Nov. 15 (UPI) -- A blind man and his service dog caused a US Airways Express flight from Philadelphia to Long Island to be cancelled on Wednesday and an investigation is underway.
Albert Rizzi, who is legally blind, and his guide dog Doxy were waiting to take off when he was informed that she was required to stay under the seat in front of him during the flight.
"I said to her, 'I really don't understand what the issue is. I can't do anything. She was expecting me to put my dog in other people's space. They were paying good money for those seats. It was kind of odd," Rizzi said.
Two other passengers tried to accommodate Doxy, but after waiting more than an hour to take off, the dog curled up under Rizzi’s legs. He was then told the dog had to be under a seat or the plane would be turned around.
Passenger Frank Ohlhorst described what happened next.
"When we, the passengers, realized what was going on, we were, like, 'Why is this happening? He's not a problem. What is going on?'" said Ohlhorst. "And we all kind of raised our voices and said, 'This is a real problem.' The captain came out of the cockpit and he basically asked us all to leave the aircraft."
US Airways eventually cancelled the flight and offered to transport passengers by bus.
Rizzi and a number of other travelers accepted the ride.
"These people, all of them, got on a bus and drove 3 and a half hours from Philadelphia," Rizzi said. "They could have stayed on the plane, but they chose not to. I'm so humbled."
The airline released the following statement about the situation:
“US Airways transports more than 80 million customers each year and ensures that all customers, including those with disabilities, are treated with dignity and respect. We're particularly sensitive to those customers who travel with service animals since we partner with Assistance Dogs International (ADI), an organization that trains and places assistance dogs around the world. US Airways employees volunteer to travel with and work with assistance dogs in training to help them prepare for travel with disabled partners. Over the past 10 years, US Airways employees have participated in transports everywhere from California to Croatia.
In this instance, Mr. Rizzi became disruptive and refused to comply with crew member instructions when the flight attendant asked him to secure his service dog at his feet. As a result of his disruptive behavior, the crew returned to the gate and removed Mr. Rizzi and his service dog from the flight. The flight eventually cancelled and we transported Mr. Rizzi, his service dog, and the rest of our passengers on the flight to ISP by bus.
We apologize to the customers of the flight for the inconvenience. We are continuing to investigate the incident.”