If you thought Friday was a fiasco, it was nothing compared to Tuesday. The day dawned with the thrilling hope that I would be leaving for Scotland the following day. I spent the morning reading and starting to touch up my previous week’s packing job. After a long conversation with my big sister in the afternoon, I got an email from US Airways saying there was a problem with my service dog traveling with me to Scotland. The email didn’t shock me exactly; Oleta and I have experienced plenty situations in which there was misunderstanding or down right ignorance where our partnership is concerned, and certainly the legalities that surround guide and service animals. If you are not aware, in the United States, guide dogs are legally protected to enter any public area with their handler, including restaurants, stores, schools, museums, hospitals, public transportation, etc etc. Refusal to allow a guide dog team into any such area is considered a federal offense. You can read more about that here.
Keep that in mind as we move forward.
I realized I had also missed a call from US Airways, and found a voice mail that said basically the same thing as the email. Resigned, but only a tad worried, I called the US Airways number and talked to a customer service agent. They clearly were not very educated on the topic, as they began spouting things about vaccines, blood tests, and quarantine. I pointed out that I knew perfectly well what the regulations were regarding guide dogs entering the UK, that I had done this twice before, and that I had the necessary paperwork. Was there some other problem? I thought about hanging up right there, but I was afraid there was some legitimate issue that I would need to sort out before our departure tomorrow. If I wrote them off now, it’s possible I’d arrive at the airport Wednesday evening and they would not allow us to travel. As far as I remember, the customer service agent then proceeded to read something about how pets had to enter the UK through London Heathrow. I made it clear that she is NOT a pet, and those regulations, if they are directed toward pets, should not apply to her. They then claimed that the policy specifically says that service dogs also have to comply with this directive.
This was strange. Everything I had read on the UK and Scottish government websites had seemed to say that guide dogs were exempt from traveling on prior approved routes. What is more, I flew US Airways through Edinburgh last year without an issue. This left several possibilities:
1. The customer service agent was woefully ignorant and this was a case of discrimination/misunderstanding.
2. The customer service agent was correct and this was a legitimate UK or EU law that we could do nothing about.
3. The customer service agent was correct and this was a discriminatory US Airways policy that probably should be illegal under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).
I was fairly sure that number two could not be true, considering three factors:
A. I traveled through Edinburgh May of 2014 with Oleta with no problem whatsoever.
B. I remembered reading headlines several years ago about the UK putting through legislation to allow guide dogs on all airlines and through all airports. I wasn’t sure that legislation applied to international travel, but if it did, it seemed unlikely that they would have changed those laws so soon after.
C. All of the UK/Scottish websites that I had read seemed to indicate the opposite.
Number 1, on the other hand, seemed highly plausible, so I tackled that one first by asking to speak with a manager.
She was even more unhelpful, if that was possible. She merely emphasized her underling’s claims, complete with the clear lack of understanding about the UK pet travel scheme and the specifics on legal guide dog protection. In response to my inquiries about why I could travel through Edinburgh last year, she said that their policy changed in October of 2014. When I asked whose policy, she claimed that it was a change initiated by the EU. Back to square one. If she was right, that meant number 2 could still be a thing.
She became irate when I told her I thought she was mistaken and asked to speak with another manager.
“This is not a matter of my competence in my job, Ma’am.” She insisted angrily, “This is a matter of you refusing to understand what I am telling you because you don’t want to hear it. If you are not going to listen to what I am saying then we might as well end this call right now.”
Okay, I thought, so you’ve got an attitude. That’s exactly why I need to speak to someone else. Finally, she transferred my call and I was able to converse with a slightly more rational human being in Phoenix, AZ.
I didn’t get much further with him, except to discover that it was a US Airways policy, not an EU regulation. Still, he said I would have to fly through London Heathrow and offered to change my flights. I told him I would not pay for a flight change, as the information regarding my guide dog had been on my reservations since May 1st, and we had heard nothing of this until the day before my departure. He said it wouldn’t be fair for me to have to pay “out of pocket”, which sounded unconvincing, so I said I’d call back after I sorted some things out. A bit of online research on the legalities of all this, a few emails to the department of agriculture in Scotland and England, three or four more phone calls, a stern conversation with one of the customer service agents about the ADA and the possibility of a law suit, and a FREE flight change later, I hung up under the impression that I would be able to travel to Scotland (via London) with Oleta the next evening. How wrong I was.