Couple Says Airline Didn’t Enable Service Canines on Flight – NBC 6 South Florida

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Matthew and Gabriela Giampietro thought they did everything right when they decided to take their two dogs to Puerto Rico with JetBlue.

“They told me to fill out the paperwork, I did that,” said Gabriela.

They told NBC 6 that they had submitted Department of Transportation (DOT) forms stating that the dogs were trained service animals and letters from a licensed psychosocial counselor stating that they each had a psychiatric condition had been diagnosed and they were allowed to travel with the dogs.

“We went, no problem,” said Gabriela.

A few weeks later, the couple said they had booked a one-way ticket at home with JetBlue and filed the same paperwork, but had problems at the gate.

“The lady who checks your boarding pass is like, ‘Oh, wait,'” said Gabriela. “I was like ‘OK. You have to show them the papers. ‘”

Gabriela said a supervisor looked at the documents.

“And the first thing the supervisor said: ‘You are the dog’s trainer?'” Said Gabriela. “And I’m like yes.”

She said the man then asked what the dog was helping her with.

“He helps me when I have panic attacks,” said Gabriela, she answered. “I was like he was helping me get over it faster, and I’m getting less of it. He said, “This is emotional support, this is not a psychiatric service dog.”

The couple said the flight departed without them and left them stranded in Puerto Rico trying to find a way back home.

“We’ll tell him we flew here,” said Matthew. “We only flew here a few weeks ago.”

“You accepted this paperwork,” Gabriela said, referring to the airline.

Marcy LaHart is a lawyer specializing in animal rights.

“I think different ticket agencies and different airline employees have different ideas about what is required,” said LaHart.

According to LaHart, psychiatric service dogs do not need to be professionally trained, but if you are traveling with one you need to know exactly what service the animal is providing.

“When asked what the animal is doing, you must be able to say something other than oh, it gives me comfort when I have a panic attack.”

Recent changes to the Airline Company Access Act include the definition of a service animal as a dog who is individually trained to perform work or tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability and no longer considers an animal a service animal for emotional support.

Airlines must now treat psychiatric service animals in the same way as other service animals. They can request that you fill out a DOT service pet form, but airlines are no longer allowed to request a letter from a licensed psychologist.

Ann Siegel of Disability Rights Florida said the changes should help those in need of psychiatric service animals.

“There is a large group of people in our state who require the use of service animals, and while I understand there may be concerns about abuse, there are always concerns about abuse of something,” she said. “I’d rather be on the safe side than deny access to someone who needs a service animal. As long as this service animal is calm, there is really no reason to refuse entry. “

JetBlue didn’t answer specific questions about what had happened, including why the couple was allowed to fly to Puerto Rico if there was a problem with the dogs.

However, a spokesperson sent NBC 6 a statement saying the airline was “… committed to supporting customers who need to use trained service animals when traveling. At the same time, we are committed to following updated federal regulations prohibiting customers from bringing untrained or unqualified animals on board, including attempts to claim a pet is a trained service animal. ”

The airline also said they “… are working to consistently enforce these guidelines. However, a customer can be prevented from continuing his journey at any time if it is found that an animal does not meet the required qualifications. “

Matthew said JetBlue finally agreed to return her to South Florida days later after contacting the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division.

“I was so excited,” said Gabriela. “I thought we were going home, thank god.”

“I have a feeling this can happen to anyone at any time,” said Matthew. “It’s like, the chance is there, you take the risk.”

The DOT Office of Aviation Consumer Protection told NBC 6 that in January and February 32 animal complaints had been received from the aviation service related to passengers with disabilities.

Click here to file an airline complaint.

Click here to find out more about the DOT’s recent rule change.