plane.
After questioning why he had to move to the back of the plane, Holcomb’s attorney, Mr. Reginald McKamie, Sr., states that Holcomb was given an ultimatum:
“At that point (workers) told him you’re going to go to the rear of the plane or get off the plane,”
The questioning must have been perceived as ‘confrontational’ because it was the reason employees gave for taking him off the aircraft. Holcomb denies the employee claims of being ‘confrontational’. In fact, two passengers have made sworn statements to support Holcomb’s claim that he was not confrontational.
‘Punitive damages, contractual damages’
The April incident leads us to where we are now, as Holcomb, with his attorney, spoke to the media about the lawsuit last week:
“Dana was taken off an airplane so a dog could fly first-class cabin … What American Airlines is doing is discrimination. They have repeatedly humiliated African-American citizens by throwing them off the plane, leaving them with no way home, no hotel, just throwing them off the plane,”
McKamie said that Holcomb is seeking punitive damages as well as contractual damages over the incident. Being removed from the plane in such a sudden manner, Holcomb says he was without his luggage – which included medication. Furthermore, he was left with the task of finding his own way home.
Holcomb says he stayed overnight in Phoenix and then boarded a Delta flight the next day. According to Newsweek, the last-minute flight cost Holcomb US$1,700. For reference, booking the same flight far enough in advance would cost approximately US$200, if not less.
In addition to damages, Holcomb and McKamie want the airline to change its policy regarding discrimination and the type of treatment passengers receive. As for American Airlines, they issued a statement saying that it tries to accommodate all of its passengers:
“Federal regulations require American Airlines to transport service and support animals. American makes every effort to accommodate all passengers, including those traveling with and seated near service or support animals. In the case of an allergy, we work to re-seat a passenger further away from the service or support animal. If the customer is still not comfortable flying, we will re-book them on the next available flight to their destination.”
Do they have a case?
This doesn’t seem like an easy, open-and-shut case, depending on the specific claim. American Airlines had to make some difficult decisions and choose between the different needs of various passengers. This whole incident could be the other way around, with the dog owner suing the airline for removal from the flight.
I would say the core of the issue is about whether or not the flight crew was accurate in their statement that Holcomb was being confrontational. These days it seems like passengers are metaphorically walking on a thin layer of ice, and the slightest disagreement results in removal from the plane.
Take the Southwest Airlines incident of the vodka joke as an example, or a July incident where an American Airlines passenger was forcibly removed after refusing to change seats. “Confrontational” is a very subjective term and can so often be open to interpretation.
However, whether or not Holcomb was confrontational, the airline should have assisted him in getting him on another flight. It seems like the least they could do in this unfortunate situation. That’s my opinion at least.
We would love to know your opinion on this situation and whether or not Mr. Holcomb has a chance of getting anything from American Airlines.
And finally, how do you think airlines should handle the conflicting needs of passengers? Should passengers with support animals have priority over those with allergies to those animals, or should it be the other way around?