Lisa McCombs says she was sitting in a public waiting area with service dog Jake by her side when an American Airlines employee approached her.
"Ummmm, are you trying to fly with that?" McCombs says the woman told her as she nodded at the Labrador retriever. It was the beginning of what McCombs described as an "emotionally scarring ordeal" that continued during a layover at DFW International Airport, according to a federal suit against American Airlines filed last week. McCombs told a court that she joined the Army in 2005 and served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan that left her with a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis. Jake is a certified service dog that has been individually trained to move his body in close contact with McCombs to distract her when he senses that she's experiencing a panic attack or high anxiety, according to her complaint.
The Mississippi resident said in the court filing that she had flown into Kansas with Jake without incident the morning of Oct. 25, 2015, but that airline staff then proceeded to block her from flying out with her service dog two days in a row despite her documentation... even after she pulled up Jake's documentation on her laptop.
But airline staff wouldn't budge.
When she cursed in frustration, she says one of the agents threatened to have her arrested. She described being "kicked out" of the airport by an agent and that a police officer even offered to drive her to a shelter.
The day after the first incident, McCombs returned to Manhattan Regional Airport in Kansas, where she once more met resistance from American Airlines staff, according to the complaint. A manager who demanded paperwork later approached McCombs with "malice," causing Jake to whine and shift, the veteran claims.
"It is against the law to harass a service animal and their handler and I will call the police on you," McCombs says she told the manager, who allegedly chuckled and walked away.
McCombs described this interaction in her complaint, alleging that military and veteran initiatives manager Jim Palmersheim had acknowledged to her that the airline was embarrassed by the situation. The woman alleges that Palmersheim said the company would make things right and offered her international, first-class tickets plus an invitation to a "salute the troops" event in Las Vegas hosted by the airline.
"Our airline really sucked when it came your experience," McCombs says Palmersheim told her.
McCombs didn't specify an amount in damages but wants the airline to pay compensation for emotional distress, refund her tickets with interest and cover all past and "reasonable" future medical expenses to treat her PTSD.