Lisa McCombs was trying to return home to Gulfport, Miss., on a regional American Airlines flight with her Labrador retriever named Jake on Oct. 25, 2015, but got stuck in Manhattan, Kans., for two days because airline agents would not let her board the flight.
According to a federal lawsuit filed in Mississippi on Monday, the agents “verbally assaulted” McCombs, who demanded she tell them about her disability and explain how her service dog helps in a way that implied she was falsifying her claim, the Washington Post reports. The suit states an airline agent approached McCombs while she was waiting and asked “in a condescending tone, ‘Ummm, are you going to fly with that?'”
McCombs, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan before being honorably discharged in 2009 as a captain, relies on her dog to curb the anxiety and panic from PTSD. According to the suit,2 Jake was wearing his service vest and was properly documented at the time of the flight.
“I have PTSD, look at me, I’m an anxious mess!” McCombs replied to the agents’ questioning, according to the suit, which alleged negligence, breach of contract and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “He’s my service dog! I don’t understand why I’m being treated like this!”
The suit asks American Airlines to compensate McCombs for her airline tickets, legal fees and medical treatment. McCombs is also pursuing damages from American and Envoy Air, its regional subsidiary, for “reckless disregard” of her rights.
Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines, told the Post that Jim Palmersheim, a senior manager of Military and Veterans Programs for American Airlines, later called McCombs to say “how embarrassed” the company was about the matter.
“The process for traveling with a service animal on American is in line with applicable federal regulation,” Miller said. “We will not be able to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit, since this matter is pending litigation.”